Does agile coaching lead to better business results?

Photo by Dan Gaken

Photo by Dan Gaken

Companies have general goals in mind when they hire agile coaches. Reading through RFPs and talking with leaders, it initially sounds like adoption of agile practices across teams is a goal of its own. A leap of faith that improvements in agile practices means better organizational outcomes will be achieved. Investing in agile coaching may seem worthwhile enough from that viewpoint.

The Agile Coaching Institute’s whitepaper includes a section on “What Business Benefits would an Internal Agile Coaching Capability Make Available?” It says a strong agile coaching capability means it would be possible to:

  • Enhance product delivery flow throughout an organization.

  • Scale safely by ensuring the agile coaching role is filled by someone whose skills and gravitas are a match for a given team/program/organization.

  • Ensure team performance by starting up strong teams, resetting teams when needed, and disbanding teams that cannot sustain the desired level of performance.

  • Create a sustainable Agile capability that lasts long after key players move on.

  • Reduce or eliminate reliance on external agile coach consultants.

As a coach, I found myself wanting something more from the business benefits of agile coaching since I am often helping organizations grow internal agile coaches and form an internal agile center of excellence.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a potential client who was interested in engaging an agile coach. Knowing that there are multiple coaches and organizations who might be able to help them in this area, one of their asks was for case studies because they wanted to know the results other clients had achieved. Reviewing a compilation of client engagements and the results was like going through an old photo album and feeling nostalgic about happy pastimes. Agile led to real benefits for those organizations like cost savings, increased revenue, and improved employee satisfaction. An agile coach would not have been able to guarantee those results from the start but knowing what’s possible and what would be meaningful for the company can allow for a better coaching plan.

An emphasis on adopting agile practices without an understanding of what an organization is ultimately trying to achieve feels (at best) short-lived. Agile coaching is more likely to be successful with a clear objective and an understanding of how teams’ increased capabilities will benefit the organization. Without that, agile coaches and sponsors alike can lose sight on whether practices are really generating better results or not. And that’s too bad—for the company and for the coach—because we all want to be successful in the long run.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

What if agile organizations need more chaos?

Image by ChrisA1995

Image by ChrisA1995

When was the last time you gave someone a set of detailed instructions and succeeded in having them follow them exactly? And yet in organizations we often expect people to step into new roles, adopt new practices, and follow new processes according to frameworks and playbooks that have been outlined.

Humans have a natural tendency to learn and change, and using nature as our teacher can help us with organizational transformations. Change is an “inherent capacity” of living systems. What would it mean to tap into that capacity?

It might mean starting with more freedom rather than more prescription. Self-organization—spontaneous order—arises in a chaotic system. Tapping into the inherent change capacity of living systems means we might stop expecting positional leaders to have the answers. We might trust that people are willing to contribute and invite them to do so. We might look at how relationships in the organization can be supported and developed.

What do we need to let go of and stop controlling in order to allow transformations to change?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Innovating Agile Transformations

Photo by Roman Boed

Photo by Roman Boed

My mentor once said, "the way to go agile is agile-ly," and it has stuck with me since. In helping organizations with their agile transformations, I notice that agile coaches often suggest the same approach. We're often responding to an executive's ask for higher quality, increased delivery, better business relationships, more customer satisfaction, etc. And our starting point is to provide training and then follow-on with coaching. It's a tried-and-true approach in many ways, and I wondered how else we might help organizations with change--what different and innovative ideas could be tried?

I posed this question at the Agile Coaching Summit in Chicago, and below are the results of our group discussion:

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I love how varied the list is, and each of these ideas could work in the right context. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised today in an agile training class when two students named what INVEST stands for because they had seen it on a poster in the break area--sometimes the simplest things can surprise us with their results!

Thinking about change starts the change--it colors our perceptions, thinking, and language from that moment forward. Discussions deepen the change. Behaviors and actions make it real. And while training and coaching can be immensely beneficial in change efforts, it's worth exploring what other options are available.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.