Feb 17, 2020   Culture, Delivery

Why do you need a full time agile coach?

Why do you need a full time agile coach?

This one might be a little controversial, especially with those who make their living coaching agile teams.

99% of the companies I visit have hired at least one agile coach, usually for a lot of money because there are not enough good coaches to meet the demand, especially if you are trying to find a coach who has experience with your situation or someone with experience of using a framework such as SAFe.

Companies treat it like an insurance policy, it feels good to have an agile coach on board, you are safeguarding your delivery in fact some believe it’s guaranteeing success so as a result coaches tend to be in place for a long time and there becomes a fear associated moving them on. But here’s the thing…

I absolutely get that a coach will help inexperienced teams get started with agile, understand the new terminology and stay true to the ‘agile way of working’. It’s great to be able to call someone over to ask advice or for clarification and having a coach on hand to train your staff is vital but how long is that support and coaching required?

The best way to learn agile is to do it, yes you will make mistakes but if your project leadership and scrum masters are driven to implement agile effectively and embrace continuous improvement it won’t be long before you have surpassed the basics and while many of the coaches today have genuine hands on experience with successful teams, there are a reasonable proportion who have limited experience and are still learning themselves… they aren’t going to learn as much by coaching.

Applying agile to one or two teams is relatively straight forward but few coaches have led programmes with 15+ scrum teams, not just focusing on how those teams implement agile but also the basics of large programme management such as recruitment, retention, financial control and budgets, governance, negotiating software license contracts, supplier management etc. etc.

  • An agile coach will not help you code or test better.
  • An agile coach will rarely help you optimise your development lifecycle.
  • An agile coach is unlikely to help design your post-live support organisation.

Many agile coaches don’t PRODUCE anything, for example they might help you organise and facilitate a SAFe planning event but it’s down to you to produce the plan and get it approved internally. At some point you won’t need an agile coach, you’ll need a software delivery coach.

The theory of agile is amazing but it rarely survives first contact with any large, established organisation. There is usually some degree of workable compromise and it’s the bigger questions which will ultimately trip you up e.g. how do we structure our supplier contracts in order to best integrate them with our agile teams? How do you carry out change management with large scale agile?

So, would I recommend using an agile coach? Yes absolutely however, you will probably find 1-2 months is enough. Beyond that you’ll need to get advice from someone who has run or worked in a serious software delivery organisation.

Agile coaches have great connections with previous clients and across the community so use them to find similar organisations to yours and create peer relationships. You’ll learn more from companies that are 2 or 3 steps ahead of you and maybe even manage to avoid some of their mistakes.

NEIL BUTLER

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