Coaching Agile from the Top Down

coachingA question we frequently hear is:

“How do I hire a good Agile coach?”

We usually answer with a question, “For whom and for what purpose are you hiring an agile coach?”

There are all sorts of agile coaches from Scrum coaches, to technical coaches, to communication coaches, to executive coaches—which one do you need? Most people start with scrum coaching and may tinker a little in technical coaching, likely never getting to communication and executive coaching—we think this is backward.

The benefits of agile teams will not last without executive support.

We propose a different coaching model—work first with a clear understanding of how you hope to win true executive sponsorship. If that support requires a trial phase then executive a trial phase, perhaps demonstrate a single functioning highly-productive agile team.

When executive sponsorship is finally granted, then you must coach the executives.

Bureaucracies are inherently tricky things and are usually not understood at all by agile coaches. An agile executive coach must first understand the inherent strengths of a bureaucracy. The agile executive coach must know and appreciate why and how a bureaucracy forms, grows, and operates. Only then will the coach have the credibility they need to advise the executive team on the road to agility. 

After the executive coaching begins, start coaching on communications. After communications, provide technical coaching. Lastly, if required at all, consider adding in traditional agile (Scrum) coaching.

Here is the payoff, if you work in this order the Scrum coaching is trivial, and perhaps not necessary at all.

If you are not starting with executive sponsorship then get it any way you can, usually with pilot teams and well structured experiments. Once obtained, begin with executive coaching. Discuss with the executive team the true nature of scaling enterprise agility (no it is not Safe). This is truly where you want to begin.  If you are not starting with agile executive and management coaching then your engagement will seriously struggle. It will likely be smothered by existing bureaucratic constraints.

If your organization is really interested in scaling agility, you must Coach Agile from the Top Down.

Executives and managers cannot effectively achieve agile transformations without profoundly understanding how and why agile works.  It takes time—years in larger organizations—to truly gain this understanding. A transformation this big makes executive coaching essential.

To achieve the significant benefits enterprise agility delivers requires changing organizational fundamentals: altering political structures, changing physical structures, transforming social structures, deploying new technical skills, creating new metrics, building new group interfaces, creating new rewards and punishments.

Achieving enterprise agility requires a profound understanding of what agile is attempting to delivery and why—across the entire organization— from marketing, sales, delivery, ops, and finance, all the way to governance and IT.

Effective agile change requires coaching executives, managers, and all business stakeholders.

There are many ways to experiment with agile, and very few ways to achieve a true agile transformation. Most agile engagements are painful. Most agile engagements deliver only a tiny percentage of the potential gain available. However, there is a way to minimize the pain and maximize the impact—agile executive coaching—coaching agile from the top down.

Agile transformation is never achieved with generic Scrum coaches since Scrum coaches focus on software development, not the whole organization. Do it right and Scrum coaches may not be required at all. Agile transformation begins with a backlog of change items created, maintained, and implemented by an experienced agile transformation team working with your executives and managers.

So back to the original question, “How do I hire a good Agile coach?” First, change the question, “What types of Agile coach do I need?”

We propose you need to – and should – start with executive coaching.

By Tom (Thomas) Meloche –

Results in less than four hours—guaranteed! We have been exploring new ways of teaching organizational transformation to C-suite executives. If you are doing Agile, Scrum, or Lean then you can benefit from our approach on immersion based training. We are exceptionally happy with the results. In less than half a…
In a previous post we proposed the question..  “How do I hire a good Agile coach?” ...however that was inadequate - so, we proposed a new question..  “Which type of agile coach do I need?” Followed by...  “How do I hire a good agile executive coach?” Start a true agile…