Agile coaching: what to expect

As a co-creative process guide, an Agile Coach works with people who have already achieved some degree of success but whose success is stagnant. By providing structure, information, feedback, and encouragement, a coach can help people attain higher performance, on their terms.

On any given day, a coach may observe, ask questions, teach agile concepts or practices, facilitate a retrospective or discovery workshop, help identify wasteful activities, and conduct an individual coaching session. No real formula exists for an Agile Coach to help an individual or team be more effective in product development, but some general patterns hold true:

Observation and feedback: A coach begins by observing the team and system. What is the team doing?  How are the team members interacting?  Is the work and progress visible to people outside the team? Do people understand the requirements clearly? Does everyone agree on priorities? Are interdependencies clear? What organizational dynamics are affecting the project? As appropriate, the coach may share these observations with the team to help create awareness.

Incremental change: A coach will work with individuals, teams, and management to catalyze improvement.  This is often subtle and Socratic in nature. An effective coach does not often tell people what do differently, but rather helps the team and the individuals discover a better path for themselves.

Optimizing flow: A coach may observe issues that are disrupting the flow of work, causing rework or other wasted effort. These issues are often similar between teams, yet each team has unique needs, circumstances, and context. A coach helps teams identify how best to succeed, given their context, priorities, and the cost and risk to resolve the issue.

Encouraging visibility: A core agile practice making the flow of work visible to anyone who needs to understand project status. A coach works with the team to find the right level and detail for project and task reporting, and to create information radiators that communicate team progress.

Human dynamics: A coach may identify patterns of behavior that are impeding the team and product development. Sometimes people fear conflict, are afraid to speak up when they see problems, or are hindered by an unstated fear of change or loss of status, influence, or control. A coach can address these through training, facilitation, feedback, and individual coaching.

Process fits the purpose: The team should be comfortable with the process they are using and understand the underlying principles behind any practices.

Following the client’s lead: A coach changes direction with the team when needed, to stand by the team’s side in order to achieve the project goal.

Bringing breadth and depth to agile coaching

For nearly a decade, Erika Lenz has coached organizations to become better at building the right thing. Her experience working with project and leadership teams spans multiple industries, including retail grocery, law enforcement, public utilities, health care, data analytics, higher education, and scientific research. This breadth allows her to collaborate with and coach a variety of people, fields of expertise, and contexts. She is deeply interested in the human dynamics behind high-performing teams.

Seminar series

 seminar series

  1. Scrum basics
    1. A tool –
    2. Basic Scrum structure
  2. Agile estimating
    1. Why and how do we use story points.
  3. Agile planning
    1. Basic planning with agile techniques.
  4. Epics and MMFs
    1. (not sure what is best material – BB)
    5. This section is focused on defining two backlogs (story, MMF) and how we can use them to advance the planning ideas to the longer term.
  5. Kanban/Lean
    1. Standard Scrum + KanBan implementation
  6. NSIDC Scrumban
    1. More then your standard Scrumban
    2. Why change from standard Scrum + KanBan
    3. The process defined

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Free online team tools

Estimation (free)

Mind mapping / diagrams (free) (free)

Project and task tracking

Pivotal Tracker: (free trial; free for up to 3 collaborators)

Lean Kit: (free trial; free for up to 10 collaborators)

Trello: (free, mobile apps)

Mingle: (free trial; free for up to 5 collaborators)


Team communication (free, mobile apps)

Google hangouts: (free)

Set up a permanent Google Hangout 

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Design for the sciences

With most of my editing and management positions, I have had the good fortune to work in small, financially strapped organizations that have needed me to be resourceful. My design training has been on the job, under the tutelage of some very talented designers. I work primarily in Dreamweaver, InDesign, Illustrator, WordPress, and Photoshop.

I have generally been an implementer alongside being a leader of small, collaborative teams. Now that I have learned more about Agile principles, I realize that I have been working in this way for a long time. Just replace the word “software” with “content,” and these principles apply beautifully to a publishing environment. While we didn’t do Scrum or Kanban, I would certainly bring these concepts to any design or publishing team today.

Continue reading Design for the sciences

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Risk Management in an Agile Context

Agile approaches reduce risk with short iterations, a focus on working software, automated tests, and frequent customer interactions. But does that make formal risk management a thing of the past? The answer is no. More complex projects may benefit–but keep it light.

While risk management is not technically part of the Scrum Master role, as coach for the entire project team, it’s good to have on your radar. It can be particularly useful when working with a newer Product Owner who might not have tools for managing risk effectively.

A serious game: RAID Bingo

Teams sometimes struggle to identify risk. But if you inject a little healthy competition, you can surface a remarkable number of risks in a short time. Divide a group at a project kickoff into teams, and get them to play BINGO, and look what happens!


Risk Burndown Charts

Mike Cohn recommends a light version, using a  simple risk census and burndown chart.

The Pre-mortem

Pre-mortem technique: Look ahead at challenges that could cause project failure and create a plan to navigate.

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