What are the Top 10 Traits of An Agile Coach?

Anthony Mersino
March 2, 2015

What are the top traits that an Agile Coach should have? Today there are more an more individuals hanging out a shingle and calling themselves Agile Coaches. And there are few standards or training programs directed at Agile Coaches. So how does an organization know what is desirable for Agile Coaches? The infographic above and the text below is my attempt to explain that. 

A Disclaimer On Agile Coaching

I think it is important to point out that each coaching situation is somewhat unique and there may not be one definitive set of "best" or ideal traits. Much of my experience has focused on early stages of Agile Adoption of when organizations are first undertaking an Agile Transformation using Scrum. The specifica skills needed to adopt Scrum will be different than those required for Kanban or Extreme Programming.

Traits that an Agile Coach Needs to Support an Agile Transformation

​Below is my list of traits that I think Agile Coaches should have to support an Agile Transformation using the Scrum Framework. This list is presented in no particular order. This is my list of 10, in no particular order:

  1. Hands On Scrum and Agile Experience 

    I think it goes without saying that to be a good coach you need hands on experience with Agile and Scrum. The most effective coaches will have worked within a Scrum Team as a Dev Team member, developing solutions. A huge plus would be Scrum Master and Product Owner experience.

  2. Experience as a Developer

    Similar to the previous item, experience as a developer would be very helpful to a coach. Most of the team members being coached will be developers and having that experience of being in there shoes will help with empathy and credibility.

  3. Application of XP & Technical Practices

    Though I suppose you can implement Scrum without XP or technical practices, I don't recommend it. Teams that don't invest in continuous integration, automated testing tools and test-first thinking will have limited productivity. Coaches with that experience can help teams to implement these techniques.

  4. Lean Thinker

    Lean principles underpin all of Agile and Scrum and should not be ignored. Great coaches will be able to explain and help teams understand why small batches increase productivity, how to identify and eliminate bottlenecks in the process, and recognizing waste in all forms. 

  5. Continuous Improvement

    Great coaches cast a vision and create enthusiasm for continuous improvement. They celebrate success but discourage satisfaction with good enough.

  6. Change Agent / OCM Expert

    The best coaches understand how organizational change works and how to effectively support an organization undergoing change. Agile Transformation is more than a process change - it is a complete mindset change. Agile Coaches need to understand that mindset change and help all individuals make that change whether they are leaders in the organization or team team members.

  7. Excellent Listening Skills

    I didn't put these Agile Coaching traits in order, but if I did, listening skills would be at the top. I don't think there is a more important skill on the list. Amazingly, many Agile Coaches are terrible when it comes to listening. They believe that there job is all about telling people what to do so they talk a lot more than they listen. Want to find a good Agile Coach? Look for someone who asks questions and listens well.

  8. Emotional Intelligence

    Similar to the previous item on Listening, Agile Coaches need Social and Emotional Intelligence to be effective. They need great interpersonal skills and the ability to read the room.  

  9. Unconditional Positive Regard for Others

    Carl Rogers coined the term unconditional positive regard. The idea is that we prize the human potential and we see each individual as whole and complete and able to solve their own problems. Great Agile Coaches support others to solve things for themselves, rather than telling people what to do.

  10. Uses Agile Mindset - Values and Principles

    The concept of the Agile Mindset has several meanings. I think of someone who has embraced and internalized the Agile Values and Principles. This means that rather than focusing on the practices or "doing agile", they recognize and embrace "being agile".
    ​Linda Rising and others have linked the term Agile Mindset to Carol Dweck's Mindset book. In this context, Agile Mindset is more about the potential to learn and grow without limits on our intelligence or ability to adapt.

What do you think? Did I miss, or misstate anything?

​Use these Traits as a Checklist for Hiring Your Agile Coach

​I think one of the most valuable uses of this list of traits is as a checklist for hiring Agile Coaches. Ask about the lean principles, Agile Principles and their experience on Scrum Teams. Pay attention to their emotional intelligence and their listening skills.  A good coach may not score 100% on all 10 traits, but they should score pretty high on most of these.

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About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

Comments

it would be interesting to mash this up with the ACI coaching model, especially with its integral slant.

Anthony, I agree with your 10 top traits of an Agile coach. Thanks for sharing. I would add one more and that would be "Effective Facilitator". With Agile, we include lots of folks in our meetings and we want to get value from those meetings. By knowing how to effectively facilitate Release planning/train meetings and iteration planning meetings; not to mention dysfunctional behavior; we will get more value out of Agile meetings.

Anthony Mersino's picture
Kellie, I can't argue against the importance of great facilitation skills. As you noted, there are many meetings in the Scrum Framework and a good Agile Coach will help to facilitate those meetings well. My only argument for this not making the top 10 is that I see that facilitation role as primarily one that the Scrum Master will play. I understand that most people see that as a "Team Coach" and that is fine. It is important at the team and at the leadership level, must not sure that it makes the top 10. Perhaps we could agree to make this item 10 1/2? Thanks again, Anthony