The Agile Coach

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding
the Agile Coach and Agile Coaching Industry

What Is an Agile Coach?

Agile CoachAn agile coach is a professional who helps teams and organizations implement agile methods and practices. They do this by providing guidance, education, and support. Agile coaches help teams understand new mindsets, values, and principles. They also help teams to implement frameworks, such as Scrum, Kanban, and Nexus.

In addition to helping implement agile practices, agile coaches also help to create an organizational culture supporting business agility. This includes fostering collaboration, communication, and continuous improvement. Agile coaches also help to resolve conflicts and challenges that may arise during an agile transformation.

An agile coach typically has a background in project management, software development, engineering, or a related field. Consider it a requirement to have a strong understanding of agile development principles and practices. Moreover, you should be able to effectively communicate, facilitate, and coach to be effective.

Benefits of an agile coach

There are many benefits to working with an agile coach at all stages of an agile transformation. Here are just a few benefits of having an agile coach or advisor working with your organization:

  • Increased return on investment for training spend
  • Increased team-level efficiency and productivity
  • Higher value outcomes achieved with a focus on goals
  • Reduced risk and uncertainty through consistent incremental delivery
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased employee satisfaction

If you are looking for ways to improve the agility of your organization and maximize the impact of your agile transformation, then consider partnering with an agile coach. It’s the most effective way to ensure what was learned in class gets applied in the real world.

Who needs an agile coach?

Here are some examples of those would benefit from working with an agile coach:

  • Teams that are new to agile development techniques. Agile coaches can help teams understand the principles and practices of agile delivery, and how to implement them effectively.
  • Teams that are struggling with agile development. If a team is having trouble getting benefits from agile development, an agile coach can help them identify and address the challenges they are facing including refocusing on the business results they should be seeing if done correctly.
  • Teams that want to improve their agile practices. Even if a team is already using agile development practices and frameworks, an agile coach can help them identify areas where they can improve.
  • Individuals who want to learn more. Agile coaches can provide education and coaching to individuals who want to learn more about agile development and how to improve the results of their work.

In general, any team or individual who is interested in adopting agile or improving their agile practices could benefit from working with an agile coach.

What to know when looking for an agile coach

If you are considering partnering with an agile coach, here’s a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Experience. Make sure the coach is experienced and qualified. There are many different agile coaches available, so it is important to make sure you choose one who is experienced in your domain and qualified to work with your team. You should ask detailed questions about the coach's experience, certifications, and training
  • A good fit. Make sure the coach is a good fit for your team. The coach should be able to understand your team's needs and challenges, and provide guidance that is relevant to your team's specific situation. You should ask about the coach's experience working with teams like yours. Better if your team is involved in the selection process.
  • Financial Investment. Make the right investment in agile coaching. In some cases it makes sense to bring on one or many coaches full-time for a period. In other cases it's best to work with someone part-time. Too little time and the coach will be ineffective building relationships with those involved and won't understanding the context in which the transformation takes place. Too much time and the coach may find low value "busy work" to do, like facilitating all of the teams meetings and doing all their paperwork.

What an Agile Coach is Not

Agile coaches come from a variety of backgrounds and may apply skills learned while coaching. However, it's Important to understand an agile coach in its purest form has limitations. Let's go over a few of the main ones.

  • An agile coach is not a project manager. Agile coaches do not manage timelines, budgets, or resources. They focus on helping teams adopt agile frameworks, practices and principles. They help teams deliver high-quality and high-value products and services that meet organizational goals. Its important to mention that an agile coach who is the team's project manager taking accountability for delivery may cause harm to the fabric of team-level self-management and self-organization.
  • An agile coach is not a consultant. Agile coaches do not provide solutions to problems. They help teams identify and address the challenges of change, and they provide them with the support they need to succeed. While some agile coaches act like consultants and some consultants like agile coaches they are actually two distinct roles with different pros and cons to the success of your agile transformation.
  • An agile coach is not a teacher. Agile coaches do not teach teams how to use agile frameworks. They help teams understand the agile principles and practices, and they help teams apply them in their own way. Like consultants, some agile coaches also play the role of teacher if giving classroom instruction, but understand that classroom teaching and real world coaching are different value propositions and require different skills to be effective.
  • An agile coach is not the team's boss. Agile coaches do not tell teams what to do. They help teams to self-manage / self-organize and to make their own decisions given context and boundaries.
  • An agile coach is not a miracle worker or silver bullet. They cannot change a company's or team's culture overnight. They do not offer a magic potion or pill to get immediate results. They can, however, help teams to start the journey towards change.
  • An agile coach is not a replacement for good leadership. Agile coaches can help teams to self-manage around goals and organizational objectives, but they cannot replace good leadership. Agile coaches most effectively operate within the context of good organizational leadership.

Agile coach comparisons

Agile Coach vs Agile Advisor

The terms "coach" and "advisor" are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two.

  • A coach is someone who helps you achieve your goals. They do this by asking you questions, helping you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and providing you with feedback and support. This is the primary function of most agile coaches. They dont focus on having all the answers as much as helping you unlock your own answers.
  • An advisor is someone who provides you with advice. They may have expertise in a particular field, such as business or finance, and they can help you to make decisions and navigate your way through challenges. Advisors will give you the answers you seek even if its not the answer you wanted to hear.

Ultimately, the best way to decide whether you need a coach or an advisor is to consider your individual needs and goals. If you are looking for someone to help you develop and achieve your goals, then a coach may be a good fit for you. If you are looking for someone more direct and solutions focused to provide you with advice, then an advisor may be a better choice.

Here are some additional things to consider when deciding whether to hire a coach or an advisor:

  • Your goals: What are your goals? Are you looking to improve your performance in a particular area, or are you looking for general expertise to leverage?
  • Your budget: How much are you willing to spend? Coaches can be expensive and may take time to be effective. They help you develop the skills you need for future success. Advisors may only work with you for a short amount of time to help you solve a problem, but rates can be higher. It may be important to factor in the cost when making your decision.
  • Your personality: Do you prefer to work with someone who is directive or someone who is more hands-off? Advisors are typically hands on, coaches typically hands off. Coaches and advisors have different styles, so it is important to find someone who matches your personality.

Agile Coach vs. Scrum Master

The roles of an agile coach and a scrum master are often confused, but there are some key differences between the two. Lets go over some of them here:

Scrum Master

  • The accountability of a Scrum Master is defined in the Scrum Guide.
  • A Scrum Master is accountable for a Scrum Team’s effectiveness.
  • They ensure Scrum is enacted and understood.
  • They cause the removal of impediments to the team's progress
  • They ensure Scrum events are positive and productive
  • Scrum masters are members of a Scrum Team
  • Scrum masters serve the Scrum Team, The Product Owner, and the organization as a whole
  • Scrum Masters may lead, plan, teach, coach and advise the organization on Scrum adoptions

Agile Coach

  • An agile coach is responsible for helping organizations adopt agile principles and practices.
  • They do this by providing guidance, training, and coaching to teams and individuals.
  • Agile coaches may work with multiple teams or even the entire organization.
  • Their focus is on generally helping the organization as a whole become more agile, not just a specific team.

Reading the definition of a Scrum Master from the scrum guide one might start to see that a scrum master works in very much the same way as an agile coach. Some of the main differences are that Scrum Masters are focused on teaching the Scrum framework, while an agile coach may be focused on implementing one or more frameworks in an organization. Sometimes we find that organizations treat Scrum Masters and agile coaches as layers of a hierarchy with agile coaches or even Enterprise agile coaches being at the top of that hierarchy. Scrum does not view a Scrum Master as a layer in hierarchy. nor does it view a Scrum Master as an entry level job.

Agile Coach vs. Agile Consultant

An agile coach and an agile consultant are both professionals who provide guidance and support to individuals or organizations on the subject of business agility. However, there are some important differences between the two.

Agile coaches focus on helping individuals or teams achieve their goals. They do this by providing feedback, support, and encouragement. Coaches typically work with their clients on a long-term basis, and they often use a variety of professional coaching tools and techniques. Those may include working with clients to set goals and acting as an accountability partner. Agile coaches are also great at asking questions to help their clients unlock their true potential. Broadly speaking they’re approach will be based more in using soft skills than in delivering expert-level solutions.

On the other hand, agile consultants focus on providing expert advice and solutions to specific problems related to business agility. They do this by analyzing data, identifying problems, and recommending specific, context-dependent solutions to their client’s challenges. Agile consultants typically work with their clients on a short-term basis, and they often have a deep understanding of the industry or field in which they work.

In general, agile coaches are more focused on the individual or team, while consultants are more focused on the problem or issue. However, there is some overlap between the two roles, and some people may hold both titles.

Here are some examples of how agile coaches and agile consultants might be useful in different situations:

  • An agile coach might be used to help an agile team improve their team dynamics
  • An agile consultant might be used to help a company get away from vanity metrics and implement metrics that really matter.
  • An agile coach might be used to help a manager in creating an environment of safety for agile team members
  • An agile consultant might be used to help a company develop an agile transformation strategy.

The best way to decide whether you need an agile coach or an agile consultant is to consider your specific needs and goals. If you are looking for someone to help you achieve your long-term agile transformation goals, then a coach may be a good fit for you. If you are looking for someone to help you solve a specific problem or issue, then an agile consultant may be a better fit.

agile coaching vs. agile training

Training and coaching are both forms of development that can be beneficial for individuals and organizations. However, there are some key differences between the two.

Training is the process of imparting knowledge and skills to an individual or group. It is typically more structured and didactic than coaching, and it often involves the transfer of information from an expert to a learner.

Coaching is a more personalized process that focuses on helping an individual or group achieve their goals. It is less structured than training, and it often involves the coach asking questions and providing feedback to the client.

Here are some examples of training and coaching:

  • Training: A company might provide training to its employees on how to use a new software program
  • Coaching: A personal trainer might coach a client on how to lose weight and get in shape.
  • Business coaching: A business coach might coach a CEO on how to improve their leadership skills.

And for this, the ideal way to decide whether you need training or coaching is to consider your individual needs and goals. If you are looking to grow your capabilities, learn new skills or gain knowledge, then training may be a good fit for you. If you are looking to improve your real-world performance or achieve personal goals, then coaching may be a better choice.

Engaging an Agile Coach

How to Identify the Need

It's common for companies to start with a coach with the goal of changing the way people work while they get work done. But this is typically the wrong approach in terms of lower total costs of transformation. Much like you wouldn't give a random group of 12 year old children a football coach before anyone learned football, it's best to bring in a coach after everyone has had focused classroom training to baseline everyone on terms, techniques, and expectations. Coaching is best served immediately after training to navigate the real-world challenges that classroom training doesn't have the time to cover.

Associated Costs

The cost of engaging an agile coach can vary depending on your location, in-person vs. remote, and experience of the agile coach. Ballpark hourly rates in the united states may start as low as $50 per hour and exceed $350 for someone who may also be an expert advisor while also leveraging professional coaching techniques. Its really important to understand the difference between an agile coach, advisor and consultant when evaluating rates as the value you receive may be quite different.

How Long coaching Takes

Much like cognitive behavioral therapy, the amount of time necessary to achieve the desired results can vary drastically based on the people involved, prior experience before agile trainings started, team dynamics, years on the job, organizational culture, size of team, hours spent coaching, etc. But if we look at ballpark figures here as well, you can expect to see solid results between 3-6 months. And agile development becoming a cultural norm between 6-12 months assuming the organizational remains relatively stable over that time period.

can I hire a Coach without Training first?

Yes, you can hire a coach without training. However, it comes with serous risks. learning on the job is much slower and can be frustrating for people who don't first undersand underlying concepts. You'll be holding them to a new standard way of working that may feel strange at first. This is generally not the recommended path. The ideal path would start with an assessment, and then training before coaching.

If you do go the path of coaching without training first, it is important to find a coach who is qualified and experienced in the area you are looking for help with. You should also be clear about your constraints, goals and expectations before you start working with the coach.

Here are some things to consider when hiring a coach without training:

  • Patience. Does the agile coach have the requisite patience to work with an organizaiton that will not have training first.
  • Qualifications: What is the coach's experience and education? Do they have any certifications or accreditations?
  • Style: Do you feel comfortable with the coach's style? Do they ask the right questions and provide the right feedback?
  • Fees: How much does the coach charge? Is their fee within your budget?
  • Goals: What are your goals? Are you looking to improve your performance in a particular area, or are you looking for general advice?

It may be easy to find an agile coach that will work with your group without training first, but this agile coach should be forthcoming with the risks associated or they may not have the skills needed to work with a team that has no training.

Once you have found a few potential coaches, you can schedule a consultation with each one. This will give you a chance to meet with the coach and see if they are a good fit for you.

It is important to remember that coaching is a partnership. You and the coach will work together to achieve your goals. The coach will provide you with guidance and support, but you will be responsible for taking action and making progress.

Should I Hire an agile coach after training?

Whether or not you should hire a coach after training depends on a number of factors, including your organizational goals, maturity level, and budget.

If you are looking to improve performance, an agile coach can be a valuable asset. An agile coach can help you to set goals, develop a plan to achieve those goals, and provide you with the support and accountability you need to succeed.

If you are a beginner or intermediate level in your agile adoption or transformation, an agile coach can also be helpful in providing you with the knowledge and skills related to agile development that you need to progress. A coach can also help you to identify and correct any weaknesses in your current ability to deliver value in small pieces..

Of course, hiring a coach can be expensive. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider other options, such as reading books, taking online courses, or joining a community of like-minded individuals. However, in many cases you will find a higher return on investment working with an experienced coach that you will go it alone if you’re starting from scratch.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to hire a coach is a personal one. If you believe that a coach can help you to achieve your goals, then it is worth considering hiring one.

Here are some of the benefits of hiring a coach after training:

  • Improved performance: A coach can help you to identify and correct any weaknesses in your technique or approach. They can also help you to develop a plan to achieve your goals and provide you with the support and accountability you need to succeed.
  • Increased motivation: A coach can help you to stay motivated and on track. They can also provide you with encouragement and support when you are feeling discouraged.
  • New insights: A coach can help you to gain new insights into your performance and identify areas where you can improve. They can also help you to develop new strategies and techniques.
  • Personal development: A coach can help you to develop your personal skills and qualities, such as confidence, communication, and leadership.

If you are considering hiring a coach, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Find a coach who is qualified and experienced in your area of need. Make sure that the coach's fees are reasonable. And also, be clear about your expectations and goals before you start working with the coach.

Choosing an agile coach

How to find a good agile coach?

There are many qualities that make a good agile coach, but some of the most important include:

  • Expertise in agile frameworks and practices. A good agile coach should have a deep understanding of the different agile frameworks and practices, and be able to help teams implement them effectively.
  • Ability to facilitate change. Agile coaching is all about helping teams change the way they work and improve overall results, so a good agile coach should be able to facilitate change effectively. This means being able to help teams identify and address the challenges of change, and providing them with the support they need to succeed.
  • Good listening skills. A good agile coach is a fantastic listener. They should be able to genuinely hear the concerns of team members, and help them to find solutions that work for everyone.
  • Ability to build rapport. A good agile coach should be able to build rapport with team members, managers, stakeholders and anyone relevant in the organization. This means being able to connect with them on a personal level, and create a trusting environment where they feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
  • Enthusiasm and motivation. A good agile coach should be enthusiastic about agile transformation and motivated to see the transformation through to success. They should be able to help teams stay motivated during the change process, and keep them focused on their goals of higher value, better quality, happier customers, etc..

Is my existing agile coach effective?

If you have an agile coach who exhibits the above qualities, then you likely have a good one. Here are some other things you can look for to help you determine if your agile coach is effective:

  • Are you seeing improvements in the team's ability to deliver value in small pieces at a higher level of quality?
  • Are team members more engaged and motivated?
  • Is there a better understanding of agile principles and practices and how they translate into results?
  • Is there a more collaborative and communicative team environment?
  • Are there fewer unproductive conflicts and overall dysfunctional behaviors?
  • Has your ability to adapt to be more inline with customer needs gone up?
  • Are you finding issues sooner in development?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions, then likely your agile coach is making a positive impact on your team.

How to find a good agile coach

it can be very difficult to find a high quality agile coach that has experience, the social skills to work with a variety of people, the capacity in their schedule to work with you and fits the budgetary constraints you have. What follows are some tips to help you in your search:

  • Ask for recommendations from other teams or organizations.
  • Look for agile coaches who have experience in your industry or with your specific challenges. An internet search would be the first place to start
  • Read through the content any potential candidates produce via blogs, videos, books or other forms to see how they communicate ideas. The highest quality agile coaches will be thought leaders in their industry and demonstrate that thought leadership through a variety of content
  • Look for any reviews or recommendations posted online for potential candidates. Do they have a trust pilot profile? do they have a Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook profile with ratings associated?
  • Interview potential coaches to get a sense of their personality and approach.
  • Make sure the agile coach is a good fit for your team's needs and culture.

Finding a good agile coach can be a challenge, but it is worth it. A good agile coach can help your team achieve its goals, improve its performance, and change how your customers think about your product or service.

Challenges of being an agile coach

Agile coaching is a challenging but rewarding career. Agile coaches help teams and organizations embrace agile frameworks, practices and principles. They play an essential role in helping teams deliver valuable, high-quality products and services that delight their customers. Of course, there are many challenges that agile coaches face in their journey to build agile organizations. Here are some of the most common:

The need to be constantly learning and adapting.

The industry around agile development is constantly evolving, so agile coaches need to be always learning and growing their skills. They need to stay up-to-date on the latest version of existing agile frameworks (SAFe, Kanban, Scrum, etc..) and evolving complimentary practices. They need to be able to adapt their coaching style to the specific needs of each team. Sometimes they just have to keep reading and reading until they discover the tool they need to help their teams unlock its true potential.

The need to deal with resistance to change.

Many people are resistant to change when the don’t understand it, want it, or know how they can use it. Effective change management can be a real challenge for many agile coaches. They need to be able to help teams overcome their resistance to change and embrace the agile way of working.

The need to balance team needs with organizational needs.

Agile coaches must be able to balance the needs of the team with the needs of the organization. They must ensure the team is able to deliver high-value and high-quality products and services, but they also need to ensure that the team is able to work in a way that is sustainable and that meets the needs of the organization.

There is often pressure to get more work done on time and on budget with little alignment around goals or purpose. The key to unlocking the true potential of a team is in aligning on purpose and building usable solutions in small batches. Conventional (waterfall) methods are typically driven by date and scope giving the people doing the work little wiggle room to adapt to changing conditions. A good agile coach understands organizational problems from the team to the c-suite and can align competing interests toward a worthy goal.

Being an agile coach is a challenging but rewarding career. Agile coaches play a key role in helping teams adopt agile practices and principles, and they help teams deliver higher-quality, higher value products and services while adapting to changing conditions. An agile coach that can do the above will find purpose in their career while having a never ending path to career growth.

Our approach to agile coaching

The Responsive Advisors model for agile coaching to function more like a trusted business advisor. We focus on learning all about our clients including their industry, their context, their culture, their tooling and their people.

We have a strong business acumen that we apply to our agile transformations. We results focused and that comes through in our training and post class advisory support.

We think holistically, and, our customers appreciate it. If you're interested in learning more about us, feel free to contact us for more information about our approach or just to start a conversation.

Robert PIeper

Robb Pieper

about the author

Robert Pieper has been a licensed Professional Scrum Trainer and National Public Speaker since 2013. Robb holds an MBA from Marquette University and an Electrical Engineering Degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Robb has 15 years of professional software development experience with a passion for making Scrum work delivering real products and services

Agile Transformation is the key to your future success

Responsive Advisors takes a holistic approach to agile transformation. We’re Scrum experts and agile business advisors focused on improving results for our clients. If we can be of any help to you at any stage of your transformation, please reach out.


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