Agile/lean is driven by “business value.” The goal is to meet the customer’s value and quality objectives and to deliver as much value to the customer as they can consume, as quickly as possible, in the most efficient manner possible, in a sustainable way.
Getting there involves a transition from old to new ways of working. In between is the “neutral zone” in which people must come to embrace the changes: changes in organizational processes and approaches and changes in how work is done at the team level. It involves embracing new mindsets.
Successful transitions require teams to plan, attend to, and manage the entire transition journey. This includes sponsorship, stakeholder engagement, vision, messaging, status, impediments, and adjustments.
The agile coach is an important part of the transition plan. The coach is the interface between leadership, the transition team, and the teams going through the transition. In many ways, the agile coach is the face of the transition at the ground level: attending to processes, surfacing impediments, communicating the plan, developing and realizing the roadmap. (See Where to begin your transition to agile/lean)
The agile coach is always thinking about helping the organization and teams learn to drive their processes and flow from business value; they see that the value stream can be managed so that the organization is spending just enough effort to discover and deliver value quickly and sustainably.
The Practice of Coaching
Coaching is the practice of supporting individuals, teams, and an organization through the process of improving their ways of working. It differs from consulting, mentoring, and training; it involves more questioning and facilitating than doing particular tasks for the person or team or organization. It is more focused on process, discovery, transition, leadership, and mindset than it is on particular projects. The goal is to help the people to develop a new mindset, to acquire a new set of tools, and to make adjustments to processes and structures. The coach helps them gain confidence and effectiveness so that they can sustain the gains.
Agile coaches seek to build the capability of management, teams, and individuals so that they can quickly become self-sustaining. This involves ever-increasing competency in specific knowledge and skills. The end result is an organization that is well on its way in the transition to an enterprise with the foundation, direction, and process guidance to get there.
The agile coach may use any number of approaches depending on particular needs of the client: directive, Socratic, hands-on, or letting the team run. Every approach must be based on core principles:
- Business value. Agile coaching helps organizations improve the flow of business value in their software development process. Everything is measured by increasing the flow of value. We employ agile principles and practices to address four facets of the value stream: management, the business, team delivery processes, and specific team technical practices.
- Lean principles. Agile coaching is founded on lean principles as applied to software development. Management focuses on improving the flow of value across the whole value stream from idea to consumption. Teams eliminate waste and delay through better process, perfected testing, and pattern-based thinking. Teams may use an iterative agile approach, a kanban-based approach, or some hybrid as fits their situation.
- Bias for action and learning. Agile coaching emphasizes continuous improvement and learning with a bias for “learning while doing.” Coaches help management to manage the transition and help the organization to close the gaps between knowing and doing.
- Knowledge transfer. To become proficient and execute well, lean-agile requires people to develop the right mindset and gain skill in the practices. This is achieved through a combination of classroom-based, participatory training and on-the-job coaching. The right mix depends on the needs, availability, and culture of the teams.
- Commitment to service. Coaching requires a strong commitment to service, continual introspection, and understanding about what coaching is. It requires concentrating on the person being coached and what they need to learn. Their rate of progress is not a reflection on you, the coach. The goal is for them to make some progress.