Niall McShane Niall McShane . Nov 24 . 5 min read

4 steps to becoming a competent, self-confident agile coach

I believe the role of agile coach is the best job to have; this post is my view on what it takes to confidently and competently execute the role.


The role of agile coach brings out the best of a person whilst they enable the delivery of outcomes for organisations. An agile coach produces hard tangible results through the use of soft people skills. This post is my opinion on what it takes to have the competence and confidence to call yourself an agile coach.

Why everyone is so confused about the role of agile coach?

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach then this post speaks to you. There has been much discussion and debate on exactly when an individual has the “right” to call themselves an agile coach. Much of this industry discussion is the result of underqualified and ill-prepared agile practitioners who all of a sudden self-appoint themselves as agile coaches (changing their LinkedIn profile overnight). This is unhelpful and results in "fake" agile coaches; which is leads to everyone's reputation taking a hit (coaches, clients, recruiters, certifiers).

So what exactly does it take for one to consider themselves a bona fide agile coach. I think it is fair to say that to become an agile coach requires expert-level proficiency in the skills associated with the role. In addition, an agile coach is a mentor of others who wish to learn the practices and art of agile coaching. But wait a minute I hear you asking I have all the certifications to be an agile coach; hmmm… well that’s an issue too.

To certify or not to certify; that’s the (wrong) question


One factor that has added to the confusion of who is and who is not an agile coach is that of the certifications. But it is NOT the certifiers fault; for example, ICAgile clearly states that their 3-day Agile Coaching (ICP-ACC) certification course is a knowledge-based step towards actual expert-level competency (ICE-AC). It is those undertaking the courses who are to blame for misrepresenting knowledge on a topic as competence in executing a skill. In other words, just because you’ve learned something in a course does not mean you can execute the role in the workplace. In this post I want to clear up some of this confusion and give you my view on how to progress your career towards assuming the role of agile coach (and be competent and self-confident in executing the role).

Sorry no hacks or shortcuts here, just the plain truth (my version of it) about what is involved and what you need to do to take on the role of agile coach

The four steps to becoming an agile coach

To keep this simple I have chunked down the progression into four steps; they’re not easy, simple or linear:

  1. Work in or around agile as a practitioner; learn agile by doing it for 1-2 years; obtain first-hand experience of agile whilst you learn about coaching. Agile foundational knowledge-based certifications can help to supplement your experience but are never a replacement for DOING agile. I would also suggest learning how to coach (not agile coaching; just normal coaching); maybe do a short course. If you don’t enjoy the coaching short course (I would expect you to be more passionate afterward) maybe reconsider if agile coaching as a career is still for you.

  2. Practice agile coaching as a skill; learn how to talk to others and help them change their ways; start practicing how to deliver agile coaching from what you know and have done (whilst usually still in an agile practitioner role). Start on your agile coaching certification pathway but please don’t call yourself an agile coach. This step can overlap the preceding one or the one that follows and takes 6-18 months. Seek out a mentor if you are still keen to pursue the role of agile coach; if you’re not then just stop here and use what you’ve learned as part of your current agile role.

  3. Hire or formalise a relationship with a mentor who will guide you towards the role of agile coach; then work with them for 1-2 years. This step marks a turning point where you decide the role of agile coach is now a career choice; it shows intent to become a professional. Work with your mentor to get into a role where you are the agile coach; accountable for behavioural change across a team (you don’t have to have the title of agile coach; yet). Work to become verified as proficient in the competencies associated with the role of agile coach; this may or may not involve agile certifications. Investigate competency-based learning and assessment from other industries e.g. professional coaching or teaching. lastly, your personal reflective practices should also be maturing at this time; these practices enables your personal inner transformation into becoming a coach. Common examples include meditation, mindfulness, hiring a life coach, journaling or other self-development activities.

  4. Actively start to help others take the path you’ve walked on; teach and mentor others in what you have done (you now usually have the title of agile coach and are helping others follow the path you’ve walked). You’ve transcended the need to prove anything, are comfortable in what you do and who you are; ironically you don’t care anymore about the title of agile coach but it is probably what others see you as. When this step is taken and where the previous step finishes is a blurred line but when you cross it you are confident in your competence.

The longer path to agile coach


There are longer paths to becoming an agile coach; they waste your time, energy and effort. I mention them so you can avoid them. Being obsessed with knowledge instead of gaining experience is an unfortunate wasteful path; doing classroom certification after certification, learning new theories, reading book after book (please read mine though) but never actually getting out of your comfort zone and practicing. Like any skill, at some point you are required to make a leap from what you know about something to attempting to do it. Hence the importance of a mentor; in trades this is the master/apprentice relationship.
Another development antipattern is staying in your personal development comfort zone; ignoring the inner journey and not undertaking a reflective practice. Growing is uncomfortable and becoming an agile coach requires personal as well as professional development; are you prepared to do things you would not normally do; are you prepared to become a different you (one that is BEING different)


OK, let’s add all these steps up and see how long it will all take to become an agile coach; a minimum of 6 years. I’m sure some people reading will want to fast-track this and become an agile coach more quickly. I am sorry to be the one to tell you but...

..there are no shortcuts to becoming a competent agile coach

I’m keen to hear from agile coaches out there; am I on the mark here or have I misrepresented the journey required?

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