I’ve been practicing “agile stuff” for 25 years. Over that time, I’ve been actively coaching agile notions at the team, group, organization, and company levels. In 2012, I received my Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) designation with the Scrum Alliance as an indication of how invested, serious, and (hopefully) skilled I was in the craft and practice of agile coaching. In other words, I’m a relatively long-time agile coach who’s seen and experienced quite a bit over that time.
I participated in the Scrum Alliance – Guides Open Space sessions on Friday, October 23rd. I was in one session where we explored the Certified Team Coach (CTC) & CEC coaching tracks. The focus of the session was on formalized mentoring and training, but we didn’t explore that. Instead, the discussion ambled around the lack of clarity of what it meant to be an “agile coach”.
As I was listening and engaging in the discussion, I was scribbling down notes and ideas around the topic. I created a flow, if you will, of things that I’d develop or require if I were creating my own vision for developing agile coaches. And I worked on it after I left the session and into the evening…
The session was cathartic for me in a way. And I took the perspective of—
If I were the leader of the agile coaching universe and,
I felt we lacked clarity, consistent skills, and competence in the universe, in addition,
I felt that our lack of clarity was causing clients to misunderstand what an agile coach does, while also diluting the quality of coaches and coaching, so…
I want to create guidelines for becoming a great agile coach
and establishing what that might look like.
As I scribbled and brainstormed, I came up with the following flow of ideas. You could consider it a somewhat sequential learning and development flow for becoming an excellent agile coach.
The high-level flow in my thinking ran from—
- First focus on Coaching Capabilities, then onto;
- Defining a set of Learning Objectives aligned with the capabilities, onto;
- Establishing a space for Mentoring & Practice, then onto;
- Creating a professional Certification, onto;
- Continuously Sharpening the Saw (improving as a coach).
As critical steps in a coaching journey that would result in someone becoming a great agile coach.
Now I want to expand a bit into each of these areas to give you a more detailed sense of my thoughts—
1) COACHING CAPABILITIES
Establish/select some sort of capabilities model that defines the areas and capabilities required of an agile coach. We’d agree that this model represented all of the capabilities that a solid agile coach should have (some) minimal and demonstrable proficiency in.
- We’d establish the notion of situational coaching where we could nimbly change stances (competencies).
- We’d speak to a metaphor of a coaching arc where the coaching would be comfortable “dancing in the moment” with multiple competencies.
- Part of our coaching would include the notion of a “coaching plan” where we would (1) come to understand the client’s goals and (2) plan on leveraging our various capabilities in helping the client achieve those goals.
- At the moment, I’m quite partial to the Coaching Growth Wheel. But not wanting to be too prescriptive, here it minimally serves as an example.
2) TRAINING & LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Related to each area of the model, there ought to be training/learning guidance around what this capability should look like.
- What areas to focus your learning on;
- What classes to take; What books to read;
- Other sources for learning (blogs, podcasts, videos);
- What practices to leverage;
- What coaches to “follow” as remote mentors.
Ultimately, how to develop “full competency” in each of the competency areas and to become well-rounded or balanced.
3) MENTORING & PRACTICE
The focus here should be on developing your craft of agile coaching.
- Learning how to articulate the value proposition of coaching, client negotiation, and establishing coaching plans & goals.
- Getting help in finding a mentor—what to look for, where to find them, what mentoring is and isn’t.
- Also serving as a mentor.
- Volunteering to practice your craft in coaching clinics, retreats, circles, and camps.
- Actively engaging in Dojo practice sessions with other coaches and co-coaching.
4) ACQUIRING CERTIFICATION
Only after sufficient practice and verified evidence, could someone receive a “certification”. And the practice and evidence would need to cross all of the capabilities, not just one or two.
- Right now, the Scrum Alliance application process is mostly a written form with some demonstrated evidence of Professional Coaching capability. This is far too narrow and doesn’t allow for the demonstration of your experience via face-to-face collaboration.
- We need to emphasize signing off and adhering to an Agile Coaching – Code of Ethics.
- Mentoring & pair-coaching with multiple certified coaches would be required. As would their verification and validation of the competency(s) that they helped adequately develop. An emphasis here is on pair-based coaching in simulations, Dojo’s, and with real-world clients.
- Focus: breadth over narrow depth AND experience over academics AND demonstration over description.
5) SHARPENING THE SAW
This is the continuous improvement aspect for each coach. It would include—
- Participation in worldwide coaching events (Coach Clinics, Coaching Retreats, Agile Coach Camps).
- Finding a more experienced Mentor (or more) to continue your ongoing learning.
- Mentoring others; pair-coaching whenever possible.
- Evaluating your competencies and either (1) making the strong ones stronger or (2) making the weaker ones stronger.
- Staying curious about the evolution of professional coaching and agile coaching.
Someone asked me WHY am I writing this? And why do I seem to be pushing so hard on professionalism in the practice of agile coaching? My current drivers for pushing this forward include—
- The current market where everyone seems to be a coach and that trend is increasing;
- Coaches who only demonstrate one-tool – unbalanced and potentially harmful;
- Coaches who are only academic, with little / no real-world experience in the areas they’re coaching;
- Coaches who stay with their clients for far too long and reduce their coaching effectiveness by becoming part of the culture;
- Coaches without ethical standards of practice;
- Clients who don’t understand what agile coaching (is) nor what excellence (looks like).
In other words, I think the world of agile coaching is largely a hot mess. It needs leadership, direction, more rigor and standards, and more excellence. And the bar for “becoming” an agile coach needs to be broad, consistent, and practice-based.
To the best of my knowledge, none of the current coaching certification firms/approaches—
- iCAgile – coaching certification program and delivery variants
- Scrum Alliance – CTC and CEC
- ICF – affiliated professional coaching programs (Co-active, ORSC, ACC/PCC/MCC, etc.)
- DAC – Disciplined Agile Coach
- SAFe – because they certify everything 😉
take as comprehensive a view to developing your agile coaching craft as I’ve outlined above. And in my opinion, they’re not even close. Now that’s perfectly understandable for ICF which is more generally focused on professional coaching. But it doesn’t explain it for the others.
One of the most common gaps is not aligning with an agile coaching competency framework. Another is little/no emphasis on the mentoring and practice-side of the equation. Nor on demonstrability of actually coaching within each stance via co-coaching. And none of them has tried to establish a common understanding of what agile coaching IS (ICF doesn’t really have to).
I have a Dream!
I have a dream that it’s time for us to DO BETTER in the field of agile coaching.
- Do better in having an underlying competency model.
- Do better in having clear coaching training goals.
- Do better in practicing and being able to demonstrate our craft.
- Do better in explaining what coaching IS to our clients AND its inherent value proposition
- Do better for our clients.
- Do better for ourselves, our craft, and our profession.
And my DREAM is to inspire a League of Extraordinary Agile Coaches where the breadth of craft, professionalism, and clients come first.
Who’s with me? Who’d like to partner with me?
Stay agile my friends,
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