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Agile coaching is a powerful tool to establish an agile way of working. Here we clarify what it is and how it works.
What is agile coaching?
Agile Coaching is an approach that assists organizations in adopting an agile way of working. Compared to other adoption approaches, here an agile coach actively supports the assigned teams and all affected stakeholders “on the job” in acquiring the required skills and adopting an agile mindset.
The adoption process in particular addresses three elements: (1) conveying the agile mindset, (2) establishing agile processes, methods, roles and tools as well as (3) empowering in-house agile coaches.
An agile approach requires new perspectives, thinking patterns and attitudes. An agile coach enables companies to live the agile mindset and provides them with the processes, methods and tools they need for agile working. An agile coach also accompanies the implementation of the new way of working. However, the culture of a company cannot be changed overnight, it must be developed and lived. Therefore, the coach trains existing employees for the role as in-house agile coaches. They then make sure that the agile approach is anchored in a sustained way in the long run.
What are the benefits of agile coaching?
Today’s world demands businesses to be flexible and adaptable. Agile coaching teaches companies the ability to deal with changing priorities. It also provides transparency: Working agile means working in small iterations, and after each iteration management gets to see an interim result instead of having to wait several months for a product and risking discovering only at the end that it does not meet expectations and cannot be brought to market.
Team building and team morale are also encouraged by agile coaching. Because agile methods strengthen autonomous teams – the pure opposite of hierarchical and authoritarian management styles – the individual can organize him- or herself in a way that is optimal for the end product. Ultimately, agile coaching brings back to the forefront what is essential for each company: the customer and the end product or service they are supposed to use.
An important benefit of agile coaching is that it is ‘agile’ itself.
An important benefit of agile coaching is also that it is ‘agile’ itself. This means it prioritizes those agile elements that provide the most benefit for a given organization right at the beginning. While the adoption continues the progress is transparently monitored, regularly inspected and readjusted where needed.
How does agile coaching work?
For the implementing agile coaching we use a Design Thinking Process which consists of six phases:
- Phase 1 – Understand: In a first assessment, the objective is to rationally analyze and understand the organization’s initial situation. How are the teams working today, what agile methods, roles and tools have been already adopted? What is the business context in terms of business products, customers and stakeholders?
- Phase 2 – Empathize: The second phase is about understanding the culture of the company by putting oneself in the shoes of employees and management. The introduction of agile methods brings about change – and this naturally can lead to resistance and fears. By understanding the problems that could block or delay the introduction of agile, a sustainable introduction of the change process can be ensured.
- Phase 3 – Design: Based on the outcomes of the previous phases we design a company-specific and employee-centric approach for the introduction of agile. The identified obstacles are removed, and a project is selected as a first pilot project for adopting the agile approach. In this phase we also conduct intensive trainings with the future in-house agile coaches – partly in one-to-one sessions. We work with innovative training concepts – for example Lego Serious Play – which are not only fun, but also promotes team building and knowhow development.
- Phase 4 – Pilot: In this phase the in-house agile coaches apply the newly learned skills in the selected pilot project. The coach provides direct support and conducts coaching sessions for all affected employees and stakeholders throughout all agile project phases. The goal here is to achieve first successes and to anchor the changes in the company culture.
- Phase 5 – Test: After a full agile sprint iteration in pilot project, a retrospective assessment is conducted to measure the agile adoption progress and to make adjustments to the agile approach where needed. Employees and management have different needs and views. We therefore collect feedback at different hierarchy levels and roles.
- Phase 6 – Implement, scale and monitor: The final phase is about scaling the approach to other projects beyond the agile pilot. We also continue to accompany the ambassadors and mentor onsite and in remote sessions. Ultimately, the goal is to anchor the change and the new way of working in the corporate culture.
How long does such coaching take?
The duration of the coaching depends on various factors such as resources, current situation and intensity. In general, one can say: After about three months, first successes are visible. However, it takes longer until the agile methods are fully established in a company culture – between three and nine months depending on company size and business context. Thereby over time while internal coaches take over, interventions of external coaches becomes less and less frequent.
What are the success factors of agile coaching?
For the successful implementation of agile coaching all resources need to be activated and both employees and the management need to be equally addressed. We work together with the employees on the basis of what is already there. Clear leadership and support for agile from management is very important as well. Resistance and fear can be minimized from the outset through good and active communication and the involvement of all affected and interested stakeholders.
A further success factor is to make the introduction of agile attractive. A structured and consistent approach that helps to leap first and to improve constantly if very helpful. It is also important to communicate and celebrate successes to keep up motivation.
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Marc Gassmann is a management consultant, trainer and agile coach. His approach is characterized by a unique combination of classical consulting and systemic coaching.