Responsibilities of the Agile Coach
An Agile Coach is much more than a trainer and usually refers to a seasoned professional who embraces a mentorship role.
An Agile Coach is responsible for encouraging the team, enabling them to solve problems, and cultivating individual growth. Let’s take a look at some of the focus areas and responsibilities of the Agile Coach.
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Agile Coaches work with multiple teams and management to structure their organization so it gets the most benefit from adopting Agile development.
Agile Coaches typically focus on:
- Assessing the organization and guiding management towards the right Agile scaling methodology.
- Communicating the required mindset and practicing changes to truly become an Agile organization.
- Managing the work, including management of the Product Backlogs.
- Helping the organization change the structure appraisals and career paths. (In some companies appraisals are based on individual performances, which may go against the ‘team’ concept stressed in Agile teams).
- Developing the organizational release plan/roadmap (project timeline).
The coach works with the teams and management on activities such as training and workshops, observations of scrum and management team meetings, and methods for providing feedback.
Agile Coaches work with teams to improve teamwork and Scrum practices. In some cases, as mentioned above, the coach may serve as the initial Scrum Master to get the team on track. Eventually, however, the Agile Coach’s role will transition to coaching the new Scrum Master.
Some of the areas that the coach can help with include:
- Improving Scrum and technical practices
- Training the Product Owner
- Writing acceptance criteria, user stories, and other requirements
- Identifying impediments and bringing visibility.
The coach may work with the teams by facilitating Scrum events, conducting training and workshops, or by observing the teams to identify opportunities for improvement.
When coaching the teams on technical practices, the goal is to increase the skills of the team related to development and testing. Development teams sometimes struggle with working iteratively and with the understanding that the entire product cannot be built in one Sprint. It takes time and coaching to help the teams mature. The coach will work with the team on areas such as continuous integration and delivery.
The Agile Coach can also help technical teams to improve their Agile practices in test-driven development, test automation, working practices, environment setup, and code reviews.
Managing distributed teams
Agile development across distributed teams is a reality in today’s world and can bring significant advantages as well as challenges. Agile Coaches may work with global companies where remote work and distributed teams are the norms, or with local companies with co-located teams where hallway conversations can be great for team collaboration.
The Agile Coach will work within organizations to help distributed teams work together to realize some of the advantages experienced by co-located teams. An Agile Coach can help Agile distributed teams be more effective in areas such as communication, use of tools, and meeting facilitation.
Let us consider each of the three areas in more detail.
Communication is one of the most important elements to consider for distributed Agile teams. There are several ways teams can communicate: email, conference call, instant messaging, wikis, and more. All teams should establish a communication plan (as part of the team norms), and this is especially important for distributed teams.
The Agile Coach can help establish communication guidelines that can help teams be more productive. These guidelines can address ways to effectively communicate in Daily Scrum, decisions about who will capture and send meeting notes, or determinations about where these artifacts should be stored.
Tools assist in tracking development work and help in monitoring issues and their resolutions so teams can operate in an effective manner. These types of tools will help ensure that there is transparency for the team members and management. These tools are required for the success of distributed teams as they will allow all team members to work virtually in the same space.
The Agile Coach can help distributed teams with the selection of a tool and assist with setting up and establishing guidelines on its usage. For example, the Agile Coach can provide guidance on how to set up the Scrum or Kanban board or how to manage the product backlog using the tool. Some of the tools that are available to manage agile projects with distributed teams include JIRA, VersionOne, and Visual Studio Team Services (Azure DevOps).
Agile Coaches can also help the Scrum teams with meeting facilitation. With distributed teams, meeting times may be limited as multiple time zones must be considered. Therefore, it is important that meetings are conducted as efficiently as possible. Be sure to include the agenda and share other meeting documents prior to the meeting, if possible. Keep sessions short (no more than an hour) and ‘table’ discussions that deviate from the agenda.
Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Agile Coaches also assist in the establishment of Communities of Practice (CoPs). As traditional functional departments (Business Analysis [BA], Quality Assurance [QA], Development [Dev], Architecture) are being reorganized into cross-functional teams, it can be difficult for individuals to leverage best practices of the respective disciplines. To help with this issue, Communities of Practice are established within the organization.
A CoP provides opportunities for learning and sharing best practices of the various disciplines found on the cross-functional teams. The CoP can promote continuous improvement and discuss items such as new practices, trends, or emerging tools in the discipline. CoPs also allow for collaboration within those functions to discuss issues that practitioners may encounter on the Scrum teams.
For example, the Business Analyst from Scrum Team A may seek guidance on how to best partner with the Product Owner. Other BAs assigned to Scrum teams can share how they are making it work on their respective teams. CoPs for QA may set standards or checklists that can be used by QA analysts across the various Scrum teams.
Various types of CoPs are found in organizations, including:
- Agile software development
- Quality Assurance
- Business Analysis
- Executive leadership
Official membership in a CoP is not required and participants can get involved as time permits. At first, the Agile Coach may take the lead as the CoP gets up and running, but later they may be led by members within the functional area who have the most experience.
Are certifications required to become an Agile Coach? Certifications may be required depending upon the organization. Many Agile Coaches have, at minimum, the Scrum Master Certification or even the Product Owner Certification.
Certifications carry weight in some companies, but Agile coaching experience alone may be the deciding factor in other cases. In addition to the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and developer certifications, the list of certifications below can be considered if you are interested in Agile coaching.
Please note that this is not a comprehensive list.
Let’s head on over to the next step, and discuss the role of the Agile Coach in more detail.
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