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October 15, 2015

What Makes Agile Coaching Both Difficult & Important

3 mins read

Recently I participated in an internal coaching circle with several colleagues that focused on assessing how we, as Agile coaches, view helping people with the Values and Principles of the Agile Manifesto. We used several spatial orientation exercises to tease out what was important and what was in our comfort zones. I’d like to reflect a bit on one of my takes on this.

Coaching the Value of “Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools”

There seem to be more and more people describing themselves as coaches. Regardless of whether you have a certification or not, coaching is a challenging role to take on. You carry no authority and have to constantly develop relationships and serve others through influence.

This brings me to the Agile Manifesto’s Value of “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” This to me is the most important value to coach and also the most difficult. It is important because it is people that work together to deliver the working software and collaborate with customers. It is people that have to respond to change and this response is rarely a singular individual, but a team, a group, or perhaps a whole organization. Coaching itself is a set of interactions with individuals.

While there may be processes coaches use to help others understand, and also processes a coach may use in order to help them with that understanding, a coach has a duty to not use a cookie cutter approach to adopting the various principles and practices. Each person is different and unique and deserves the respect that they should be helped in a unique fashion on what works for them. This then also goes into the ways we choose to help each unique team in maturing its interactions and for the unique organization at large to adopt new structures and processes to optimize its effectiveness.

In my opinion, this is also the most difficult value to coach. This is the one place where this uniqueness of people and how they work together has no prescribed formula. How I help one to interact better with others is more like therapy; I may have models and processes that I can pull from, but most likely I will be taking a unique approach with each one I try and help.

How is Coaching the Other Values Different?

Contrast this to the other three values: to help people develop working software, I can rely on proven practices such as unit testing to help people develop better applications. To help them collaborate with customers, I can introduce specific facilitated techniques like “Buy-a-Feature” or Story Mapping. And to help them respond to change, I can introduce the concepts of backlogs and rolling wave planning.

As a Coach, How Can I Help?

To help them understand that they even NEED to focus on their interactions, the best upfront “techniques” I can bring to bear are facilitated exercises that help them self-realize why its important, followed by facilitation and feedback that helps them establish behaviors that establish what they themselves decided to onboard. The uniqueness of each person, team, and organization then guides how best I as a coach can help.

So what are your thoughts on coaching the Values and Principles? Which one is most important or difficult in your opinion? Where have you seen a coach struggle?

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