The Agile Coach: Your Key to Effective Organisational Change

CoachHub · 8 September 2022 · 8 min read

Agile, Agile, Agile. Anybody who’s been around the corporate block over the last several years has heard this term on repeat like one of those old-school scratch DJ mixes. In management team meetings and company-wide announcements, C-Suite leaders intone:

“We have to get Agile.”

“Let’s lean in and employ a more Agile program.”

“Our employees aren’t Agile enough.”

You name it, for any process in any department, from the boardroom to the mailroom (does that last room still exist?), agility and Agile values are what’s needed to create the change organisations want to see in themselves.

But what does it all mean? How can your company become “Agile?”

No, the answer isn’t personal yoga instructors and trainers for everyone. It’s not that kind of agility. However, it does involve coaches. An Agile coach, to be precise.

We’re going to fill you in on everything you need to know about the Agile methodology and what an Agile coach does.

What is the Agile methodology?

It all started with a group of 17 software developers during a Snowbird, Utah, ski trip in the Wasatch Mountains in 2001. They were all frustrated with the bogged-down state of software development at the time. There was too much focus on planning and documenting processes and procedures.  As a result, the most important element was lost –– namely, customers.

The original Agile methodology that emerged from that fateful weekend contains just 68 words and revolutionised software development. In the decades since, the methodology has evolved and infiltrated almost every industry and every type of business, from technology to marketing and beyond, something the founders of the Agile methodology never intended.

So, what is it exactly? Simply put, Agile is a type of project management that focuses on people and customers over processes. It does so by delivering project tasks in short increments, known as iterations, rather than as an entire project. The project plans, task requirements and goals are constantly appraised so everyone can pivot quickly when and if things need to change.

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The 4 Agile values and 12 principles of the Agile methodology

The 4 Agile Values

The beauty of the Agile methodology is its simplicity and applicability to businesses outside of IT. At its core are the four Agile values*:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools – Ensure the culture of your organisation and what works for its people and teams is more important than adhering to processes and focusing on specific tools.
  • Working deliverable over comprehensive documentation – Focus on creating things that function over documenting the how and the what.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – Allow for more customer feedback at each stage of a project instead of customer interaction that’s specifically focused on contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan – Keep in mind that there are factors beyond your teams’ control that will require deviating from an original project plan. Agile requires teams that can pivot over those whose members refuse to stray from an established way of doing things.

(* source: Manifesto for Agile Software Development © 2001)

The 12 Principles of the Agile Methodology

Underneath these four values are 12 principles developed at the same Snowbird, Utah, meeting in 2001. These were also specific to software development, but they’ve since been adapted to fit all industries.

  1. Customer satisfaction is the highest priority.
  2. Agile teams welcome and harness change for the sake of the customer.
  3. Deliver products and services quickly and efficiently.
  4. Leaders and executives need to work with employees daily throughout a project.
  5. Provide employees with company culture that includes trust and support. Value people over processes.
  6. Conversations with people via email and other written communication is the ideal and most efficient form of communication.
  7. Measure outcomes by whether products and services function.
  8. All processes are created so everyone –– from employees to customers –– can sustain a steady pace.
  9. Attention to quality and detail improves a team’s agility.
  10. Keep things simple.
  11. Quality work requires facilitating independent project teams.
  12. Teams need to meet regularly to analyse and discuss how to evolve and make changes to improve effectiveness.

Humans and human interaction are more important than the process. However, getting there isn’t easy, and not everyone agrees on the best way to create an Agile company.

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Kanban? Scrum? Lean? Why are there so many different Agile systems and tools?

At times it can seem like there are more Agile systems and tools than there are sub-genres of popular music. There are some established Agile-influenced systems or tools that work well with an Agile framework that are now thought of as Agile systems. There are also methodologies that are similar to Agile.  The tools that get paired with Agile the most are Scrum, Lean and Kanban.

Kanban

Kanban doesn’t describe a type of Agile framework. However, it gets paired with Agile project management types. Kanban is a visual framework for organising projects. It’s a three-column system that organises tasks on individual “cards” on a “board.” You can deploy Kanban on paper, on a whiteboard or digitally via an app on any device. If you use Trello, you’re using an adaptation of Kanban project management.

Scrum

Like Kanban, Scrum (nothing to do with rugby) is a visual project management organisation system. It also uses a board, called a “Scrum board,” that organises tasks into columns. However, it differs from Kanban in that it does employ the Agile idea of breaking projects into shorter iterations. Plus, it has its own jargon for everything. Instead of iterations, Scrum has “sprints.” Additionally, just one sprint is planned and managed at a time. Plus, Scrum has specific titles for specific roles within a project, e.g., Scrum master and product owner.

Lean

Lean isn’t Agile but shares many of the same values and principles as the Agile methodology. Lean started in the industrial sector (specifically, production line optimization). While Agile puts people at the top, Lean puts efficiency —eliminating waste — front and centre. Like Agile methodologies, it also prioritises people, quality, simplicity and customer feedback.

There are many more types of Agile frameworks. Some are specific to software development, and some can be adapted to any industry.

While the core values of Agile are simple, it’s not always as easy as it appears to transform a non-Agile organisation into an Agile one. Don’t wing it. An Agile coach can ensure your project is successful and your employees remain on board with the changes—and with your company.

What is an Agile coach?

An Agile coach is a person whose job it is to implement, maintain and train your company’s employees in the Agile methodology. They provide guidance on choosing the ideal type of Agile framework; one that will enhance your company culture, support internal growth and create better outcomes for your customers.

You can contract with a coaching company to provide an Agile coach during the transition process from non-Agile to Agile, utilise contract Agile coaching on an as-needed basis, hire Agile coaches to work in-house, or some combination thereof. However, most Agile coaches work inside companies temporarily then leave once an organisation is used to being Agile.

Choosing the right Agile coach or coaching consultant is critical. Making the switch to Agile is a huge company culture shift that requires getting everyone on board. Many Agile coaches specialise in one area or another. However, there are three common Agile coach subspecialties:

  • Process coaches – Sometimes called management coaches, specialise in training leaders and managers in Agile project management and/or recruiting experienced Agile leaders.
  • Technical coaches – Technical coaches are often experienced IT professionals who work with technical and development teams on adopting an Agile methodology.
  • Non-directive coaches – These coaches typically come in on an as-needed basis to help teams and/or leaders solve their Agile problems.

What are the typical Agile coach responsibilities?

Regardless of their subspecialty, Agile coaches must have experience in project management.  They also need industry experience in the fields or fields related to the businesses they work with. Agile coaches must have strong communication skills, previous teaching or coaching experience, and the ability to navigate teams who are resistant to change.  Additionally, the Agile coach your company chooses needs to have a strong Agile background. They often start out as a Scrum master before becoming an Agile coach. They must also be familiar with the most common visual project management systems, Kanban and Scrum and how they fit into an Agile team and Agile company culture.

According to the popular HR platform Payscale, typical Agile coach responsibilities include:

  • Training a company’s teams, managers and employees in basic Agile methodologies and specific Agile framework.
  • Developing and establishing the specific Agile framework the organisation has chosen, often coaching leaders and teams on selecting and adapting the best type of Agile methodology for their needs.
  • Counselling and coaching company teams through the Agile transition using Agile best practices to improve efficiency and productivity.
  • Training customers’ teams or preparing them for new Agile processes and increased collaboration.

Agile coaches bear the weight of spearheading an enormous shift within an organisation. Because of the level of social and communication skills required and the varying offshoots of the Agile methodology itself, it’s a good idea to hire an Agile coach who has education and certification in Agile coaching or a degree in a related field, usually IT. Furthermore, there are now online Agile coaching training programs and formal Agile coach certifications.

Benefits of an Agile coach to an organisation

Becoming an Agile organisation can improve your company culture, communication and processes, but it will be an enormous change. Having an Agile coach at hand to help provide 1:1 coaching is critical to Agile’s success in your company. CoachHub’s provides Agile coaches and professional coaching services that can help ease the transition.

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