A lot has been discussed, is being discussed and will be discussed about the value of Agile Coaching. As I have already mentioned in the first article on this subject, I believe that the debate is caused by a serious misunderstanding or lack of agreement on what Agile Coaching is and what it is not. I here follow up on what to me Agile Coaching is not, assuming it is an extension of Professional Coaching as per the definition by ICF (International Coach Federation)1.
Agile Coaching is not Training
In 2008, a company dealing with sales and logistics of medium-distance travels turned to us to hire Agile Coaches for its internal team of systems development. After having evaluated various options, we ran a series of practical workshops to train different professionals in practices of Extreme Programming.
In the teacher-student relationship, the first one has knowledge on a given subject, whereas the latter one is interested in acquiring it. The relationship in itself is precisely about the transfer of this knowledge.
Many times, although it is becoming fewer and fewer now2, there is a clear hierarchical organization between the teacher, who is superior, and the student, who takes on the inferior position in this relationship.
The student often adopts a passive position, expectant, in his/her relationship with the teacher, whereas the latter one takes an active role.
Thus, the main point of training is the knowledge (what the teacher knows and the student doesn't know).
As opposed to Training, Professional Coaching does not show hierarchy. In the Coach-Client relationship, both of them are at the same level. Agile Coaching is not about transferring knowledge.
Agile Coaching is not Consultancy
Solution Manager is an module from SAP, which facilitates configuration control and the movement of transports of changes between different SAP systems in the homogeneous landscape. I was involved in the implementation of Solution Manager in Accenture in 2007. We needed a subject matter expert, as there were a great number of configuration items in the application and the documentation we had at that moment did not offer many clues. This is why we employed an expert consultant in Solution Manager to design the configuration of the implementation, to give us direct and definite answers and solve the problems we were having.
The relationship that exists between a consultant and his/her client is mainly based on the solutions which the consultant can offer to help with the client’s problems or needs.
The consultant is an expert with a great knowledge of a specific area. Thus, the main point of the relationship is the solution the consultant can provide and which, more often than not, is implemented.
As opposed to Consultancy, Coaching doesn't aim at providing solutions to client's problems, but it helps the client to observe his/her situation from different points of view which makes the client find their own, real solutions. Agile Coaching is not about providing solutions or resolve problems.
Agile Coaching is not Mentoring
The first time I remember being attracted to music and mixer consoles was when I was 12 years old. From that moment until the age of 16 I had a mentor named Gonzalo. Later, until I was more or less 22, I had another mentor, Juan Pablo. I learnt a lot from them, playing in different events and disco clubs. Eventually, I invited them to play in the disco clubs where I worked. I was learning by practice, we were having long discussions and sessions on musical “discoveries”. There is no one else I can thank more for guiding me, accompanying me all those year, and perfecting my technique than both of them.
The relationship which exists between a mentor and a mentee is based on the experience that the mentor has in a certain subject area and that (s)he can share during the process of Mentoring in order to be a guide and companion to the mentee in a way that the latter develops the desired skills by putting them in practice.
The element which brings this relationship into existence is the experience that the mentor has and passes on to the mentee.
As opposed to Mentoring, Coaching doesn’t draws upon experience, but it continuously challenges the beliefs, points of view and “common sense” of the client. Agile Coaching is not about sharing from experience.
Agile Coaching is not Facilitation
Since 2009, the Latin American Community of Agile Methodologies has held a series of meetings, some of them small, other multitudinous, with the aim of sharing experience and looking for solutions to common problems. Many of those events formed part of the Agile Open Tour3 and they were organized following the format of Open Space. The Open Space Technology (OST)4 is an approach to facilitate gatherings, conferences, corporate-style retreats, symposia and community events. It generally centers round a specific and important target or task, but it starts without any formal agenda, apart from the general purpose or the subject in question.
The discipline of facilitation includes all the activities and tasks that a person identified as a facilitator does in order to make a given group of people hold a productive and impartial meeting. The facilitation meets the needs of any group that gathers with one intention in common: to take decisions, resolve problems, or simply exchange ideas and information.
The facilitator is the one who assists the group of people to engage in collective conversations rather than direct the group, distract or entertain.
The element which brings this relationship into existence is the dynamics that the facilitator brings to the group of people.
As opposed to Facilitation, Coaching doesn’t aim at helping a working group to carry out a meeting in an effective and collaborative way, but it focuses on making individuals and groups of people understand themselves and fulfill objectives which can widen their possibilities. Agile Coaching is not about facilitating meetings of groups of people.
So, What is Agile Coaching?
In the next article I am going to give a description of what Agile Coaching is to me on the basis of my experience in the field and my continued training in Professional Coaching. Don't go away too far!
1. International Coach Federation: ICF ↩
2. Hierarchy does not necessarily exists in all cases (i.e. the case of round classrooms including students and teachers and the democratizing word of the retrospective, or even guided by democratic or egalitarian pedagogies). ↩
3. http://www.agiles.org/agile-open-tour ↩
4. Open Space Technology: A User's Guide, Harrison H. Owen ↩