Monday, November 1, 2010

So now I’m an Agile Coach...whatever that means.

So for those who don’t already know, I recently left my previous employer and have moved into a consulting position with Pillar as an Agile Coach and have been doing that now for just under two months.  So while I did a lot of what I would consider coaching at previous positions, this is the first time I’ve been hired to do it specifically.

Overall I find that I am loving what I do and look forward to all the various challenges and opportunities that present themselves everyday.  However, one thing I have discovered is that the title “Agile Coach” is a troublesomely nebulous term.  The sorta title where you ask ten different people “what is an agile coach” or “what does an agile coach do” you are likely to get ten different answers...or just the famous “it depends”.

In an attempt to help clarify the role and duties of an “Agile Coach”, below I’ve listed a few of the hats I’ve worn or feel I have been expected to wear over the past few weeks:
  • Software team anthropologist
  • Application architect
  • Scrum master
  • TDD Coach
  • Developer guide
  • BS caller
  • Business consultant
  • Behavioral psychologist
  • Staff aug. project manager
  • Product Owner
  • Furniture mover
  • Pragmatist/Realist
  • Executive coach
  • PMO advisor
  • Marketing advisor
  • Finance & Budgeting advisor
  • SDLC theorist
  • Software Craftsman
  • Group therapist
  • Team defender
  • Turok: Dinosaur hunter
  • Project portfolio planner
  • Test engineer
  • Assertive Team Leader
  • Motivational Speaker
  • Troublemaker
  • Driver of business value


So basically, after almost two months of doing it, I still don’t have a very clear definition or elevator speech to give someone :)

Something I have noticed is that I seem to be a bit different to some of the other Agile Coaches I have met in the past.  Specifically, I come from a very strong developer background and still keep one foot squarely planted in the technical arena.  I also have spent a lot of time studying (formally and informally) various aspects of business, economics, operations and project management, as well as organizational behavior.  So in short, I feel comfortable running the organizational gamut. Not all coaches are like this, but instead specialize in some area, and likely have deeper knowledge and understanding within a particular arena.

My personal philosophy driving my knowledge portfolio is to be a jack of all trades, master of a few ;)  At the end of the day, the dev teams are the folks actually doing the work to deliver value to the business and if I can’t interact with them on their level I feel I won’t be as useful and may have trouble gaining their respect and building trust.  Just as important however, is that those dev teams are operating in a business or enterprise that care about many other things.  If I can’t speak that language and advise on those topics I may not be as effective in facilitating changes, building bridges and closing gaps.

For me, I find having this breadth is important but maintaining an appropriate depth is of equal concern.  In some cases it is good enough to just be aware of a topic, in others you need to be able to hold an intelligent and informed discussion about a topic, in yet others you need to have a working, practical level of knowledge.  Experience will help you figure out what works best for you and the type of work you like doing.

So what is the point of all this?

If you are thinking about bringing in an Agile Coach, spend some time thinking about what your organizational objectives are, but realize you may need some outside perspective on what it is you are trying to undertake.  In my experience many organizational objectives are connected and it’s usually impossible to just tug one string without changing the entire tapestry.  Therefore I would tend to start with a generalist who can also help at the team level.  Review and revisit your agile adoption/transformation routinely and bring in specialists as needed.

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