Agile Coaching Competencies

If you talk to 10 Agile Coaches, you are likely to get 10 different answers about what it means to be an Agile Coach.   Coaches seem to agree on the Agile Mindset, it’s the actual work of a coach that varies widely.

I’ve put together what I believe to be a list of competencies for an Agile Coach as well as competencies for an Agile Transformation Lead.  I am including both because a transformation without an Agile Transformation Lead can end up rudderless. Both roles are key in most transformations.

Agile Coach Competencies:

  1. Agile knowledge.  Table stakes for being an Agile Coach.  Any source qualifies including certification, book knowledge, and community participation.

  2. Coaching. Background in the discipline of coaching.  Coaching is defined as “Helping people make the mindset shifts needed to achieve high performance.”  Here are 2 great coaching organizations to consider: Agile Coaching Institute  Coach Training Institute

  3. Facilitation.  A coach must be able to manage the communication process for large groups of people.  Coaches frequently lead things like road-mapping sessions and team chartering. They also intervene when meetings go awry.  For this reason, it’s imperative that the coach has some facilitation tools in their toolkit. Team Catapult offers the best Facilitation Training I know of.  If you can’t make it to a class, Sam Kaner’s book Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making will give you a framework to use in the meantime.

  4. Scaled models.  Even for team level coaches, it’s hard to coach without some understanding of how Agile works at scale.   

  5. Communication skills.  The trick to being a good coach is to minimize your words and maximize your impact.  The team doesn’t want to listen to you drone on and on while they have work to do. Powerful communication is key for coaches to deliver their messages in a targeted and impactful way.

  6. Training - adult learning.  Many coaches are actually trainers.  All coaches need to deliver training, whether formal or informal, as the need arises.  In order to do this, Agile Coaches must have some training skills. Training from the Back of the Room is very popular in the Agile Community.

  7. Influence.  Coaches are de facto change agents.  Coaches are pulled into situations where resistance is palpable, and coaches need to be able to go beyond simply reciting Agile dogma.  Having some basic influence skills sets great coaches apart from the rest. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, is a popular work on the topic.

  8. Organizational Behavior.  I put this at the bottom of the list because it’s more of a ‘nice to have’, but some knowledge of how organizations behave and how the organizational system works will serve the coach well.

Additional competencies for an Agile Transformation Lead

  1. Political savvy.  Transformations are multi-faceted.  In order to navigate through them, you need political savvy.  You must know how to build coalitions, how to identify power structures and how to broker deals.  You’re doing it in service to the organization, not as a power-hungry Machiavellian leader. If politics scares you, Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book on Power may help.

  2. Influence and networking.  Influence was listed as a basic skill for coaches, it’s even more important for a Transformation Lead.  Transformations involve so many players across the business, it’s key that you build relationships horizontally.  Building a stakeholder map is a key starting point activity. This book has a mapping technique that you might find useful Political Savvy

  3. Executive Communication.  You need to be comfortable talking to executives.  There’s not much more to it than that.

  4. Strategy and Vision.  A transformation lead will be able to lay out a strategy and also implement.  There are many things to tackle during a transformation, but the lead needs to determine what comes first.  What comes next? Otherwise, the organization will be transforming on too many fronts at once, and perform poorly in all of them.  

  5. Organizational Design.  Organizational design is its own discipline and industry.  Agile Transformations typically expose a need for structural change.  The Transformation lead doesn’t need to be the expert, but they should be well-versed in the Org Design options, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What are other skills needed for an Agile Coach or Agile Transformation Lead?  Have you seen these competencies in the coaches you know? Let us know in the comments!