The Pragmatic Agile Coach

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The Pragmatic Agile Coach

By: Kumar Dattatreyan

“Do we have to use Scrum?”, “Do we have to use Jira?”, “I’m not sure we can form as dedicated teams”.  These were comments and questions I was asked as I was started with a client.   The questions they asked were tentative, as if they were afraid of how I’d answer.

This was a particularly exciting engagement for me as they weren’t an IT team, an IT program or portfolio, and didn't have anything to do with developing software.  They are a business unit that forms the core of what this organization does, and hence, my excitement in helping them move to an agile way of working.

Their questions gave me pause, and also made me reflect on my role as their coach.  Their impression of agile was that it was a rigid structure and process, and if they didn’t implement it exactly like the coach said, then they wouldn’t be considered agile.  I have always thought about our role as Agile Coaches; what our purpose is and how we should conduct ourselves. What is our role as an Agile Coach? Is it to implement Scrum?  Or Kanban, or the tool of choice? I’ve always approached my role to be someone who is there to ease the transition to a new way of working and collaborating with each other, and towards a state of Business Agility.  As Arthur Ashe so pragmatically said, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”,

The organization I’m coaching is a collection of highly educated, very smart individuals organized loosely into teams that serve an operational mission.  They also work very collaboratively with other teams in their division, often working to help them in research studies that helps advance their cause and improve their operational processes.   They are already ‘agile’ in many ways, and track and measure the work they do, and the outcomes they produce. They follow a Kanban-like process even though they don’t make their work visible, or even know that what they're doing has a label.  

So why would a coach want to have them move to Scrum? Or have them organized into dedicated teams.  I’m sure that those actions are probably appropriate in many other contexts. I would like to think that this is just an anomaly; that in most cases, coaches are pragmatic and use their knowledge, experience and intuition to help their clients change their mindsets and behaviors to help them move to an agile way of working.  Unfortunately, I see this a lot in my travels as a coach; a dogmatic approach to agile that is damaging to the client, and doesn’t do us any favors in the agile coaching community.

Our goal, and role is to help our client lift themselves out of bureaucracy and into a more collaborative and aligned organization.  We use our expertise in the many frameworks and flavors of Agile to help the client achieve this goal. We should be more pragmatic, and teach, mentor, and coach our clients on why these practices can help them achieve their business outcomes, and not force them into something that doesn’t fit.  We should coach teams and individuals to reach their fullest potential, not by telling them what to do, but by asking them questions that uncover what's holding them back.  At least, that’s my hope and what I try to do. How about you? What do you think about the role of an Agile Coach?

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