How to fail as an Agile Coach

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Scrum defines three specific accountabilities within the Scrum Team: the Developers, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master. — Scrum Guide 2020

When it comes to the Scrum framework, these three roles with their liability are the minimum required to deliver a potentially “done” Increment. The fact that Scrum doesn’t define other roles/positions/functions doesn’t rule out the fact that their liability isn’t valuable. A Scrum project still needs to be managed; work still needs to be examined; teams, people, and organizations still need to be coached, etc. In the Scrum framework, we just managed it differently.

For this blog, I’ll be focussing more on coaching people, teams, and organizations as a dedicated Agile Coach. In this blog, I won’t be talking about the worth of a fanatical Agile Coach or whether there should be Agile Coaches in Scrum? The reality is that there are Agile Coaches among us in today’s world, so instead, I’ll be focusing on how Agile Coaches fail where scrum has been already adopted.

Keep in mind that this is my personal view when it comes to helping organizations in their Agile journey while respecting the three Scrum liabilities. Surely there are more misunderstandings, missteps, and oversights out there.

1. Focussing too much on the Scrum team

Wait, what? Isn’t this a good thing? As mentioned earlier, Scrum defines three specific liabilities, and an Agile Coach should understand and more importantly respect them.

When it comes to establishing Scrum and helping everyone understand the Scrum theory and practices within the Scrum Team and the organization, an Agile Coach should respect the Scrum Master’s works in this matter.

The Scrum Master is responsible for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. They do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory and practice, both within the Scrum Team and the organisation. — Scrum Guide 2020

The first thing is where an Agile Coach actively participates in all the Scrum team’s events and coaches the entire Scrum Team on the spot when things don’t go “according to Scrum”.

This all sounds pretty good. What’s the issue here?

Two things:

  1. This behavior doesn’t encourage self-managing through ownership: Ownership is the feeling that something is yours. This ownership becomes stronger when you’ve experienced it yourself rather than being told.
  2. It undermines the Scrum Master role: It creates confusion when the accountabilities of a Scrum Master are being undermined. Not only for the team members but also for the organization.

You know you’re doing a lousy job as an Agile Coach when the Scrum Team relies on you to do Scrum.

How can an Agile Coach help the Scrum Team without putting at risk their self-managing ability?

As an Agile Coach, admit that a Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team, Product Owner, and organization. A more sustainable and respectful approach to assist the Scrum Team indirectly would be coaching the Scrum Master directly. This way, the Agile Coach gives the Scrum Master and the team to inspect and adapt. Encouraging them for self-discovery and letting the Scrum Team take ownership of their way of working.

2. Not fully understanding Scrum as a framework.

The Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete, only defining the parts required to implement Scrum theory. Scrum is built upon by collecting the intelligence of the people who uses it. Rather than provide people with detailed instructions, the rules of Scrum guide their relationships and interactions. — Scrum Guide 2020

A second thing is coaching Scrum Teams to work with ‘an implementation of Scrum that you’re familiar with’. The Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete intentionally. As an Agile Coach, it’s crucial to know the difference between Scrum and “an implementation of Scrum”. Two teams can do Scrum and have two different implementations of Scrum. What works for one team doesn’t automatically mean that it’ll work for an additional. That is why the first value of the Agile Manifesto is about People & Interaction over Processes and Tools.

3. Not understanding empiricism

As mentioned above, there’s nobody implementation of Scrum. More often than not, we discover ourselves in a complex environment where more is unknown than known, and since of this, empiricism is your ally.

Scrum is founded on empiricism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed — Scrum Guide 2020

The third thing is about focusing too much on “first-time-right”.

For example, we have a population of inexperienced Scrum Masters, so we hired an experienced Agile Coach to point out to the team how Scrum works. A risk is that the Agile Coach limits the Scrum team with one person’s intelligence. Also, this is often a weak approach in a complex environment. Why? First of all, ownership, and secondly, you set the team on the trail focused on “inspect and accept” rather than “inspect and adapt”.

4. Agile Coach, The One Man Army, The Super Hero Change Agent.

The third thing is about focusing too much on “first-time-right”.

For example, we have a population of inexperienced Scrum Masters, so we hired an experienced Agile Coach to point out to the team how Scrum works. A risk is that the Agile Coach limits the Scrum team with one person’s intelligence. Also, this is often a weak approach in a complex environment. Why? First of all, ownership, and secondly, you set the team on the trail focused on “inspect and accept” rather than “inspect and adapt”.

Agile Coaches are often hired to operate on the organizational level. A couple of examples are:

  • Initiating an Agile movement within the company.
  • Help to spot Operational and Development Value Streams.
  • Implementing a new organizational structure to deal with, for example, scaling or portfolio and program planning, etc.
  • Explaining how the Scrum framework can help their teams to develop a better and best product in a better approach.

Often Agile Coaches join an organization with a backpack filled with experience. This is great! They start having conversations with Users, C-level Executives, IT Managers, Enterprise Architects, etc. The goal here is to get an idea of the organization’s current state and identify key stakeholders.

Conclusion
  • A Scrum Master is an Agile Coach, and an Agile Coach is what a Scrum Master should be. As an Agile Coach, help your Scrum Master become one.
  • Ultimately leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption is a Scrum Master’s job. As an Agile Coach, how are you able to help and support a Scrum Master here?
  • Scrum and Agile aren’t equivalent but don’t exclude them from one another. A Scrum Master should also be familiar with ‘Scrum transcending’ complementary practices to improve agility and help the organization deliver value.
  • As an Agile Coach, don’t limit the Scrum team or organization to one person’s intelligence. Include others!
  • Nowadays, everyone claims to be an Agile Coach. Being an actual Coach isn’t something you’ll simply be tho. It requires intensive study combined with the specified “flight hours” to use practices and models in the real world.

If you want to know about Scrum master you can refer to this blog.

Written by 

Prince Agrahai is a Scrum Master at Knoldus. He has good skills in Agile Methodology and Scrum Framework. He is also a good team player and likes to achieve milestones together. Also, getting up early motivates him for his work. On the personal front, he loves to travel, play cricket and watch movies.

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