What Enterprises want when they bring an Agile Coach onboard

More and more enterprises want to be . It is viewed as “the way” to deliver value to their customers. What they are actually looking for is something more fundamental – they want to do more for less. The goals are better profitability, sustaining the business, delighting customers and getting an edge over the competition. All of these are related in some way or the other. They are looking to transform their organizations to meet all of those business goals. Agile is a means to an end, not the end goal. is what they are looking for in reality, not implementing this process or that.

Leadership is looking for guidance on how to move forward in that direction. Most of them are caught in the daily grind of the business and need help in steering the organization towards their agility goals. That is when agile coaches are brought on board to help with the transformation. Unless they were hired to only deliver a classroom training, the implicit expectation is that the coach is engaged to help the organization transform from its current way of working to something better. For the leaders and the teams, it’s uncharted territory and they want to look up to someone who has walked that path before.

Disengaged leadership teams that leave it merely to the coach to drive transformation with the teams is a recipe for disaster. The coach cannot cook solutions for them. They can suggest them good recipes but the cake needs to be baked by the team. The coach can train, advise, consult and bring all the fantastic ideas, but ultimately it’s the team who has to execute and find solutions in their context. Nobody knows their context better than them. If they don’t, nothing will change. And that requires leadership engagement. Without an engaged leadership, middle management and teams would see this as just another fleeting fad that will go away. And the status quo would persist.

At the same time, coaches who don’t get deeply involved and stay at the superficial level of recommending processes and tools don’t achieve much either. Bringing information to the teams alone is not coaching. If information is the only value coach brings, then they might as well hire a trainer or send people to courses or conferences. In this age of machine learning, probably that job could be taken over by machines and not need a human at all.  They don’t need information. That is freely available on the internet these days. What they actually need is actionable guidance on how to transform theory into practice in their context. They want to know how to move forward given their constraints without impacting their business. They want to prepare for tomorrow but today is a reality they can ill afford to ignore. Unless the coach develops a deeper understanding of the context and its strengths and constraints, the recommendations from the coach would stay at a superficial level having weak adoption and limited impact.

This means that both the sides need to cover some ground. Teams need to spend time understanding the theory, learning and pondering of how that can be translated to their context. Leadership need to be engaged and remember the transformation is owned by them and not “outsourced” to the coach. The coach needs to dig deeper and understand how the business operates, the systemic challenges, the teams strengths and their day-to-day struggles.The coach and the leadership are equal partners in taking the organization forward in this journey. That requires active collaboration between them.

Coaches who are the catalysts for change share an additional responsibility. They need to trigger the right actions and reactions from the leadership to make the transformation succeed. That is no trivial task. But who said organizational transformation was easy.. Happy coaching !

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2 Comments

  1. 👍
    add to that…most organizations are hiring people with only scrum knowledge as agile coaches.
    When these coaches, equipped with nothing but the scrum picture, try to answer questions about organization transformation, they appear clueless.
    Organizations need to realize that people equiped with scrum knowledge can teach scrum to teams but nothing beyond.
    Most of the coaches use scrum | agile, reducing waste | lean as synonyms. To them Kanban is nothing but a tool, DevOps is also tools. With no background is systematic approach, they naturally struggle.
    If organization wants agile coaches to bring a change, the coaches need to be more than scrum experts; they need to be well versed with Lean thinking, Kanban, TOC thinking tools, Agile, … and of course a track record of being a change agent (not just a trainer).

  2. Thanks for sharing your views in this article. I especially highlight the statement you make ” Leadership need to be engaged and remember the transformation is owned by them and not “outsourced” to the coach”. I agree with you on this statement and see that this transformation is a commitment which needs to be exercised by both parties as equally responsibile. In some cases, I can imagine in some cases, it is more the responsibility with the organization to ensure necessary support and mindset changes is sought from top management to drive this initiative.

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