How Agile Coaching changes things

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Coaching and Agile are very popular terms these days – even creeping into becoming popular buzzwords.

Agile is a delivery approach that gets efficiencies from shipping increments and gathering feedback frequently. This approach continually improves any product through “inspection and adaption”.

Coaching though is about questions. Its definition is different to that of mentoring, which assumes there are all the answers already accessible to you. The role of a coach is to bring some of your thoughts to light. We don’t talk often about Agile Teaching as Agile is based on a mindset and experience. Agile provides very simple rules that you can learn in minutes, so you don’t need a teacher for this. However, applying those rules in a real-life environment is only truly honed through experience. Coaching therefore requires a different approach than teaching: Coaching is about asking, not about giving answers. Agile is an empirical process, so you can’t necessarily apply past outcomes at different times. You need to work out your own agile way by inspecting what works and what doesn’t, and by adapting changes according to the results of this inspection. If something works, you may try to improve it further. If something doesn’t work or works the wrong way, you alter or remove it

Sometimes the best coach is the person who knows nothing about the topic. He comes to the team and asks simple questions, like "why does it take so long to test it?", "why do you do it this way". The team answering those questions, then starts to think about the answer. Sometimes they don’t know the answer, so they start to think why they really do it. Questions sparks thinking, and thinking about what people are doing and why they do it the given way. This is how processes continually improve.

There are some levels you need to master in order to become an effective Agile Coach. It often starts by being the team’s facilitator. You need to master the simple rules about Agile, how the team works, which questions are good and which not, and how to talk to people.

There are often connections between teams in a company. To better manage the inter-team process you’ll start to coach other teams. You’ll be a change catalyst. Asking inconvenient questions will be your second nature. Teams do not work in a vacuum. Teams need support from other departments and from management to do their work faster. So you’ll start to coach the whole organization. At this level, you’ll become a truly Agile Coach. Someone who drives change but leaves space for people to improve.

Asking instead of commanding is a new way of "managing" people. It’s more about being a leader than being a manager. Companies have concluded that a team of highly educated professionals has more knowledge together than a single manager. That’s why it is better to inspire them to implement their knowledge in a product, than to implement the knowledge of one single person (a manager).

In old-style organizations, coaching is reserved for top level managers. With the era of Agile, coaching methods are disseminated to skilled people across the company. Now anyone in a team can solve problems with a support of a coach. This empowers people to do a better job. They are happier and a company is more productive. A solution where everyone benefits!

People need empowerment. Empowerment comes from coaching. 


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