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Top 10 Tips for an Agile Coach

September 3, 2009

While at the Agile 2009 conference last week I had the opportunity to attend a session by Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley outlining some great tips for an Agile coach. Their presentation was based on their upcoming book Agile Coaching. They were approaching the topic as though they were an external coach brought into a company just starting Agile, but there was definitely some good take-aways that could be applied in any situation. I will do my best to regurgitate their discussion in hopes that you can make use of them in your coaching endeavors.

10. Get Introduced

  • What are you trying to achieve, what is your expertise? Experience?
  • Explain what you expect from those you are coaching.

9. Agile is not a Religion

  • Try not to come out as a preacher – this will likely switch the team off.
  • You must first understand the team’s circumstances before fixing things.

8. Show Respect

  • Understand the team’s history.
  • Do not tell them they are doing things wrong.
  • Listen to them and find out how they started doing things the way they are.
  • Understand the factors that led to the circumstances they are working in.
  • Be mindful of your language – use names and not labels (refer to people individually)

7. Step Back to See the Big Picture

  • Do not get caught up in individual interactions.
  • Look at the “system” as a whole – the way people are acting is usually a reflection of the forces acting upon them.
  • Do not fix the people, fix the pressures that are acting on the people.

6. Ask Questions to Spark Ideas

  • Improve the team’s thinking so they can think for themselves.
  • Well raised questions challenge people – allow people to discover their own solutions.
  • When a team is struggling, ask them about it – how can you guys make things better?
  • Do not ask why, rephrase the questions.
  • Ask a “thinking” question.
    • How long have you been thinking about this?
    • How do you think this will help?
  • Use the Five Why’s (RCA)
    • Root cause analysis asking “why” five times.
    • Explain why you are asking why five times – tell them what you are doing.
  • Do not ask a question if you really want to tell the team something – you will lose the opportunity to ask it.

5. Take Time Out to Reflect

  • Do not react to everything right away – do not rush into an answer because you are the coach and feel it is expected.
  • Better to think about it and come up with a calm solution, than to panic and provide an answer you have not fully thought about.
  • Agile Retrospectives is a good time to go over these things.

4. Introduce the Elephant

  • If you notice an elephant in the room, casually mention what you see (maybe in a retro).
  • This hopefully will spark conversation – do not push the team into talking about it if they are not ready to.

3. Make Change as an Experiment

  • “Let’s try something for a short period of time and see if it makes things better.”
  • Enable them to evaluate the results and decide as a team whether to continue.
  • Getting the team used to small changes. It becomes easier to introduce larger changes later.

2. Go With the Energy of the Team

  • What is the best problem to tackle first?
  • The one the team wants to solve – it may not be the most important, but it will get the team going.
  • Give the team ownership, and get them going on devising a problem solving solution that will be pertinent in the future.

1. Have Courage in Your Convictions

  • Understand that you are introducing change, but people generally do not like changing.
  • Have faith in your own ability to help the team.
  • Be passionate about what you are trying to accomplish with the team, and be clear about what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Ensure that they do not feel like you are pushing too hard – do not push until they are ready.

By Hemant J. Naidu

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