How to Succeed as an Agile Coach

How to Succeed as an Agile Coach

Curious about what it takes to succeed as an Agile Coach? Do you aspire to become an Agile Coach or grow as a Scrum Master? Welcome!

We’ve created this detailed Agile Coaching guide to help you become more skillful, and improve the productivity and effectiveness of the organizations and teams that you support.

It is our belief that Agile Coaches need to demonstrate mastery in a wide variety of topics. For this reason, our success guide is focused on learning. Yep, to be a great agile coach means to learn all the topics that affect organizations, teams and agile ways of working.

Use the table of contents above to see what is included, or jump directly to the section that is interesting to you.

Some Definitions for Agile Coach

What is an Agile Coach?

A pretty basic question is what is an Agile Coach? Definitions vary but the commonly accepted view of agile coach is someone who helps people to adopt agile ways of thinking and working, as outlined in the 4 Agile Values and 12 Agile Principles. Learn more about the role of the Agile Coach in this article from CIO.com.

How does an Agile Coach differ from a Scrum Master?

Most people consider a Scrum Master an Agile Coach at the team level. One of the few experts on Agile coaching is the International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile). They view agile coaching on 3 levels:

  • Team Level Facilitator (aka Scrum Master)
  • Agile Coach
  • Agile Coach Expert

You can read more about these levels on the ICAgile certification page.

New to Agile Coaching? Consider your ‘Come from’

Success as an Agile Coach will be directly impacted by where you came from. No one starts out their career as an Agile Coach; everyone came from a different job. Learning and growing as a coach will depend on where you came from and where you are now.

If you came from a traditional SW development background, you’ll be used to a lot of planning upfront and then executing projects in clearly defined phases with lots of document deliverables along the way. For you, delivering iteratively and incrementally may be your biggest challenge. You will also need to learn to give up the big up front planning in favor of lightweight design and architecture. You may want to watch this video from Jimmy Janlen called This is Agile to get a brief overview of the major differences.

Many of us come from top-down, hierarchical organizations where the orders come from the top and get carried out by those at the bottom. This will also take some unwinding as Agile involves self-organizing teams. You may want to read this article about self-organizing teams for more information.

If you used to be a traditional project manager that was responsible for controlling all aspects of projects, your coaching journey will need to include letting go of control and getting comfortable with not making decisions. You might find it helpful to read this article, how to transition from project manager to Scrum Master.

If you’ve been a practicing Scrum Master, you are already flexing your coaching muscles. Some Scrum Masters tend to be quite prescriptive and I personally think that the coach should leverage more questions than forcing their opinions on others. You might find the following article helpful: What NOT to do as an Agile Coach.

Coaches that come from organizational development or who worked as software developers will have a leg up, as will those who have deep experience working in teams.

A Short Reading List for Agile Coaches

Coaches need to be continually learning and growing and honing their skills. Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there and many great books on agile related topics. There is so much to learn and so many books that creating a short reading list for Agile Coaches is challenging.

These 10 books would be my top recommendations of books that I have read and rely on. There are many others though and below I have included a much longer reading list.

Succeed as an Agile Coach with these Blog Posts

We’ve written extensively about succeeding as an Agile Coach over the last few years. If you would like to understand what makes an Agile Coach effective, please read What Makes an Agile Coach Effective.

Similarly, learn about the most important Agile Coaching traits in What are the Most Important Agile Coach Traits?

Read about things to avoid in What NOT to do as an Agile Coach.

This post about some of the challenges with introducing agile may be helpful to new agile coaches. Read Why ‘Going Agile’ Can Scare People In An Agile Transformation.

Finally, determining when to stop coaching in a particular organization in this post, What is the “Exit Criteria” for Agile Coaching? 

Recommended Websites or Podcasts for Prospective Agile Coaches

There are many great websites out there with a wealth of information. In fact, the amount of information may be overwhelming especially to newcomers. Here are some of the best:

  • Bob Galen – Bob Galen is an Agile expert and prolific author. His writing style is direct and to the point.
  • Mike Cohn / Mountain Goat Software – Mike Cohn is a long time Scrum expert, trainer and author. His writing style is conversational and helpful and I have several of his books.
  • Scrum.org Community Blog – Scrum.org has a community blog that has a diverse set of views. The blog posts aren’t necessarily curated or edited by Scrum.org so as with anything, make sure you are thinking critically when reading.
  • Agile Coaching Institute – Lyssa Adkins and her associates have been helping coaches and Scrum Masters succeed through workshops and training. Learn more from the website.
  • Agile Alliance Community Blog – Similar to Scrum.org, the Agile Alliance has a community blog with lots of voices on a wide range of topics. Sign up for curated monthly newsletters.
  • InfoQ – InfoQ is a technically oriented site that frequently includes articles on agile and high performing teams. The articles tend to be higher quality and go through some sort of editorial review.
  • Martin Fowler – Fowler was one of the original 17 signatories to the Agile Manifesto and has been a prolific author since.

In addition to the websites, here are a few podcasts that I recommend:

  • Ryan Ripley – Agile for Humans – Ryan Ripley has built an engaged following by providing some excellent content episode after episode. Esther Derby is a just one of the many agile thought leaders who often join his show.
  • Tom Cagley – Software Process and Measurement Cast – Tom Cagley has been podcasting for something like 10 years. His 500+ episodes include all the greatest software development and agile thought leaders.

A Longer Reading List for Agile Coaches

Here are a few additional books on Agile and Scrum that you might find helpful. This is only a subset of the books recommended by agile and lean expert Craig Larman during my Scrum Master training years ago.

Blog Posts on Agile and Scrum

Finally, we will close out this post with additional blog posts. The following posts from this site might be helpful to aspiring agile coaches who want to better understand Scrum, improve their retrospectives or create high-performing teams.

Blog Posts on Scrum

Blog Posts on Scrum Retrospectives & Continuous Improvement

Blog Posts on High Performance Teams

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