Agile Coaching in 2021
Like everything else, the way we conduct Agile Coaching has changed during 2020 and will continue to evolve in 2021. While there are obvious drawbacks of working remotely, there are also some big potential upsides for both the client and the coach.
One of the biggest challenges for an Agile Coach used to working face-to-face is around building relationships. There are going to be fewer opportunities to do this in an unstructured way. We can’t just drop by and have a chat. Therefore, we need to be more deliberate and build these opportunities into our products and services.
Change is going to be different going forward. It will be centred around individuals and teams doing experiments as part of their work. There are two main roles an Agile Coach will play in this space. The first of these roles will be to act as a coach and facilitator to help identify tensions, design experiments and support their execution. The second role will be that of a teacher to help build the capability so that everybody can get on the experimentation loop, and make themselves redundant in the first role.
As Agile Coaches are usually brought in by an individual or a group of sponsors, they will need to work with these sponsors to define the engagement, which may include workshops, training and coaching as needed. At the very least, the sponsors will be involved in identifying the direction of travel, identify parts of the organisation where the experiments will take place, and recruit and support volunteers that will conduct experiments. Further facilitation, coaching and training products will have to be defined to support the sponsors as well as the individuals and teams running experiments.
Targeted Agile Coaching
Agile coaching work dried up significantly in 2020, partly due to organisations trying to build their internal coaching capability (more on this later). However, there is also a lot of uncertainty for self-employed professionals with COVID-19 and changes in UK law around IR35. The number of Agile Coaching contracts is down by as much as 70%, compared to two years ago. And for boutique Agile consultancies like ourselves, the Agile Coaching work has reduced significantly. While this may be temporary, we are feeling the effects now and are likely to for some time in the future.
As a result, Agile Coaching is becoming increasingly targeted. It has become less common to hire Agile Coaches by the day. It is now more likely that an external Agile Coach will be hired to deliver a specific product or service. Let’s take a look at what these products and services look like.
Facilitation of Workshops
An Agile Coach may be hired to facilitate some workshops for a specific purpose. These workshops could be to envisage a new product, kick off a new team, run a retrospective, or to guide a leadership team through change. The facilitation work is not limited to just running the workshop though, but will also include preparation and follow-up. What the client is buying is a facilitated workshop for a specific purpose. The preparation activities are significant especially if it is a new group that the coach will be working with and will add up to anywhere between two and four times the amount of effort required to actually run a workshop. In reality, a two-hour workshop will require a day’s worth of work.
There is a huge opportunity here to create new models for learning. When working remotely, a whole day of training is often not the best for learning. Modular programmes that allow for the practice of new skills in-between sessions can be very powerful, especially when supplemented by different learning opportunities that are on-demand and accessible when needed. Ultimately, the client will be buying a training product, but working remotely makes it possible to reimagine how people learn and tailor training products for specific clients’ needs.
Individual and team coaching is increasingly bought in packages. For example, 1 to 1 coaching can be structured as a package of six sessions to help an individual towards a specific goal – growing as a ScrumMaster, developing a new leadership style, or getting better at shaping and running experiments.
Team coaching is going to be very context-specific and the coaching packages will be highly tailored to the context. The key here is that the coaching will be designed with a view of a team achieving a specific goal, such as forming and running as a team, identifying a tension and experimenting towards changing it, or maybe adopting a new practice. The key intervention points will be specified within the package with an allowance for some ad-hoc interventions via a video call, chat or email.
A word on contracting around Outcomes
The responsibility for an outcome rarely lies with the Agile Coach. As a guide, learning partner and even catalyst for change, the Agile Coach is not the one doing the change and generating outcomes. The responsibility for using Agile thinking and ways of working to become the best they can be remains squarely with the client. As a client, you hire the products and services of an Agile Coach to help you achieve your outcomes.
Growing internal Agile Coaches
As already mentioned, 2020 has seen the trend of organisations trying to grow their internal Agile Coaching capability. While I agree with the sentiment that a coach should work to make themselves redundant, becoming part of the furniture does not help create mobility within teams. However, within an organisation, agility (like fitness) is something to continually work at, even more so now that everybody is working from home and needs additional support. The key for the internal Agile Coaches is their mobility – like Nanny McPhee, going where they are needed and maybe not wanted, and leaving when they are wanted but no longer needed.
As external Agile and Professional Coaches, we can help our clients build their internal coaching capability through tailored coaching programmes such as our Coaching Skills for Leaders course.
We can do better as an Agile Coaching Profession
We have long realised the problems caused by the fact that anybody can call themselves an Agile Coach. As a profession, we need to better support the growth of Agile Coaches. We co-created the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel to help here, but we need to go further than that (see the recent blog post by Bob Galen Agile Coaching – I have a Dream…). Let’s make 2021 the year where we do better.
To conclude, now that we are all working remotely, an external Agile Coach might be working across several different clients in a single day, using time in-between for preparation and follow up activities. Agile Coaching engagements are going to be more structured, with products and services around more specific and shorter-term client goals. This should help bring focus and deliver better value for the clients. All the while, we need to continue supporting the growth of great coaches within organisations while simultaneously raising the bar as a profession. Oh, and try and learn and have fun as well.