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.