If you or your team have invested any amount of time into understanding Agile or Scrum, you may have realized that learning what to do and actually doing it are far from the same thing. You certainly will have experienced roadblocks if you have attempted adopting Agile or Scrum in an environment burdened with hierarchy, legacy systems that don’t comply with innovative methods, or people problems. (Read: Complex Project Failures: How Labels, Hierarchy & Ego Create Disasters in Management)
There are significant barriers an organization faces in becoming truly Agile… and this is normal. Some organizations, the most innovative, are sometimes able to overcome these barriers on their own. But usually, they cannot.
Value of Agile Coaching
Consider the following questions:
- How many high performance athletes have Coaches? Why?
- Should organizations with high performance goals have Coaches?
- Does your organization have high performance goals? Do you?
- Do you have a business Coach or sports Coach? Does it make a difference? How?
- Are the similarities between high performance at work and sports enough to value coaching in the workplace?
Make the leap of faith that it is equally valuable to have a Coach to bring out the best in a high performing athlete and a high performing team. An Agile Coach can be the high performance Coach your organization is missing to bridge you from where you’re at to what you want to achieve.
What Does Agile Coaching Do For Team?
Let’s start with a goal. A goal of Scrum is effective product delivery by the team, so let’s base our goal on that metric.
Goal: The team is able to execute 80 to 100 per cent of what they planned every Sprint, in a stable and reliable manner. Furthermore, the team has the confidence and belief in their capacity to reliably deliver, and can show how their progress impacts target release dates.
There are important subtexts in this goal statement: Stable, Reliable, and Confident.
Stability and reliability show that the team understands three things very well:
- the nature of the work
- the availability and capacity of team members to do the work
- their ability to deliver together within the Scrum Framework in the context of the organization
Confidence is an indicator of strength of belief in the stability and reliability of the system. The stable and reliable system provides psychological safety. Confidence means people feel they have the ability to speak up to challenge or support decisions that impact them.
How Much Coaching Does Your Team Need?
When introducing Scrum and Agile to a new organization, the coaching is focused on helping the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Scrum Team learn their roles and how to use the Scrum Framework.
When coaching a new team that is co-located in a single location, we want enough coaching to really understand the people and the business context. However, our goal is for the team to become stable, reliable, and confident. So, we want the teams to also work on their own so they learn to be self-reliant.
Depending on the business context, we will coach two to three days per week. Many software teams we’ve worked with often achieve the stated goal (example above) in 4 months.
Ideal Environment Versus Reality
The complexity of the environment; the state (maturity) of Agile adoption in the organization; and the size of the organization are all factors that conspire to increase the time it takes for teams to reach the goal.
Our experience has been that non-software teams can take much longer. A key factor is how dependent the team is on other parts of the organization to deliver their product.
Dedicated team members learn Scrum faster; learn how to work with other teams faster, and waste less time switching between tasks. Dedicated team members improve stability and reliability.
If we are coaching more than one team, the goal is the same. There can be some synergy and time-savings if the teams are working on the same product since their Sprint planning, reviews, and retrospectives may overlap.
Can You Skimp on Coaching and Still Succeed?
A common request we hear from some new clients is “What about just having the Agile Coach come for Sprint Planning, Sprint Review and Retrospective? Isn’t that enough?”
As with all iterative and incremental approaches, the speed that value is accrued from Agile Coaching is related to the cadence of a feedback loop. With coaching interaction, 1 day per sprint on a sprint boundary (review, retro, and planning) the team will be able to receive feedback and coaching around those sprint boundary events. This is valuable in terms of the team’s understanding of those events and how they interact with each other and the goals for the product. However, the context will be limited to those events as the coach has not been privy to information and circumstances as they arise during the Sprint. This means information and situations that could be used to help the team improve are not used, so improvements will likely take longer and be slower.
For example, Product Backlog refinement is an important facet of iterative/incremental development as it sets the stage for successful Sprint planning. Backlog grooming discussions happen throughout the Sprint, not at the Sprint boundary. The effectiveness of the Sprint planning is usually directly proportional to the effectiveness of the backlog grooming/refining conversations. Without an Agile Coach present, Product Backlog refinement does not receive Coaching. (Read: Lessons from a 10-Year Long Product Backlog)
Similarly, the discussions, actions, and escalations for impediments and retrospective actions occur all throughout the sprints so the Coach cannot advocate and support the needed changes to make teams more effective during Sprint execution.
So, in short, skimping on Agile Coaching does not, in the end, help you succeed.
Maximize Your Chances to Hit the Goal and Maximize Value of Your Agile Coaching Investment
Have you ever had Physiotherapy treatment, hired a Personal Trainer to exercise with, or taken tutoring or lessons? In these situations we quickly recognize that the success of the relationship depends on both parties. A Personal Trainer or Physiotherapist can’t make their client do their exercises when they are not around. However, these Professionals can accelerate outcomes by working more intensively with motivated clients to help them understand what they need to do, to offer feedback on how to get better and to share different exercises and expertise when certain treatments are not working as expected.
Maximizing the benefits from an Agile Coach is similar, in that working together more intensively to remove impediments, to improve the team’s situation, has a faster payoff. If Scrum team members, the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the supporting stakeholders take Scrum seriously and leverage the knowledge of the Agile Coach to maximize their effectiveness in supporting the implementation, then this will also accelerate the value they receive from the Agile Coach.
Working with an Agile Coach can significantly accelerate your Agile adoption by:
- helping your teams get better faster
- showing stakeholders the behaviors that best support Scrum
- sharing practices, techniques and ideas that have worked in other clients
- advising against techniques that don’t work or cause problems
Once the Scrum team has hit the goal and is able to execute 80 to 100 per cent of what they plan every Sprint, in a stable and reliable manner, we will applaud their success as they have achieved the first step. From here, they can begin to learn more advanced topics beyond basic Scrum.
Learning and improvement is not a destination, it is a journey.