Agile software development is a big change for many organizations. The most typical pattern is to start with one or two small projects and then build on success with more projects. In time, a wider change in organizational process and culture is underway. If your company is about to take this journey into unfamiliar territory or if they have gone part way and are feeling a little uncertain about their current location in the Agile landscape, you should consider hiring an experienced guide. In the Agile world, this guide is called an Agile Coach. Here are some advantages of hiring a Coach to help you find the way.
Deep Knowledge of Agile
An experienced Agile Coach has a solid grounding in both the practices of Agile and the principles behind them. It is easy to try out some of the practices that you read about in a book. It is not so easy to get full benefit from them. Practices like, for example, short iterations, pair programming and frequent customer involvement are most successful when applied in concert. Each are an expression of one or more underlying principles such as constant collaboration for greatest communication, rapid feedback to adapt to changes and learning from experience. A Coach knows not only what works best in a particular situation, but why. A Coach knows what to look for when results do not meet expectations. And a Coach knows these things from experience, not just from reading a book.
A professional Agile Coach has worked with more than one organization. They have encountered similarities and differences. By hiring a Coach, you have access to the learning experiences of other companies that can be valuable when you have puzzles to solve and new opportunities to leverage. Your questions may have answers that are not visible from inside the corporation. There may be questions that your organization does not even know to ask. A Coach can help you to climb the Agile learning curve faster.
Organizational change is not easy. Participants have their own individual and departmental viewpoints and agendas. It is challenging for an insider to achieve a perspective that spans across the organization and through its hierarchical layers. And even if a person can gain such an expansive view, it may still be challenging to convince others to trust that perspective. An external Coach is impartial, having no history within the company. A Coach’s job is to make the team and the organization better. The business’s success is the Coach’s success. That agenda favors no specific individual or department.
Access to Resources
Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of Agile development. The value of collaboration applies to Coaches as well as practitioners. Agile Coaches have a wide community of practice through social media, professional organizations and conferences. If a Coach encounters a new situation, help may well be available from the greater community. Practitioners can tap into that group knowledge on their own, but an active Agile Coach will have more efficient connections and a better sense of how to find solutions.
Some people view Agile change as technological –adopting different practices and tools for creating software. Some people view Agile development as a new process model – a different way to manage projects. We have learned that it is both of these and, even more challenging, an organizational change. Current practices, expectations and conventions may require modification. In each of these areas, people will be learning and adapting. An experienced Coach has competence in training, facilitation, communication, mentoring and team building. These skills may be present inside of the corporation, but it is unlikely that any one individual has them all as well as the domain knowledge necessary to guide the Agile transition.
Agile software development is typically introduced through training. Individual training, such as Certified ScrumMaster and Product Owner classes from the Scrum Alliance (www.ScrumAlliance.org) is typically 2 days long. Agile team training may take longer, 5 days or more. In either case, new information and skills are retained and understood best through application. Having a Coach available to reinforce the new learning will help to protect the investment made in training. A study done at Baruch College in 1997 illustrates this dynamic with data showing a productivity increase of 28% among people who had attended executive management training classes and a productivity increase of 88% by people who also had follow-on coaching.
Agile Coaching is an established profession. Consider hiring an experienced Agile Coach to help with your transition.
Author note: I am a Certified Scrum Coach, a designation defined by the Scrum Alliance in 2007 to create a consistent, verifiable definition for the role of Agile Coach. My coaching services are described at www.AgileCrossing.com.