What Is the Role of an Agile Coach, and How Can You Become One?

Due to the rapidly increasing demand for Agile methods, the Agile coaching industry is experiencing considerable growth. In 2017, Scrum Master – a type of Agile coach – was ranked 10th in LinkedIn’s “Most Promising Jobs” list, with a year-over-year job opportunity growth of 104% and an estimated base salary of approximately $100,000.

An Agile coach working across multiple teams can expect to earn an average annual salary of between $122,000 and $138,000. In this article, we will explore the different types of Agile coaches, their responsibilities, and how project managers can work collaboratively with them. Additionally, we will look at the ways that project managers can evolve into Agile coaches themselves.

What Is a Agile Coach?

Agile coaches are professionals who work with teams and organisations to develop and enhance Agile practices. They can be external contractors or internal staff members. When a business is in the process of transitioning from a Waterfall approach to an Agile methodology, the services of an Agile coach can be invaluable in helping to ensure a successful outcome.

Agile Coaches typically possess a background in project management, product development, Information Technology, or software engineering. They are well-versed in methods such as Scrum, Kanban, and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), and are adept at providing coaching and mentoring to individuals to help them identify and solve problems.

Why an Agile Coach?

Agile methodology is deceptively easy to comprehend, yet difficult to implement effectively. This can lead to confusion and difficulty for executives who are attempting to make the transition to an Agile approach. The primary source of these problems is a misunderstanding of the complexity involved in successfully introducing Agile into a team, department, or entire organisation.

Scrum has become increasingly popular due to its apparent ability to provide a straightforward, all-encompassing solution. However, it is important to note that each individual situation is unique and a number of project managers have found themselves in situations where they have implemented all of the essential Agile techniques but something still seems to be amiss. Additionally, Agile project management may appear to be effective in one area of the business, but not in another.

An Agile coach is an invaluable asset to any team, and it is their responsibility to identify why Agile is not delivering the desired results and then to implement strategies to rectify the issue. By doing so, they can help the team to achieve their desired objectives and reach their full potential.

Agile Coaches

There is a wide range of terminology that is used to refer to agile coaches, such as agile facilitators, Scrum masters, Scrum coaches, iteration managers, Kanban coaches, and enterprise Agile coaches. To simplify the concept of Agile coaching, it is helpful to consider who is providing the coaching and who is receiving the coaching. The Agile Coaching Institute offers three Agile coaching certification levels that are tailored to the three most common coaching circumstances.

Agile Facilitator

The role of an Agile Team Facilitator is to provide guidance and support to a single team as they transition to an Agile methodology and strive to improve their productivity. This role includes titles such as Scrum Master, Scrum Coach, Iteration Manager, and Kanban Coach. The Agile Team Facilitator is responsible for helping the team transition to Agile and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. They must possess the necessary skills to effectively guide the team on their Agile journey, inspiring the team to reach their full potential.

As a successful Agile team facilitator, it is important to possess an advanced level of technical knowledge to effectively interact with the team on a regular basis. During conversations, the team may delve into complex topics such as React versus Angular. Though it is not necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the subject matter, having a general knowledge of the topic can create a much more successful facilitative process and will bolster the team’s trust in the coach.

As a Scrum Master, the most common type of Agile team facilitator, it is important to have a background in development and coding. This provides a great foundation for maintaining and optimising the Agile process within the team. By having a detailed understanding of the development process, Scrum Masters are better equipped to ensure the team works in harmony and implements the Agile methodology effectively.

As an Agile team facilitator, it is essential to ensure that Agile methodology is effectively utilised within the team. This involves more than just the implementation of daily standups and retrospectives; it is also important to ensure that these activities bring value to the team. Initially, Agile was implemented mainly through a bottom-up strategy, however, nowadays more organisations are using a top-down approach. In these cases, the facilitator must be able to demonstrate to the entire team the advantages of Agile in order to gain their support and commitment to its use.

Coach Agile

As a logical progression in the path to becoming an Agile coach, it is common for most Agile coaches to have had some experience as an Agile team facilitator first. As an Agile Coach, it is their responsibility to extend Agile practices across multiple teams and into the wider business. While at times they may be called upon to work with teams independently, it is more likely that Agile Coaches will work collaboratively with Agile team facilitators and other Agile advocates to identify and remove any barriers to the successful implementation of Agile.

A typical role of an agile coach is to do the following:

  • Incorporating Agile teams or departments into the broader operations of an organisation that predominantly uses non-Agile approaches can be a challenging process. It requires a strategic plan to effectively integrate Agile practices into the existing structure and culture of the organisation. It is important to consider how to communicate the benefits of Agile to executive leadership, how to manage the change process, and how to ensure that the Agile teams are properly supported and resourced. Additionally, it is essential to consider how the Agile teams will interact with traditional departments and how to ensure that everyone is working together towards the same goal. By taking the time to plan and execute a successful integration, organisations can reap the benefits that Agile has to offer.
  • Help Agile best practices to be adopted by teams of all types.
  • Teams are guided by agile team facilitators.
  • Arriving at a desired outcome despite top management opposition.
  • Assessing the impact of the agile transformation.

Corporate Agile Coach

Enterprise Agile Coaches operate on a larger scale than traditional Agile Coaches, requiring a broader skillset that encompasses not only coaching, but also organisational design, enterprise change management, and senior leadership coaching. In addition, they should possess a working knowledge of corporate Agile frameworks such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large-scale Scrum (LeSS), or Disciplined Agile Delivery (DaD).

An Enterprise Agile Coach plays an essential role in helping organisations transition to an Agile mindset. Their primary focus is to work with senior leadership to help them gain an understanding of the benefits of an Agile approach and the framework needed to implement it successfully within the company. They are less concerned with the day-to-day tasks of assisting teams with implementing Agile, and more focused on helping the organisation to restructure their processes in order to facilitate Agile principles.

Full-time Role?

Occasionally, a popular way for Agile team facilitators to structure their work is to divide their time between acting as a Scrum Master and taking on roles such as a developer, project manager, or product manager. Ideally, the Agile team facilitator would be solely responsible for functioning as a Scrum Master for one or more teams, with no other duties within the teams.

It is not uncommon for a mid-level manager to assume the role of an Agile coach in addition to their regular responsibilities during an Agile transformation. This combination of roles can be effective in supporting the implementation of the Agile methodology within the organisation.

Despite the option of employing an internal business Agile coach, it is more commonly accepted practice to enlist the services of an external specialist.

How can an Agile coach help a project manager?

As a project manager, it is likely that you will encounter agile coaches during the progression of your projects. Engaging and collaborating with these coaches can provide multiple benefits to both you and your project team. From improved communication and collaboration to a more productive and successful project, involving agile coaches could be the key to success.

Make Your Project Team More Agile

If your team is facing challenges related to Agile, it is highly recommended that you seek the help of an Agile coach. An Agile coach can provide valuable guidance and insights, as they have likely encountered a wide range of situations in their career. Whether it is questions concerning the usefulness of daily standups or the benefit of utilising story points for estimation, an Agile coach can provide the answers and direction you need. Furthermore, they can also arrange workshops and lectures to further expand your understanding of Agile topics.

Despite the fact that you may not feel that there are any major issues in your Agile process, it may be beneficial to have an Agile coach come and observe your primary ceremonies and conduct a comprehensive review. By doing this, they may be able to provide constructive feedback as to what could be improved or even uncover any problems that you were previously unaware of.

Getting Rid of Dependencies

As Agile principles emphasise eliminating or decreasing external dependencies, Project Managers may find themselves limited in their ability to address such dependencies that arise from other teams. In these instances, an Agile coach with their broader understanding and knowledge of enterprise Agility should be consulted to help in resolving the dependency.

What Are My Next Steps to Become an Agile Coach?

As an aspiring Agile coach, one of the routes available to you is through project management. When working as a project manager, you are likely to be exposed to Agile methodologies and thus become familiar with them. Furthermore, project managers are typically among the first people in an organisation that are asked to introduce Agile to a team and assume the role of an Agile team facilitator.

To become an agile coach, follow these steps:

  • It may be beneficial to consider becoming a certified Agile coach, as many employers have been known to grant applicants with such credentials additional points. These courses provide more than just organised academic information; they also help one to understand how to apply the knowledge in real-life situations. Therefore, they can be invaluable in providing the necessary skills to succeed in the job.
  • If you have not been exposed to Agile practices before, it is recommended that you pursue opportunities to obtain practical, hands-on experience by applying for projects that already utilise Agile principles. This will enable you to gain the necessary experience to make informed decisions and develop your proficiency in Agile methodology.
  • Exploring opportunities to become an Agile team facilitator such as a Scrum Master could be beneficial for career progression. It may be possible to gain such a role through internal promotion or to apply for a project management position at a smaller organisation that is transitioning to an Agile methodology. This would not only provide valuable team experience, but would also give the opportunity to work closely with senior management and be part of an Agile transformation.
  • You may have the opportunity to work with a company that has either employed or contracted an Agile coach. It is advisable to take advantage of this opportunity to glean knowledge and expertise from the coach’s past experiences. Additionally, it would be beneficial to familiarise yourself with the person to create a strong working relationship.
  • Under certain conditions, companies may need to undertake an Agile transformation project that necessitates the combined effort of multiple personnel. If you are interested in seeing how Agile is implemented across an entire organisation, please consider applying to be part of the project team involved in the Agile transformation.
    Find a position in a business consulting firm that offers Agile coaching services.

Conclusion

As Agile methodology continues to gain popularity, the demand for skilled Agile coaches is on the rise. Organisations looking to embrace Agile principles can benefit from the expertise of three distinct types of Agile coaches:

  • Agile Team Facilitator – Individually works with one or more teams and is responsible for establishing and sustaining Agile rituals within those teams.
  • Agile Coach – Works at the team and organisational levels. Engages senior management enables inter-departmental conversation and accelerates Agile adoption across the organisation.
  • Enterprise Agile Coach – Manages organisational and cultural transformation, introduces enterprise-level Agile approaches, and trains senior leadership.

Agile coaches can provide invaluable aid to project managers in addressing inefficiencies within their internal processes and in making necessary improvements to their Agile methodology. Additionally, an Agile coach can assist in eliminating or minimising dependencies which are typically beyond the scope of a project manager’s control.

Ultimately, project management could be a viable pathway to becoming an Agile coach. If this is a route you are considering, it is recommended that you seek out opportunities to serve as an Agile team facilitator (such as a Scrum master), learn from experienced Agile coaches within your organisation, and get involved in company-wide Agile transformation projects. Doing so will give you the knowledge and experience necessary to become an effective Agile coach.

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