State of Agile Coaching – 5 Things You Need to Know

Earlier this year, the Scrum Alliance published the first ever edition of the State of Agile Coaching Report, which contained many insights into the fledgling profession that is commonly referred to as “Agile Coaching”. I would like to share a few highlights that I found to be the most interesting items. I definitely recommend you to take a look for yourself and see what other thought-provoking data points you might find.

Key insight #1 – Coaches with the same experience and certifications are generally compensated more at companies who are further along in their agile adoption than companies that are new to agile

agile coaching

This finding may seem logical yet troubling, depending on how you look at this. On one hand, companies that are new to Agile likely do not understand the benefits of Agile practices yet, which would explain why they offer lower compensation. However, this also means that companies who provide less compensation will most likely struggle to attract top talent to assist in their adoption efforts. Another way to look at this is that coaches may choose to forego compensation in order to have more influence and impact in the outcomes of that organization.

Key insight #2 – Vast majority of agile coaches do not hold master-level agile or coaching certifications

Given that the profession of Agile Coaching is still relatively young and not yet established, it is not surprising that many Agile experts can take this opportunity to market themselves as a “coach” even if they have not yet acquired formal training and/or certification. From my perspective, there are a number of organizations that are attempting to become the dominant authority for the field of Agile Coaching, similar to the PMI (Project Management Institute) which has established itself as the de facto standard body for project management professionals. Within the Agile Coaching space, there are many players vying for that coveted crown: International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile), Lean-Agile Institute, Agile Coaching Institute, International Coach Federation (ICF), just to name a few.

Key insight #3 – Most agile coaches invest in continuing education

Not surprisingly, most agile coaches dedicate significant time and effort on professional development and training; this seems consistent with the growth-mindset that most agile coaches should inherently possess. According to the report, approximately 22% of those surveyed invest at least 20 hours per month in learning activities. The field of “agile” overall is such as vast domain that it is not difficult to find new things to explore. I believe this is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in this field; there is never a shortage of new concepts, frameworks or techniques to learn.

Key insight #4 – Agile Coaches are measured on the performance of those they coached

I personally find this to be an interesting topic – how should coaches be measured? Can we draw a direct correlation between the effectiveness of a coach to the success of the organization? This subject may be more complex than it seems on the surface. Compared to other professions in which we can tie individual performance directly to organizational outcomes, an Agile Coach’s ability to make a positive impact is often out of his/her control due to the domain in which they operate. If you are the “customer”, the person who hired the coach, you would likely expect results from your investment. However, what if the organization does not make a commitment to change? All organizations have some level of dysfunction, and would it be fair to assess the performance of a coach if the organization does not follow the guidance and advice given by the coach? This is an interesting conundrum that may be debated amongst the community. Cultural change is inherently difficult to affect, and I do not feel we should expect the coaches to be successful unless executive leadership makes the same commitment to the cause.

Key insight #5 – Agile Coaches can operate on many levels and in different domains

All in all, there are four main categories of Agile Coaching such as team-level, program-level (multi-team), business-level (or enterprise-level) and technical (i.e. engineering practices such as DevOps or XP). This level of differentiation contributes to the level of diversity amongst the skillsets and expertise amongst the coaching community. This is important to note because companies must understand their needs and long-term strategy in order to successfully recruit the right coaching talent.

In summary, Agile Coaching remains an evolving and ever-changing industry, which is both exciting and risky. For practitioners who are currently operating as Scrum Masters or Agile Team Leads, there’s an uncharted world of possibilities that awaits. At the same time, organizations that wish to adopt agile practices must invest in understanding this market in order to make the best investment decisions on coaching support. As with most things “Agile”, it is usually a good idea to experiment, inspect, and then adapt; if you are seeking coaching support, you may wish to hire a short-term consultant as part of a pilot project; this can provide you with valuable insights into what type of expertise you truly need to establish a successful team that will set the tone for the future.

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai