Niall McShane Niall McShane . Nov 24 . 3 min read

It's time agile coaches were accountable

Talk is cheap; it is outcomes that matter.

it-s-time-agile-coaches-were-accountable

Let's start with my opinion...

The Agile Coach role title is starting to become synonymous with non-delivery.

As an industry-wide community of practitioners are agile coaches failing to delivery the results expected from them? If this is true what does this mean for the future of the role? This article will provide my opinion on these points and put forward some ideas re the future of the Agile Coach role.

Driving change versus advising

The “coaching” part of the agile coach role can mean many things; people talk about the “sports” coach versus the life coach etc but regardless, the outcomes expected from an agile coach are the same; affecting meaningful change in the system being coached. Consulting firms call this client IMPACT. Recently I 've seen the role title of agile coach being shunned due to it being associated with large failed agile transformations where the agile coaches had lots of opinions but achieved little impact. "All care whilst taking no responsibility" is a problem with how agile coaching is deployed in many change programs. Observing, asking questions, working on mindset and ensuring psychological safety and inclusion are all critical but are only the half of what I see as an agile coach’s remit. Additional coaching outcomes include ‘hard’ measure or key results such as:

  • Reduction of time to value (lead time to value)
  • Positive trends in the team’s performance/business metrics
  • Increased predictability of delivery outcomes
  • Data/measures to indicate how iterative and hypothesis-driven an agile team is
  • Data and measures to indicate how healthy the agile team culture is
  • Never stray too far from what the team outcomes are. As you coach start with the outcomes the teams you coach are delivering; assess if the impact of your coaching work can measured. My favourite metric is lead time to value. This is a measure of the time it takes for the system you are coaching to deliver the value it creates for the people it serves. Has your coaching work shortened the time to value?

Data-driven impact through soft influencing

Summarising the above point; agile coaches utilise soft skills to achieve hard (measurable) outcomes. The problem arises when an agile coach only focusses on utilising their soft skills and does not seek to establish measures that can assess the impact of their work. This results in a lack of accountability and low impact coaching.

Some advice for aspiring agile coaches

Never stray too far from what the team outcomes are. As you coach start with the outcomes the teams you coach are delivering; assess if the impact of your coaching work can measured. My favourite metric is lead time to value. This is a measure of the time it takes for the system you are coaching to deliver the value it creates for the people it serves. Has your coaching work shortened the time to value? Check out the video below where I explain this metric in more detail.

What I see as measures of coaching success on large agile transformations is mostly leading indicators of agile adoption; number of teams mobilised, level of adoption of agile ceremonies. But a team could adopt a collection of agile practices perfectly, scoring 100% on a maturity assessment but not impact the business metrics/key results that matter. An agile coach should care about these measures and aim to impact them.

Final words/ conclusion

An agile coach should measure agile practice adoption but see this as a leading indicator of the real success measure; business outcomes.

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