Most organizations in the Netherlands are taking the first steps to becoming Agile. Not only in the Netherlands but also worldwide the increase can be observed. An annual Agile survey performed by VersionONE revealed that enterprise agility is increasing throughout organizations and across almost all industries. Whereas 24% in 2016 claimed to be in an Agile transformation, the number of transformations increased to 26% in 2017 (VersionONE). This makes it even more important to look at the factors that allow Agile to scale to the whole organization. In the same survey, where the respondents could select multiple items, 48% of the respondents gave executive sponsorship as a tip for successfully scaling Agile. Surprisingly, 52% of the respondents deemed “internal Agile coaches” as the number one tip for successfully scaling Agile. This percentage was even higher than Agile consultants or trainers (37%). As an internal Agile coach, it made me curious about what it would mean for my current role.
Within the KPN iTV tribe, we have three internal Agile coaches and four Agile consultants from Xebia helping us with the transformation of the tribe. These coaches were provided at the start of transformation by Xebia to help us take the next steps. Inspired by Spotify, we felt it was time to take the next big steps in the transformation. Part of the transformation was that we as a tribe had to be able to transform without any external help. That means that we had to be able to take the next steps without the help of the Agile consultants of Xebia. The main question I want to answer is what kind of impact leading an Agile transformation with only internal Agile coaches would have.
In order to be able to transform with only internal coaches, we have to understand what Agile coaching is. Lyssa Adkins, the author of the book “Coaching Agile Teams,” defines an Agile coach as “…someone who takes teams beyond getting Agile practices up and running, into their deliberate and joyful pursuit of high performance.” Furthermore, she argues that Agile coaches can focus on eight primary areas of competencies. These eight areas of competencies are shown in the picture below.
Content-Focused Competencies: Teaching and Mentoring
The Agile coach allows others to learn, grow, and become a better professional. A good mentor, therefore, does not merely provide the answers but allows the others to learn for themselves. Looking at our way of working, we often tend to teach, e.g. stand in front of a team and give power point presentations on how Sprint reviews work or what good refinement sessions are. But, it is more sustainable if we actually mentor and help others grow in their profession.
Process-Focused Competencies: Professional Coaching and Facilitating
The professional coach is responsible for being a mirror of accountability for the organization, teams, and individuals. While coaching, it is important to allow the others to determine the direction of the outcome. This means that the expertise and opinions of the coach do not matter and should not be the focus in coaching situations. Facilitating is also in line with coaching. In facilitating, the group or individual determines the direction, rather than the expertise or opinion of the facilitator. The facilitator must help the group reach their goals and find the purpose of the session. In our job as Agile coaches, it is therefore important to let others provide the direction of the conversations or the sessions. I notice that we are mostly too impatient and steer the sessions where we believe they should go, based on our experience. While we Agile coaches believe that we are helping the organization by providing the direction that they not yet can see, it is more sustainable if we stay patient and let others realize what the direction should be.
Domain Focused Competencies: Technical, Business, and Transformation Mastery
Just like the teams and organizations we coach, the Agile coach can focus on three different domains. Technical mastery is the ability to understand and work in architecture, design or coding. Having knowledge of proper continuous delivery and continuous integration techniques is an important part of the technical mastery. Typically, Agile coaches tend to focus more on teaching or mentoring organizations or individuals on their technical mastery.
Business mastery, however, focuses more on teaching, mentoring and facilitating. Business mastery focusses on getting the right value for the business. The coach here can apply product innovation techniques, understand business process management approaches, and help implement a better customer focus.
Transformation mastery is about the ability to lead organizational change and transformation. Understanding change management (how changes influence the company culture and how to transform into an Agile culture) is another key aspect of this domain. In transformation mastery, the Agile coach usually uses coaching and facilitating competencies to accommodate the organization.
Agile and Lean Practitioner
Agile coaches must have deep knowledge of Agile and Lean principles. Knowledge not only from books but mostly from doing the work and having experienced what it means to be a team member on a Scrum team. This enables the Agile coach to truly make a connection with teams and the rest of the organization.
As an Agile and Lean practitioner, an Agile coach can focus on different areas. It is important to know what their core competencies are and where the development area of the coaches are and how this relates to the organization’s needs. The internal coaching group must have the ability to utilize either the process-oriented competencies or the content focused competencies. Furthermore, Agile coaches need to be aware of the technical, business, and transformation domains. Just as we advise organizations and teams to focus on creating T-shaped profiles, we as Agile coaches need to know both our individual T-shape as well as the group’s T-shape within these three domains. The organization should, therefore, needs an Agile coaching team which fills in the complete profile of domain knowledge. Despite having a team with internal or external coaches, the profile must be complete.
To answer our original question on the impact of Agile coaches on an Agile transformation, we have to gain insight into our own capabilities first. Next, we need to analyze the tribe’s capabilities, and what they need. With this insight, we can create a team of Agile coaches that are able to guide the tribe through the steps of Agile transformation.