So, you’ve adopted Agile as your company’s method for project delivery. You packed up your books on traditional development best practices (lovingly referred to as waterfall or sequential) and put them in storage. You’ve invested sufficient time and money to ensure that every stakeholder has taken all the necessary training. You’ve setup all the required tools of the trade – installed white boards, hoarded bunches of post-it notes, identified space for stand up meetings, partitioned a large white wall with magnetic strips to show movement of work, etc.
Things should be ticking along perfectly now. Right? Releases should be visible, you should be getting the maximum value out of your development teams, clients should be satisfied, and the quality of your product should be exceeding your customer’s expectations. Did you say, “Not really”?
When Agile results don't match up with the promise
Well, you are not alone. Even matured Agile delivery organization find it difficult to extract the full value of Agile after years of delivery. I have had multiple client managers come up to me saying, “well it wasn’t that bad at first, but after two years, I feel like we have lost the sight of the core principles and value that we had when we adopted Agile.”
Unfortunately, knowing about Agile, implementing Agile, and implementing Agile successfully are three completely different things.
Enter the Agile coach. One of the major differences we see repeatedly between the companies that are benefiting from Agile, and those that are not is that the successful Agile adopters have often invested in having an Agile coach on the team.
The Agile Coach - do you need one?
Agile coaching is an often debated role on forums today. While various experts have suggested that appointing an external coach can be the underlying key for successful Agile adoption programs,many organizations continue to focus on building up their internal Scrum Masters or Agile project managers - often appointing the most experienced among their ranks to serve as the Agile coach.
While not an inherently bad idea, in my 14 years of Agile consulting experience, I have seen this often result in a sub-optimal Agile adoption. New adopters undergo training that generally cover the basics of an out-of-the-box process framework in a default context. Once they start adopting this framework in the context of their own delivery environment, inherent inefficiencies start to surface. This really isn’t a surprise – we all understand the difference between theory and reality. Agile teams coached by internal Scrum Masters tend to respond to challenges by changing their process to fit the organizational policies. Organizational norms begin to morph the Agile practices based on the influence of the organizational operating model.
The difference maker here is to have somebody on the team who has enough experience to take a holistic view of the organization. They can quickly recognize the root cause of problems and implement solutions that not only resolves the inefficiency but furthers the adoption of Agile throughout the organization. These changes, often minor adjustments, sets the entire organization in a positive direction. Without these early course corrections, the inefficiencies continue and become part of the accepted culture and ultimately the value of Agile becomes diluted leaving many executives scratching their heads questioning why things are not improving.
An Agile coach can make all the difference when it comes to optimizing organizational Agile delivery. This role collaborates with teams and stakeholders at critical times to help the organization drive more value out of their Agile adoption then they can envision.
So, how exactly does an Agile coach bring value to your enterprise Agile adoption?
Leverage Experience with Multiple Agile Frameworks:Agile coaches have a wide range of experience implementing various Agile frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, XP, TDD, DSDM, LeSS, SAFe and many more. Their in-depth knowledge of these frameworks and practical understanding about when and how different practices within these frameworks can add value to the organizational Agile adoption immediately adds value to any Agile team. Agile coaches can quickly identify common failure patterns and recommend tools and practices that address problems in the most effective way. Agile coaches help lessen the adoption pain by implementing selected practices from different frameworks based on the Agile appetite of the organization, creating more confidence within the development team and management.
Promoting the Executive Vision:
Unlike a Scrum Master or a Product Owner, Agile coaches are not bound to a project or portfolio. They work at an organization level and collaborate closely with executive stakeholders to ensure alignment and support to the Agile adoption. They have a broad view of the overall enterprise operating model. By keeping this holistic picture in mind, they provide practical solutions to team level problems that improve the overall agility of the organization, without getting trapped by the individual team dynamics. The result is focus towards implementing the long-term executive vision, rather than the short-term band-aid solutions that will temporarily work for the team.
The External Perspective:
Most enterprises hire Agile coaches external to the organization. This helps them to have a truly neutral perspective towards the viewpoints of various stakeholders. As an external consultant, they do not form a part of the internal organizational politics which enables them to form a trusting relationship across teams. They can assess the organizational Agile framework without bias.
Well Rounded Skills:
Agile coaches have the experience to deal with issues that arise from a range of different areas such as technical challenges, process gaps, cultural incompatibilities, support team challenges, low management support, etc.. They can analyze problems from different perspectives (people, process and technology) and can recommend both technical and non-technical solutions. Most Agile coaches also have a large network of Agile intellectuals, technical specialists and other experienced coaches, who they can draw on to provide additional expertise if they come across a situation that they have not experienced before.
There is no question that adopting Agile within your organization can provide tremendous value – across projects, teams, and departments. We have seen it happen first hand. Its more than possible. It’s completely realistic if you have the right structure, and access to expertise.
If you’re interested in learning more about Agile or discussing Agile coaching – please reach out to me directly. I’d love to talk to you more and learn about how you are growing Agile within your company.