Niall McShane Niall McShane . Jun 3 . 5 min read

WHY and WHEN to hire an agile coach?

Some people have a problem with the role of AGILE COACH

Mention the role AGILE COACH to a group of senior executives embarking on a transformation and chances are you’ll get a mix of reactions. Probably something like the picture below.


 Some will roll their eyes; others will have a puzzled look on their face, and some will look at you knowingly indicating they appreciate the value the role adds. Usually this questions comes up quickly...

So, what are agile coaches actually supposed to do? 

here's my answer. Agile coaches are an enabling role to help change the way an organisation works. They drive/lead change to processes, influence how people behave, employ tools to measure and monitor progress. All of these things help to shift the organisation's culture so that it embraces and eventually is AGILE.

BUT (there’s always a but) agile coaches have recently developed somewhat of a reputation problem.  

Imposter agile coaches are numerous; these coaches have collected certifications but lack the real-world experience to deliver meaningful change into the organisation.imposterhoodie_fullpic_artwork

Imposter coaches are full of advice but lack the ability to roll their sleeves up and help get stuff done (lots of theory and advice but low on results/impact). Often, they are inflexible in their interpretation of how agile can/should be introduced into an organisation (not very agile of them; ironic, I know). 

This post is written for all those people in positions where they are expected to recruit, contract and/or manage agile coaches in support of organisational change. It is also a reminder to my fellow agile coaches on the importance of always working within your capabilities and try not to over-promise and underdeliver. I’ll cover off the WHY and WHEN of hiring agile coaches (I’ll leave HOW for another post). 

WHY hire an agile coach? 

The two words in the role explain why you may need to recruit an Agile Coach.  

If your organisation is adopting agile as a way to work, it is the agile coach who serves as your expert on all things Agile (they are your domain or subject matter experts; not just the theory but also how agile gets adopted across an organisation). Navigating the journey towards launching agile teams or enabling a broader agility change program requires a guide and your agile coach should play that role; advising on practices, processes, artefacts and methods relating to agile. The Coaching part of the Agile Coach role relates to influencing the behaviour of teams, leaders and even customers. The change in behaviour required to adopt agile is enabled by the agile coach via many means; including showing or telling teams how to do agile as well as facilitating deeper conversations involving individual and collective introspection.  

If the above skills do not currently sit in one person in your organisation, then you will need to hire an Agile Coach. It is important to have both the Agile and the Coaching parts in one person as they work together to execute the role's duties. It is the sum of these two parts (AGILE+COACH) is what generates the magic that enables real organisational change. Organisational Change Managers can help, so can Delivery Leads/Managers but the Agile Coach is a unique role that understands and appreciates what it means to get work complete but also can help and guide the team to change their behaviours as they deliver. 

 home-video-imageWHEN to hire an Agile Coach 

A common mistake is to hire an Agile Coach just before the new way of working is to be “implemented”. This would be like asking a race car driver to jump straight into a car on a race track they’ve never driven and expect them to steer the car to victory (go fast please and get us the win!). 

I would suggest having an Agile Coach involved as you’re designing the way of working. When the teams are being established and the way of working is being drafted it would be ideal to have your Agile Coach on board. The best Agile Coaches can assist in designing the way of working and the implementation approach; they have stories of past engagements and lessons learned that will greatly assist you in avoiding any missteps.

Final words / conclusion 

The approach outlined in this post has been tried and tested with multiple clients that Source Agility has partnered with. Source has often played the role of the agile coaching expert for our clients; we support the recruitment process and help our clients hire coaches for the right reasons and at the right time. Knowing the WHY and WHEN of hiring an agile coach helps set the organisation’s change program up for success whilst ensuring the agile coach is fully empowered to do their job. The other important point is for the agile coach to understand their accountability for the impact their role should be delivering; getting this right during the hiring process is a win-win for everyone. 

At Source we love agile and its promise to uplift workplace culture whilst driving delivery outcomes; but this promise can only be met with the help of talented agile coaches.

If you would like to partner with Source Agility to tap into our network of 100s of agile coaches and hire quality agile coaches quickly, then contact us for an initial conversation. 

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