Coaching is one of the most inconsistently used terms that I have heard recently. It conjures up visions ranging from doing winds sprints with someone blowing a whistle in your ear to lying on a couch telling someone about how your parents treated you. Coaching has been used to mean teaching, discipline, motivation, personal discovery, facilitating, mentoring, and a variety of other definitions.
The most frequent misuse I hear is when someone makes a mistake, a manager is usually assigned “to coach them” about what they did wrong. In this case, what people mean is discipline –“Go explain the impact of the mistake and get the employee’s agreement they will never, ever, ever, make that mistake again!”
The other confusing use is “Agile Coach”. In my experience, what people really mean is “Agile Teacher” or “Agile Practitioner”. Someone who is knowledgeable in agile practices and can help the organization implement these practices.
In this article, I’d like to focus on the difference between an Agile Practitioner and Agile Coaching.
An Agile Practitioner understands the methods used in Agile, Lean, Scrum, XP, Test Driven Development, and/or Kanban. They have previous experience working with other organizations and know how to progress an organization from traditional methods to Agile. The practitioner can explain how the methods work and understand the barriers that are commonly faced..
This role is also well versed in the Agile Manifesto and Lean principles. While they understand the text book definition of the methods, they are prepared to adapt them to an organization in order to achieve better results.
The communication techniques defined as part of Agile Coaching (described below) are important to this role. Team facilitating and individual coaching are critical to resolving barriers and improving effectiveness.
Agile Coaching is a specific set of tools, techniques, behaviors created and taught by Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd of the Agile Coaching Institute.
The Agile Coaching system recognizes eight competencies that are necessary to be a well-rounded Agile professional. These competencies are:
- Agile / Lean Practitioner
- Transformation Mastery
- Business Mastery
- Technical Mastery
Individuals will tend to be more proficient in a few of these skills than others, but all have value and should be improved through practice.
The Agile Coaching paradigm defines the “Coaching” competency as a personal and confidential learning process. It is intended to stimulate effective action, improved performance, and/or personal growth for the individual, and improve business results for the organization. Like facilitating, coaching is a process-focused competency in which the practitioner is responsible for holding the process on behalf of the person being coached.
The distinguishing factors for coaching are:
- Provides individual attention
- Addresses personal development
- Motivates and encourages
- Requires trust between coach and participant
Facilitating, teaching, and mentoring are other communication skills that can be applied regularly within and Agile team.
I strongly recommend contacting the Agile Coaching Institute for more information on this fantastic program. Their website is available here.
No matter how you use the term “coaching”, in order to be successful it is imperative to understand both agile practices and the art of agile coaching.