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 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.
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 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.