You are at the heart of a paradigm shift
Profound changes are taking place in the corporate world, not only in the way of doing business but also in the way companies are structured, teams are lead, and work is managed.
At the same time, a fundamental role has been crystallizing: the agile coach, as facilitative leader, catalyzer, change agent, which gave origin to an emerging profession. As the years passed, the discipline of agile coaching became more and more relevant and more and more professionals became involved in it.
Referents, theories, and various proposals have emerged, which managed the different action areas of this transformation. These are the people that inspired me through their work, their collaboration, our conversations or ideas exchange. To name just a few of them: Mike Cohn, Lyssa Adkins, Tobias Mayer, Olaf Lewitz, Pete Behrens, Roger Brown, Diana Larsen, Esther Derby; as well as many others that have also contributed significantly to this movement.
Agile Coaching: A Profession
Personally, I feel that whenever I get involved as an agile coach in an organization, I see wonderful things happening. Not only regarding the organization itself but also regarding myself, as a person. I can honestly say that I love this profession and greatly enjoy doing what I do.
However, it is not always a bed of roses. Throughout the years, I could observe three things that have called my attention:
- Often, the people who are taking their first steps in the agility world ask me about which, in my opinion, are the steps to follow when it comes to professional coaching.
- Also, and with similar frequency, I find agile coaching professionals with whom I don’t share a common universe of concepts, possibilities, abilities and tools when discussing cases, situations, or -what to me is the most important- when providing agile coaching in an organization. 3.Additionally, as a member of the Certified Enterprise Coaches (CECs) community of the Scrum Alliance, one of my responsibilities is to participate in the application process of candidates to CECs. In the past years, only 40% of the candidates to CEC managed to obtain the certification1.
I think the reason that is common to all this is that many professionals involved in Agile are still lacking a deeper understanding of the responsibilities, the abilities, and training necessary for a person to become a coach.
Nowadays, I have the impression that each new agile coach that is born does it with his own conception of the profession. Therefore, there are agile trainers, consultants, mentors, facilitators, appraisers, project managers; all roles with substantial differences in the way they do things, although they are all self-called agile coaches.
In view of all this diversity, I set out to trace a possible route for enterprise agility professionals to be able to incorporate new knowledge and abilities that the exercise of this beautiful and rising profession requires.
Agile Coaching: A Proposal
Next, I’ll share with you a proposal about what agile coaching could and could not be, if assumed as an extension of professional coaching according to the definition by the ICF (International Coach Federation) and supported by the vision of agile coaching as a group of related disciplines: facilitation, mentoring, coaching and training2.
Agile Coaching is not Only Training
In 2008, a midrange travelling sales and logistics company came to us with the need to hire an agile coach for their internal team of systems development. After evaluating several alternatives together, we did a series of practical workshops to train the professionals of this company in Extreme Programming practices.
In a teacher-student relationship, the first one is the one who has the knowledge of a certain subject, while the second one, is the one interested in acquiring that knowledge. The relationship itself is, precisely, about the transference of that knowledge.
Many times, although luckily less and less3, there is a clear hierarchical disposition between the teacher, who is superior, and the student who has an inferiority position in the relationship.
The student adopts, in many cases, a passive position, anxious, in his relationship with the teacher, while the latter is the one who has an active role.
So, the raw training material is knowledge: what the teacher knows and the student doesn’t.
Unlike training, in professional coaching, there isn’t a hierarchical relationship. The coach and his client have a relationship where both of them are equal.
Agile Coaching is not Only Consulting
Solution Manager is a SAP module which facilitates the configuration management and the transport of changes between systems. I was involved in the implementation of Solution Manager at Accenture in 2007. We saw the need of hiring an expert on the subject, since there were many configuration points of the module and the documentation at that time didn’t give many clues about it. Therefore, we hired an expert consultant to design the configuration of the implementation and to give us direct and concrete answers regarding the different problems that arose.
The relationship that exists between a consultant and his client is mainly based on the solutions that the consultant can provide to solve the client’s problems or needs.
The consultant is an expert and has a lot of knowledge in a particular area. The raw material in this relationship is, therefore, the solutions that the consultant is able to provide and that, many times, is in charge of implementing.
Unlike consultancy, coaching does not intend to provide solutions to the client’s problems, but to help the client observe his context from new perspectives which would allow him to find his own, more genuine solutions.
Agile Coaching is not Only Mentoring
The first time I remember feeling attracted to music, turntables and mixing consoles, was when I was 12 years old. From that time until I was 16 I had a mentor called Gonzalo. Then I had another mentor, Juan Pablo, until I was approximately 22. I learned a lot from them, playing in different events and discos, and even inviting them to play at the clubs where I worked. I learned as I practiced, we shared long discussions and musical discovery sessions. I can’t thank anyone more than them for guiding and accompanying me during those years, for helping me improve, and perfect my technique.
The relationship between the mentor and the mentee is a relationship based on the experience that the first has in a specific subject that he can use during the mentoring process to serve as a guide and support for the second, so the latter develops the desired abilities by practicing them. The element that allows for the existence of this relationship is the experience that the mentor has and transmits.
Unlike mentoring, coaching does not intend to set an example from experience, but to constantly defy the client’s creed, perspectives, and common sense.
Agile Coaching is not Only Facilitation
From 2009, in the Latin American Community of Agile Methodologies, a series of meetings have been taking place, some were small, and others were massive, with the objective of sharing experiences and looking for solutions to common problems. Many of these events were part of the Agile Open Tour and took following the Open Space format. Open Space Technology (OST) is a facilitation approach for meetings, conferences, corporate retreats, symposiums and community events. In general, it is focused mainly on an objective or specific and important task, but it starts without a formal agenda, beyond the general purpose or subject in question4.
The discipline of facilitation covers all the activities and tasks that a person identified as the facilitator performs, to allow a certain group of people to have a productive and impartial meeting. The facilitation satisfies the needs of any group that meets with a common purpose, either to make a decision, solve problems or just to exchange ideas and information.
The facilitator is the one who helps the group focus collective conversations, it does not lead the group or tries to distract or entertain.
The element that gives existence to this relationship is the dynamic that the facilitator creates with the group of people.
Unlike facilitation, coaching does not intend to help a working group carry out an effective and collaborative meeting, but it is focused on individuals and teams who are centered on self-discovery and achieving an apprenticeship that broadens their possibilities.
The Enterprise agility coach’s Path
My proposal regarding this profession is based on understanding it as an extension of professional coaching according to the definition of the ICF, and a road that consists of many different steps. Using the roadmap proposed by the ICAgile as the basis, and complementing it with my personal experience, this is, in my opinion, the road that an agile coach can take:
1. Scrum Master
The majority of the professionals who take their first steps in the agility world as a work model, do it through a framework known as Scrum. In this framework, the Scrum Master is the one who encourage a meaningful use of Scrum within the team. For practical purposes, I like to call this stage “step zero”, to highlight the idea that this is just the beginning of the road for an agile coach, and the profession goes much further than the knowledge and the correct use of Scrum.
2. Agile team facilitator
There are also many professionals who enter agility through other methodologies, tools or frameworks beyond Scrum. In this context, we cannot call them Scrum Masters since they are not linked to Scrum. In any case, whichever the agile work pattern chosen is, the agile team facilitator has acquired the facilitation abilities required for supporting the team in participative decision-making, conflict resolution, and self-organization. In case the professional has evolved from “step zero”, then he performs as Scrum Master and has incorporated the abilities mentioned before to his toolbox.
Following the development path5 proposed by the International Consortium for Agility (ICAgile), the facilitator typically operates within the borders of one or two agile teams. The team facilitator is not responsible or is not yet qualified, according to this approach, to carry out agile transformation initiatives. Instead, it is more appropriate to facilitate the activities of an agile team.
3. Agile coach
An agile coach is a facilitator of agile teams who has reached the expert level in Agility. The agile coach has developed more advanced facilitation skills, including training and mentoring, although he knows how to make a difference between these disciplines and in which situations each one is required. Additionally to his facilitation, mentoring and leadership skills, he has incorporated professional coaching skills, according to the definition by the ICF. Its focus elevates to a multiple teams level and is supported by this family of disciplines (coaching, facilitation, mentoring and training).
An agile coach provides coaching and/or mentoring to Scrum Masters and agile team facilitators.
The focus of the agile coach is in the relationship that exists between the different teams, possibly from the same department or area within the organization. He/she has the experience to initiate the transformation of the teams towards agility.
4. Enterprise agile coach
At this level, the agile coach has incorporated a systemic perspective; he can listen to the conversation at an organizational level, coach the enterprise leadership team, and identify the different organizational cultures. He knows about cultural change management and is able to facilitate strategies to overcome organizational resistance. An enterprise agile coach is able to work with more operational levels as well as strategic, Scrum Masters, facilitators, managers, executives and C-Levels.
For any of these levels, the professional generates continuous evidence for the community (colleagues and organizations) which makes him enough of an expert to approach each level. Although it is a significant contribution, doing courses and/or workshops is not enough to reach an expert level. The expert experiments, does, shares.
My Purpose, a Confession.
Thanks to a series of conversations I had during the Agile 2014 in Orlando, with Gustavo Quiroz, Roger Brown, Lyssa Adkins, Luis Mulato, Hiroshi Hiromoto, Michael Sahota, Dhaval Panchal, Pete Behrens and Claudia Sandoval I think I discovered a new dimension in my purpose regarding Agility. I still believe we need more humane organizations, happier workers, and contexts of more innovation. But now I also believe we need to raise the expectation bar we have of agile coaches. Therefore, from now on, I set myself in getting actively involved in transforming agile coaching into a profession in itself: to get more and better agile coaches.
Volume 1: Agile Team Facilitator
In this first volume, I will focus on the agile team facilitator role, which is seen as the first step towards developing into an enterprise agile coach.
Chapter 2 is dedicated to showing the discipline of facilitation and the role of the facilitator; along with the responsibilities that person has towards the team that he/she is facilitating.
Chapter 3 is about organizing and designing collaborative spaces, emphasizing the structure and physical space for the team meetings.
In Chapter 4, I will introduce graphic tools that you can use when facilitating team discussions, and I invite experts to convey their experiences, recommendations, and learnings.
Chapter 5 covers the facilitation of collaborative processes. You will find an abstract model of a collaborative conversation, along with tools and techniques that you can use in each stage, and with different goals.
Chapter 6 is dedicated to facilitating the very beginning of an agile project. I present important aspects to be taken into consideration, along with recommendations that lay the foundations of every agile project.
In Chapter 7, you will find examples, techniques, tools and recommendations for facilitating the events within a sprint, such as its planning, daily meetings, reviews and retrospectives.
Chapter 8 presents a model of skills acquisition, and proposes a self-assessment model so you can check your performance and level of proficiency in which, to my understanding, makes an agile teams facilitator.
Without further ado, I invite you to enter the world of agile team facilitation. Let’s go!
Other volumes of this series
In addition to this first volume, dedicated to the agile team facilitator, the following subjects will be part of this series, tentatively divided into:
- Volume 2: Agile Coach
- Volume 3: Agile Trainer
- Volume 4: Enterprise Agility Coach
- Volume 5: Agile Executive Coach
I invite you to visit the Chief Agility Officer website and subscribe to the email list to find out about the new publication dates as soon as they are decided.
Picture: CC by Joe Diaz @ Flickr
1. Behrens, P. (2011). Applying to Become a CSC. Obtenido de Scrum Alliance: https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2011/september/applying-to-become-a-csc ↩
2. Adkins, L. (2010). Coaching Agile Teams. Addison-Wesley Professional. ↩
3. It doesn’t necessarily have a hierarchy in all cases (it is the case of the round classrooms which includes students and teacher/s and the democratizing word of the retrospective; or even the one guided by democratizing or egalitarian pedagogies) ↩
4. Owen, H. (2008). Open Space Technology: A User's Guide. ↩
5. ICAgile – Agile Coaching Track ↩
7. http://www.agilecoachinginstitute.com/coaching-courses-industry-certifications/ ↩