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Make the Most of Your Agile Project Coach

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During your project management career, you may encounter an agile coach -- someone who helps you or your project team adopt and improve agile approaches.

Let's look at four types of coaches and how to best utilize them:

Fly in, fly out

This is usually a consultant who comes for a one-time session. He can provide a fresh perspective from having worked with several organizations.

Be sure the session is long enough for the coach to assess the state of your organization. Let his input be uninfluenced by your existing perceptions. Deploy the coach's suggestions in your own way or get him back for more extended consulting. If the coach's observations seem extreme, don't be surprised -- it may be necessary to get to the issues in a short amount of time. 

Continuous outsider

This "contract coach" typically spends a few months advising a team or an individual. This arrangement offers more continuity, as the coach can observe the flow of the process through all stages and still maintain her independent view. 

To get the most of your contract coach, be sure to include her in most meetings of the teams being helped. Do not think of these coaches as separate from your team just because they are not regular employees.

One insider

Some agile coaches will work alone, as a full-time employee. This situation is advantageous because the coach can set clear direction for an agile team without a potential conflict of interest among his and the proper organizational strategy.

While this arrangement assists in quicker implementation of decisions, it may not allow for as many fresh ideas. It can also be hard to scale the coaching effort to more agile teams as organizational needs grow.

Team of insiders

Some organizations employ an entire team of coaches, which is effective when working with difficult teams because the teams and coaches can support each other. For example, a team may have trouble adopting key practices, but pointers from another coach may help get the team unstuck.   

Multiple agile coaches can also balance the workload of coaching multiple teams so no one is overloaded.

The hazard is that the coaches may splinter into competing ideas on how to execute agile. Establish a process for when the gurus do not agree on which agile practices should be emphasized. Strive for a balance of standards and the ability to evolve as new practices emerge from the profession or successful teams.

In general, make sure there is synergy between your agile coaches, tools team, education people, and corporate governance or process definition body.

How do you best work with an agile coach?

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This is a great article. I also agree with Dan that some organizations take advantage of companies that may be new to agility, which can be frustrating and expensive for the given firm.

Understanding agility is essential in business today. Agile business analysis is one way an organization can improve their agility.

This is a nice article. I want to add that the goal of any legitimate coach is to help the client organization reach a state of independent, freestanding Agility. This requires a strong ethical backbone on the part of the coach. Sometimes 'coaching' firms who do 'agile enablement' set up an 'extended stay' that generates lots of billing for them .... and not much learning for the client.

Organizations new to Agility can be dictated to, for example they can be told and convinced that they need a coach on site each day every day for 90 days. This is seldom if ever required. Orgs new to Agility are in a vulnerable state and that state needs to be recognized and respected by the coaches who might genuinely serve them.

Client organizations need to take responsibility to find a coach who is committed to freestanding Agility. This is a state of being for the client that is healthy, well, and Agile, is independent, and does not include nor require an external coach any longer.

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