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AGILE COACHING to Solve Organizational Impediments

Work is piling up, and adding more resources is not solving the problem. Technology is changing faster than the technology team can manage. Every date is missed on delivery, even after pulling in additional resources and putting in some reserve capacity for the unexpected. Bugs are piling up. Although agile team installation about a year ago seemed to move the needle about 30%, the teams complain about lack of requirements, impediments, and people are starting to leave. Leadership is putting lots of pressure on teams, giving more hard dates when they need to deliver, and being strict with metrics and reporting. Unfortunately, that seems to exacerbate the delivery timing and quality.

This is a description of the environment in many organizations where they “teamified” agility at the lowest levels, but did not embrace agile change at the organizational and leadership level. These instances are where the organization can benefit from coaching to speed up delivery and return to quality, and to improve the overall workplace to where we optimize the whole flow of the system and improve employee morale.

Coaches come in all varieties; from product coaches, who can help improve becoming a modern product organization with a flow that works, to enterprises coaches, who often work at the highest levels of an organization focusing on the biggest problems, finding root causes of systemic problems, and facilitating improvements and agile experiments after conducting empathy interviews or Gemba walks on the floor. Good enterprise coaches are good listeners and can talk to people in all levels of the organization in order to solve system-level impediments.

Executive coaches help leaders with the shift in mindset from old ways of working (Taylorian micromanagement and centralized decision making) to more catalytic and facilitative ways of servant leadership, which can motivate teams in ways they had not imagined could be possible. Executives coaches can relate to executives and often have proven successes to take with them into the executive boardroom. Executive coaches understand the C-level leaders’ mindset and dynamics that pull on executives’ time. Great executive coaches are not judgmental, but rather listen, asking the right open questions, and guiding toward big solutions, while at the same time incorporating strategic agile enablement and change management plants.

Many agile coaches focus on the team-level dynamics. Most agile coaches fall into the category of team coaches as this is the most common place organizations start. However, some team coaches are also good at focusing on these other areas and raising the major organizational impediments in a way that allows the organization to work through change and find the right-sized solutions.


Quality Coaches

Make sure you are hiring the right fit for the job.

Below are some tips when looking for a coach:

  • In looking for a good coach, be sure to validate that they actually have some years of true coaching experience with proven successes.

  • If you look on a coach’s resume and his last job was as a program manager for 10 years, this is not a coach.

  • Look for some of the more difficult certifications, such as Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) or Certified Team Coach (CTC). If a “coach” only has a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification that they earned just a few years ago, that tells you this person is new and untested in coaching.

  • If a “coach” was a Scrum Master just a year or two earlier, he/she is also not an experienced coach just yet.

  • When interviewing candidates, ask questions about the difficult assignments and how they handled resistance to change. Look for coaches that are humble and self-aware.


Why Agile Coaching is Important

Results of agile coaching at these various levels over time can be tremendous. Agile transformation at the organizational level can help improve the delivery of value by more than 100%. It is not uncommon to improve the intake process and help an organization work more like a true product organization with Product Managers and team-level Product Owners, while seeing an improvement of 50% in speed of delivery, quality, and value. Picking the right coaches and allowing them to focus on the key problem areas is the most significant factor. Just hiring a team coach and telling him to “fix those teams” without addressing the upstream blockers and old management way of working can sometimes fall flat with a mere 10%-30% improvement. Being open to change and taking on a growth mindset are key to the bigger successes.

Agility is all about experimenting and trying new things that might work, then having quick feedback loops to adjust. When an organization follows agile best practices, hires good coaches, and continues this inspect and adapt process at all levels, it will improve and flourish.

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