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Progressing From Agile Practitioner To Agile Coach- A Perspective

Introduction: -With Agile becoming a norm in the current world, enterprises that want to be in the forefront of transformation typically focuses on an adoption strategy that involves hiring Agile practitioners. This hiring is expected to create and foster an Agile culture by coaching employees who may not have any prior Agile experience.I had an opportunity to lead one of the high profile enterprise Agile product development in my organization for a US client. It was a multi-year program with more than 60+ team members distributed geographically across 4 locations (India & US). The program was highly visible and had all tight constraints in terms of budget, timeline, and quality. The client’s engineering teams were too slow in adoption and were not supported by strong engineering practices and focusing only on management aspects.The hope was that my 'extreme programming and engineering practices' background would bring light at the end of the tunnel! Also, since I had spent a considerable amount of time as a practitioner and had attended internal training on coaching, my manager was confident about my accrued experience.I took on all these challenges one by one and also in the meantime I learned that coaching involves three simple stages, as follows. Let’s see these 3 different stages of Agile Coaching that will help you to move from an Agile Practitioner to Agile Coaching.Three Stages/Phases of Agile Coaching: -First is the Assessment Stage, where I observed existing processes and interaction with the team members, gauging them on technical and non­-technical considerations. I evaluated some of the baseline metrics and assessment reports.I was able to identify some of the key improvement areas that could help the team and client progress towards the goal quickly and deliver value. I had devoted a lot of time in listening actively to the team members on multiple occasions. This gave lots of insights into various processes and standards followed by the team and its dynamics. Some of the key challenges that existed were,Non-standardized approach by the team leading to the suboptimal solution.Unwilling to share the best practices or knowledge.Lack of cross synergy and cohesion thereby decreasing overall velocity.Losing focus on the big picture leading to silo working modelThe second is the Active coaching stage where I started encouraging the team members to set specific goals and provide accountability and followed-up to improve the performance. More often I would have open conversations like “What can I do to help you improve?” and create awareness around the problem or issues.I was able to change or influence the behavior patterns of the team on retrospectives during stressful times by not attending the ceremony. This provided freedom to the team members and allowed them to express freely on the pitfalls and improvement areas.I noticed a few things..The build took almost 2 hours, potentially delaying deployment across multiple stages. I probed the team to come up with new ideas to reduce the build time and team was able to explore multiple options and with maven scripts, the team reduced the build time to 45 minutes (60% reduction).The personal characteristics and attitude are most difficult to change as they are built from childhood. I would often leave it to the individual to resolve if there is a need to change and why it would benefit them personally.The key was to actively listen to their opinions, ideas and most importantly to empathize and motivate the team members. I realized as a coach, that influencing or changing behaviors of the team cannot be done overnight and provide immediate results but was always a gradual and long-term process. Over a period of time, the team became self-sufficient and I observed well-enabled retrospectives and well maintained Jira boards.  The difference between completed and accepted story points came down to 3-5% from 8-10%. The team had started realizing their potential without much of an active involvement from me. Team dynamics often created unpredictability (low motivational levels, low performance, poor standards etc.) and I was careful particularly in not providing any directions and specify the outcomes rather understood the working ways of the team and coached them to overcome all of these challenges by themselves.The final stage is Sustainability, which is to continue to perform better indefinitely while I stepped back and enjoyed the results and performance of the team. In some iterations, the results were excellent and few iterations stayed flat.I reviewed the qualitative and quantitative metrics from time to time just to make sure the fundamentals were being followed and as long as there is a harmony in the team, I didn’t interfere. I also learned to identify the quick learners, star performers and nurtured them as they were the ones who would eventually become the team’s influencers and motivators and made them as the internal coaches to continue this endeavor forever. I fostered a healthy relationship with multiple units in the team, for the team to function more effectively.Responsibilities of an Agile CoachPlays a mentoring or coaching role in the organization without being a part of the Scrum teamMost often this person is not a part of the Scrum team and an outsider (from outside the organization)Guides the team members, without personal or political considerationsThe person is an Agile expertIs experienced in implementing Agile techniques in different cultures and environmentsAble to run the complex and different sized Agile projects successfullyA Roadway from Agile Practitioner to Coach:-The coaching experience gave me a sense of fulfillment as I would see mostly the team smiling and brimming with ideas for improvement constantly in the journey of self-reliance. This has helped me improve my personal traits to a greater extent and I feel that I’ve made a sincere attempt to embed myself into my organization towards enterprise agility.Despite the resistance from the team members to change, I was able to win and influence them through my communication, empathy and logical reasoning skills. I truly believed coaching focuses on helping another person learn in ways that let him or her keep growing afterward. It is based on asking rather than telling, on provoking thought rather than giving directions and on holding a person accountable for his or her goals.
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Progressing From Agile Practitioner To Agile Coach- A Perspective

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Progressing From Agile Practitioner To Agile Coach- A Perspective

Introduction: -

With Agile becoming a norm in the current world, enterprises that want to be in the forefront of transformation typically focuses on an adoption strategy that involves hiring Agile practitioners. This hiring is expected to create and foster an Agile culture by coaching employees who may not have any prior Agile experience.

I had an opportunity to lead one of the high profile enterprise Agile product development in my organization for a US client. It was a multi-year program with more than 60+ team members distributed geographically across 4 locations (India & US). The program was highly visible and had all tight constraints in terms of budget, timeline, and quality. The client’s engineering teams were too slow in adoption and were not supported by strong engineering practices and focusing only on management aspects.

The hope was that my 'extreme programming and engineering practices' background would bring light at the end of the tunnel! Also, since I had spent a considerable amount of time as a practitioner and had attended internal training on coaching, my manager was confident about my accrued experience.

I took on all these challenges one by one and also in the meantime I learned that coaching involves three simple stages, as follows. Let’s see these 3 different stages of Agile Coaching that will help you to move from an Agile Practitioner to Agile Coaching.

Three Stages/Phases of Agile Coaching: -

Three Stages/Phases of Agile CoachingFirst is the Assessment Stage, where I observed existing processes and interaction with the team members, gauging them on technical and non­-technical considerations. I evaluated some of the baseline metrics and assessment reports.

I was able to identify some of the key improvement areas that could help the team and client progress towards the goal quickly and deliver value. I had devoted a lot of time in listening actively to the team members on multiple occasions. This gave lots of insights into various processes and standards followed by the team and its dynamics. Some of the key challenges that existed were,

  • Non-standardized approach by the team leading to the suboptimal solution.
  • Unwilling to share the best practices or knowledge.
  • Lack of cross synergy and cohesion thereby decreasing overall velocity.
  • Losing focus on the big picture leading to silo working model

The second is the Active coaching stage where I started encouraging the team members to set specific goals and provide accountability and followed-up to improve the performance. More often I would have open conversations like “What can I do to help you improve?” and create awareness around the problem or issues.

I was able to change or influence the behavior patterns of the team on retrospectives during stressful times by not attending the ceremony. This provided freedom to the team members and allowed them to express freely on the pitfalls and improvement areas.

I noticed a few things..

The build took almost 2 hours, potentially delaying deployment across multiple stages. I probed the team to come up with new ideas to reduce the build time and team was able to explore multiple options and with maven scripts, the team reduced the build time to 45 minutes (60% reduction).

The personal characteristics and attitude are most difficult to change as they are built from childhood. I would often leave it to the individual to resolve if there is a need to change and why it would benefit them personally.

The key was to actively listen to their opinions, ideas and most importantly to empathize and motivate the team members. I realized as a coach, that influencing or changing behaviors of the team cannot be done overnight and provide immediate results but was always a gradual and long-term process. Over a period of time, the team became self-sufficient and I observed well-enabled retrospectives and well maintained Jira boards.  

The difference between completed and accepted story points came down to 3-5% from 8-10%. The team had started realizing their potential without much of an active involvement from me. Team dynamics often created unpredictability (low motivational levels, low performance, poor standards etc.) and I was careful particularly in not providing any directions and specify the outcomes rather understood the working ways of the team and coached them to overcome all of these challenges by themselves.
coaching difficulty & resistance in agileThe final stage is Sustainability, which is to continue to perform better indefinitely while I stepped back and enjoyed the results and performance of the team. In some iterations, the results were excellent and few iterations stayed flat.

I reviewed the qualitative and quantitative metrics from time to time just to make sure the fundamentals were being followed and as long as there is a harmony in the team, I didn’t interfere. I also learned to identify the quick learners, star performers and nurtured them as they were the ones who would eventually become the team’s influencers and motivators and made them as the internal coaches to continue this endeavor forever. I fostered a healthy relationship with multiple units in the team, for the team to function more effectively.

Responsibilities of an Agile Coach

  • Plays a mentoring or coaching role in the organization without being a part of the Scrum team
  • Most often this person is not a part of the Scrum team and an outsider (from outside the organization)
  • Guides the team members, without personal or political considerations
  • The person is an Agile expert
  • Is experienced in implementing Agile techniques in different cultures and environments
  • Able to run the complex and different sized Agile projects successfully

A Roadway from Agile Practitioner to Coach:-
The coaching experience gave me a sense of fulfillment as I would see mostly the team smiling and brimming with ideas for improvement constantly in the journey of self-reliance. This has helped me improve my personal traits to a greater extent and I feel that I’ve made a sincere attempt to embed myself into my organization towards enterprise agility.

Despite the resistance from the team members to change, I was able to win and influence them through my communication, empathy and logical reasoning skills. I truly believed coaching focuses on helping another person learn in ways that let him or her keep growing afterward. It is based on asking rather than telling, on provoking thought rather than giving directions and on holding a person accountable for his or her goals.

Ramkumar

Ramkumar Armugam

Blog Author

Ramkumar is an experienced Program Manager with 13+ years of success in leading all phases of diverse technology IT Projects in retail, e-commerce, insurance and pharma market research industries. He has more than 7+ years of experience in leading and executing projects and programs using agile and lean methodologies. He is currently working as Senior Manager in Cognizant Technology Solutions India Pvt Ltd and holds multiple certifications including PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSPO, CSP and ICP-ACC. He has a zeal for project and program management and his current endeavor includes leading a large scale distributed product development team in delivering a world class product features in the area of Finance and HR domains for a large US retailer. He is a regular contributor to projectmanagement.com.

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Establishing a self-organising teamDisplaying a servant leadershipExecuting the Scrum valuesDecide according to Agile methodologyOwing to the team members’ responsibilitiesInvolving every team member in planning4. Planning bigDiscussing with the team membersFinding and fixing the cross-team problemsImproving the cross-team technical practicesRoles and Responsibilities of a Scrum MasterThe Scrum Master’s role is pivotal to the success of a team. He/she is a process leader who helps the team understand Scrum values, principles, and practices. 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This trend has prompted more industries to invest in Agile and Scrum training.  Let’s see some more benefits of having a certified Scrum Master on a project.Why should you be interested in getting a Scrum Master Certification?Scrum has become the finest choice of organizations to deliver more value to the customers. In State of Scrum 2018 survey, 85 percent of the respondents say Scrum continues to improve the quality of work life. At the same time, 81% of Scrum Masters who received certification agreed that it has significantly helped improve their practice.Listed below are the reasons and benefits of having a Scrum Master certification (CSM).1. In-depth knowledge of Scrum:If you have not implemented Scrum before, earning the certification will help you to learn the Scrum skills effectively. With this certification, you can level-up your knowledge with the basics of Scrum and you will be able to:Make customers happy and satisfiedDeliver better quality product in less timeMaintain team collaborationLesser defectsFlexible working strategyTake a quick decision on an issue2. A number of companies moving to Agile:Nowadays, organizations are required to speed up their product development process to deliver fast according to the changing needs of the customers. This helps organizations to stay viable. Scrum produces in iterations and its self-organizing teams deliver products of maximum value. Due to this reason, a number of companies are shifting to Agile.      3. New career opportunities on the go:A CSM certification will bring more new career opportunities as more companies are migrating to the Agile approach and they need a professional who will guide a team to follow the Scrum approach. Being a certified Scrum Master, your chances of getting hired by the top employers with fair salary are more.    4. Increases collaboration:When it comes to working on a complex project, it needs collaboration among the team members. As a certified professional on a team, you can build and reinforce the basic understanding of Scrum to produce a value.  5. Switch to the Agile mindset:You need to develop an Agile mindset if you have to work with Agile methodologies. As a certified person on a team, you need to start thinking in an Agile way that will avoid differences in opinions and lead to successful projects with better team collaboration.    7. Organizations yield more:It is tough for any organization to accept new processes easily as it affects the complete structure of the organization. It affects processes, management, people, and clients. In this regard, you need a knowledgeable person in your team who will make the adoption a smooth process. Being a certified Scrum Master, you will be facilitating the tasks for the team members.  8. Enter the Scrum experts community:After taking a Certified ScrumMaster certification, an individual will get a chance to be a part of the Scrum experts community of Scrum Alliance. This community offers knowledge in a way to stay updated, find the events, and provide instructions to the certified members.Scrum Master vs. Project ManagerOnce we enter the industries, we often come across the term Project Manager along with the Scrum Master. These two roles are distinct from each other though they contribute to the projects. This creates confusion between the Scrum Master and Project Manager roles when an organization is undergoing an Agile transformation.A Scrum Master works on the Agile project associated with Scrum project management principles whereas a Project Manager’s work is based on the traditional disciplined project management principles. Let’s see the differences between a Scrum Master and Project Manager. Also, if you are serving as a Project Manager and willing to become a Scrum Master or vice versa, this information will help you to take a stand on this. Before going further, let's see the roles of the Scrum Master and Project Manager in brief.1. Scrum Master duties:Scrum Master responsibilities to the Product Owner (PO)-Helps the PO in managing the product backlogHelps the PO to convey the product requirement clearly to the team members  Facilitate Scrum events to the POScrum Master responsibilities towards the development team-Guiding and coaching the teams to follow Scrum rulesRemoves roadblocks that are inhibiting the project’s progressHelps to maintain team dynamics and high-value resultFacilitate the Scrum events and arrange Scrum meetingsDirecting the team in Scrum implementationMentor the team members who are new to Scrum adoption2. Project Manager roles:The Project Manager is responsible for:Delivering the product according to the project’s requirementsDefining the project scope and planning the project activities accordinglyEnsuring that the responsibilities assigned to team members are according to their skills and expertiseReporting the progress of the project to the stakeholdersTracking the project performance against the timelines and ensuring an effective project qualityMaking sure that the project documentation is properPlanning the tasks for the team members and ensuring that the team understands their roles in the projectPreparing a project budget and getting it approved from the senior managementManaging the StakeholdersMonitoring and controlling the risks in the projectDelivering the project on time with the project constraints like scope, the budget, time, and efficient resourcesLet’s figure out the major differences between a Scrum Master and Project ManagerScrum MasterAttributesProject ManagerMakes sure that the team members are well trained to follow Agile practices appropriately. Also, SM coaches the Scrum teams and mentions the timeline to finish the projectGoalsHas defined goals like-Completing the project on time, planned a budget, and scopeSM assures the quality and knows the importance of quality.Quality AssurancePM also knows the importance of quality, but doesn’t know how to achieve it. A consultant is usually hired to fix the errorsScrum Master always tries to keep things smaller. They like to work in small teams irrespective of budget.Team SizeProject Managers like to make things large. PM works with more people and a huge budget. In this way, they improve to Program ManagerThe average salary of a Certified ScrumMaster® is $116,659 per year.Average SalaryThe average salary of a Project Manager is $75,474 per yearCertified Scrum Master (CSM)®Advanced-Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM)®Certified Scrum Professional- Scrum Master (CSP-SM)®Professional Scrum Master (PSM I, PSM II, PSM III)Agile Scrum Master (ASM)Scrum Master Certified (SMC)SAFe® Scrum Master (SSM)SAFe® Advanced Scrum Master (SASM)CertificationsAgile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®Project Management Professional (PMP)®Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®Certified Project Manager (IAPM)CompTIA Project+Certified Scrum Master (CSM)- Scrum AllianceAdvanced-Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM)- Scrum AllianceCertified Scrum Professional- Scrum Master (CSP-SM)- Scrum AllianceProfessional Scrum Master (PSM I, PSM II, PSM III)- Scrum.orgAgile Scrum Master (ASM)- EXINScrum Master Certified (SMC)- SCRUMstudySAFe® Scrum Master (SSM)- Scaled Agile Inc (SAI)SAFe® Advanced Scrum Master (SASM)- Scaled Agile Inc (SAI)Accreditation bodiesAgile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®- PMIProject Management Professional (PMP)®- PMICertified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®- PMICertified Project Manager (IAPM)- International Association of Project ManagersCompTIA Project+- CompTIAEfficient Scrum Master = Great OrganizationThe role of a Scrum Master may vary from one project to another or one organization to another but the importance of Scrum Master in a team will always be the same. The role of the Scrum Master in general is very challenging. It goes without saying that hiring a Scrum Master is the wisest decision for an organization undergoing a real transition to Agile!  
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Everything You Need to Know About Scrum Master

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