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.
You can also get an overview of this role from this article 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 think of the Scrum Master as a junior agile coach. Or they think of the role of Scrum Master as a stepping stone to Agile Coaching.
Though in other organizations, a Scrum Master is also treated as a project manager. There is a definite lack of standardization around the role.
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.
What Certifications Do Agile Coaches Need?
You don’t need a certification to be an Agile Coach. Anyone can print a business card and call themselves a coach. Happens all the time.
But yes there are certification programs. There are currently certification programs for coaching through the following organizations. Note that this is an area that is likely to change so check with the provider for the most up to date information.
- Scrum Alliance – Scrum Alliance offers both Certified Team Coach and a Certified Enterprise Coach designations. I am not familiar with either but think it is safe to assume they involve paying the Scrum Alliance a fee.
- Scrum Alliance – The Scrum Alliance provides other certifications that may be valuable to the aspiring Agile Coach. This includes the Certified Scrum Professional designation.
- IC Agile – There are three designations provided by IC AGile. The first level is the Team Level Facilitator, then Agile Coach and then Agile Coach Expert. You can read more about these levels on the ICAgile certification page. The IC Agile approach is that you take the appropriate training course and receive the certification.
- Scrum.org – At this time I don’t think Scrum.org provides a Scrum Coach designation. That could easily change as there is money to be made.
- International Coaching Federation – The International Coach Federation provides a path to generic coach certification. That is, the coaching is general and not specific to Agile or Scrum. I’ve looked into this program and it looks quite rigorous, with a time horizon of about 2 years.
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.
- Lyssa Adkins – Coaching Agile Teams – If I could only recommend one book to Agile Coaches it would be Lyssa Adkins book. This book is not a quick read but rather, something you will need to review again and again as you learn and grow as a coach.
- Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber – The Scrum Guide – Most people using Agile are using the Scrum Framework and this short guide is the standard.
- James Womack – The Machine That Changed the World – If you really want to understand agile ways of working, study lean and the Toyota Production System. This is one of two books I would recommend on this subject.
- Hirotaka Takeuchi – The New Product Development Game – This HBR article featured the use of ‘rugby style teams’ and was the inspiration for Scrum.
- Mike Cohn – Succeeding with Agile – Mike Cohn is a prolific author of easily readable agile books. This is one of several that I own.
- Mike Cohn – Agile Estimating and Planning – Another great resource from Mike Cohn.
- Esther Derby – Agile Retrospectives – This book written with Diana Larsen is THE go to book on Retrospectives and a must own for Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters.
- Craig Larman and Bas Vodde – Scaling Lean and Agile – While the title speaks to scaling, this is really about moving beyond single team Scrum. This is a serious text book on how to approach scaling and what to try and what to avoid.
- Craig Larman and Bas Vodde – Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) – This book is the up to date follow-on to the Scaling book mentioned above.
- Eric Ries – Lean Startup – Eric Ries took many of the great ideas from Steve Blank and wrote the Lean Startup. The book explains how to run small experiments to validate product development. This approach should be used by most agile teams.
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.
- Agile Software Development with Scrum – This Ken Schwaber book is dated but still interesting.
- Exploring Scrum the Fundamentals – This book by Doug Shimp is also recommended as a good read on Scrum.
- Essential Scrum – Ken Rubin’s Essential Scrum provided an in-depth review of Scrum that I found helpful.
- Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game by Alistair Cockburn
- Agile & Iterative Development; A Managers Guide by Craig Larman
- Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit by Mary Poppendieck
- Agile Project Management with Scrum by Ken Schwaber
- User Stories Applied by Mike Cohn
- Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change by Kent Beck
- Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances by J. Richard Hackman
- Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas by Mary Lynn Manns
- Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash by Mary Poppendieck
- The Five Dysfunctions of a TEAM by Patrick Lencioni
- Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming
- Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love by Roman Pichler
- Implementing Beyond Budgeting: Unlocking the Performance Potential by Bjarte Bogsnes
- The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
- Agile Software Development, Principles, Patterns, and Practices by Robert C. Martin
- Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C. Martin
- The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach
- Birth of the Chaordic Age by Dee Hock
- Maverick by Ricardo Semler
- Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner
- Agile Coaching by Rachel Davies
- Software for Your Head by Jim McCarthy
- The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor
- The DevOps Handbook by Jez Humble, et al
- Leading Self-Directed Work Teams by Kimball Fisher
- The Self-Managing Organization by Roland Purser
- The Future of Management by Gary Hamel
- Get Rid of the Performance Review by Samuel Culbert
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
- Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise , and Other Bribes by Alfied Kohn
- Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change by Diana Whitney, et al.
- Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results by Mike Rother
- Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way by Jeffrey K. Liker
- The Lean Startup: How Today’ s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful by Eric Ries
- Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews by Norman L. Kerth
- Kanban by David Anderson
- Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom Demarco
- One More Time, How Do We Motivate Employees? by Frederick Herzberg
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
- Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master
- Succeed with the Scrum Framework: Don’t Break These 7 Rules
- Downloadable Agile Principles & Scrum Tip Sheet
- Tips for an Effective Daily Scrum Meeting
- Scrum Masters Need to be Good Listeners
- Include the Scrum Product Owner in Estimating?
- Puzzled about the Scrum Master Role in Scrum?
- Hey Scrum Masters, You’re Not the Jira Lackey!
- Scrum Teams Aren’t Chickens and Pigs
- How to Use the Scrum Framework with Distributed Teams
Blog Posts on Scrum Retrospectives & Continuous Improvement
- FASTER! Speeding Up Your Next Retrospective
- How to Improve Your Scrum Retrospective Part 1
- How to Improve Your Retrospectives Part 2 – Setting the Stage
- Improving Your Retrospectives Part 3: Techniques
- How to Remove Fear and Blame from Your Project Reviews
- Stop Lessons Learned Meetings, Try a Retrospective
- 6 Tips for Better Retrospectives
- One Easy Way to Improve Your Next Retrospective
Blog Posts on High Performance Teams
- High-Performing Teams – What Google Found
- The Wisdom of High-Performing Teams
- How Do You Motivate Agile Teams to Become High-Performing Teams?
- How to Establish High-Performing Agile Teams
- For High-Performing Teams Treat Members Equally
- For High Performing Teams, Stop Assigning People to Multiple Teams
- Don’t Overlook Safety for High Performing Teams
- Best Agile Team Size for High Performance?
- Slack Time Helps Create High Performing Teams