Paul Tyma has written an interesting and provocative article titled “Agile Coach = Agile Secret Police“. As a coach myself, I actually agree with most of his article…
Agile is simple. There is no doubt about it. Agile methods tend to be easily explainable, most of the practices make sense to people, and you don’t have to study for years (maybe just days) to get a good solid understanding of an agile method like Agile Work, Scrum or XP.
So why bother with coaching? Many teams and organizations do not need it. With motivated people who have done their reading, and with a reasonably supportive organization, a team can fairly easily try an agile method and get good at it.
The need for a coach comes when there is doubt about those conditions: motivation, or a supportive organization.
This is just like coaching in other aspects of life such as the personal trainer we employ to help us learn the discipline needed to get in shape, or the sports coach employed to help see the big picture and keeps people motivated (in what one athelete called a fundamentally silly and pointless profession).
So as a coach, what do I do? Basic and “advanced” training to help a team or an organization learn about agile. I practice what I preach to help people learn by example. I watch what people are doing and talk with them about why they are doing it to help people stay motivated, and change their un-agile habits. I protect a team in its early stages from challenges that come from other parts of the organization they are working in.
This is all the more necessary in the early stages of the adoption of agile methods. The most difficult part of doing agile is that all the crisis in a project is pushed to the front of the project. By attempting to deliver real, valuable results in the first iteration of a project, all the problems that would normally show up at the end of the project, show up at the start. This makes people uncomfortable and sometimes downright upset. A coach can help people get through this, just by continuing to say “this is normal, this is healthy, work through it and it will pass.”
So as a coach, am I like the agile secret police? Well, I don’t put people in prison for not spouting the agile line… so you be the judge.