What are the top Agile Coach traits that great coaches should have? Today there are more and more individuals hanging out a shingle and calling themselves Agile Coaches. With good reason – Indeed.com listed Agile Coach as #18 on their list of top jobs in 2019. At $161K average salary, it was the highest paid of the best jobs listed. Unfortunately, there are very few standards, certifications or training programs directed at Agile Coaches. So how do you know what agile coach traits are necessary or desirable? When evaluating a coach, what information should you look for or ask about? The infographic above and the text below is my attempt to explain that.
A Disclaimer On Agile Coach Traits
I think it is important to point out that each coaching situation is somewhat unique and there may not be one definitive set of “best” or ideal agile coach traits.
Much of my experience has focused on early stages of agile adoption, when organizations are first moving from waterfall or predictive approaches to using the Scrum Framework.
The specific skills needed to adopt the Scrum Framework will be different than those required for Kanban or Extreme Programming.
Traits that an Agile Coach Needs to Support an Agile Transformation
Below is my list of traits that I think Agile Coaches should have to support an Agile Transformation using the Scrum Framework. This is my list of the to 10 traits, in no particular order:
Hands-On Scrum and Agile Experience
I think it goes without saying that to be a good coach you need hands-on experience with Agile and Scrum. The most effective coaches will have worked within a Scrum Team as a Dev Team member, developing solutions. A huge plus would be having Scrum Master and Product Owner experience.
Experience as a Developer
Similar to the previous item, experience as a developer would be very helpful to a coach. Most of the audience for coaching will be Scrum team members. Having the prior experience of developer will help you to bring empathy and credibility since you have “been in their shoes”.
Application of XP & Technical Practices
Though I suppose you can implement Scrum without XP or technical practices, I don’t recommend it. Teams that don’t invest in continuous integration, automated testing tools, and test-first thinking will have limited productivity. Coaches with experience in those technical practices can help teams to implement these techniques.
Lean principles underpin all of Agile and Scrum and should not be ignored. Great coaches will be able to explain and help teams understand why small batches increase productivity, how to identify and eliminate bottlenecks in the process, and recognizing waste in all forms.
Great coaches cast a vision and create enthusiasm for continuous improvement. They celebrate success but discourage satisfaction with good enough.
Great coaches will also be leading by example by improving themselves. They take on agile learning, get feedback and practice learning and growing.
Change Agent / Organizational Change Expert
The best coaches understand how organizational change works and how to effectively support an organization undergoing change.
Agile Transformation is more than a process change – it is a complete mindset change. Agile Coaches need to understand that mindset change and help all individuals make that change whether they are leaders in the organization or team members.
Excellent Listening Skills
I didn’t put these Agile Coaching traits in order, but if I did, listening skills would be at the top. I don’t think there is a more important skill on the list. Amazingly, many Agile Coaches are terrible when it comes to listening.
They believe that their job is all about telling people what to do so they talk a lot more than they listen. Want to find a good Agile Coach? Look for someone who asks questions and listens well. Avoid coaches who talk more than they listen.
Similar to the previous item on Listening, Agile Coaches need Social and Emotional Intelligence to be effective. They need great interpersonal skills and the ability to read the room.
Unconditional Positive Regard for Others
Carl Rogers coined the term unconditional positive regard. The idea is that we prize the human potential and we see each individual as whole and complete and able to solve their own problems. Great Agile Coaches use open ended, non-judgmental questions to support others to solve things for themselves, rather than telling people what to do.
Uses Agile Mindset – Values and Principles
The concept of the Agile Mindset has several meanings. I think of someone who has embraced and internalized the Agile Values and Principles. This means that rather than focusing on the practices or “doing agile”, they recognize and embrace “being agile”.
Linda Rising and others have linked the term Agile Mindset to Carol Dweck’s Mindset book. In this context, Agile Mindset is more about the potential to learn and grow without limits on our intelligence or ability to adapt.
What do you think? Did I miss, or misstate any of the Agile Coach traits?
Use these Agile Coach Traits as a Checklist for Hiring
I think one of the most valuable uses of this list of agile coach traits is as a checklist for hiring Agile Coaches. More than criteria, they become discussion topics. Ask your prospective coach about the lean principles, Agile Principles and their experience in applying these concepts with Scrum Teams.
A good coach may not score 100% on all 10 traits, but they should score pretty high on most of these. Pay attention to their emotional intelligence and their listening skills. See if they do any of these things they should not do as an agile coach.
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Like this Agile Coach Traits Checklist? Check out our other blogs that have similar free downloads:
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it would be interesting to
it would be interesting to mash this up with the ACI coaching model, especially with its integral slant.
I agree with your 10 top traits of an Agile coach. Thanks for sharing. I would add one more and that would be “Effective Facilitator”. With Agile, we include lots of folks in our meetings and we want to get value from those meetings. By knowing how to effectively facilitate Release planning/train meetings and iteration planning meetings; not to mention dysfunctional behavior; we will get more value out of Agile meetings.
Kellie, I can’t argue against
Kellie, I can’t argue against the importance of great facilitation skills. As you noted, there are many meetings in the Scrum Framework and a good Agile Coach will help to facilitate those meetings well.
My only argument for this not making the top 10 is that I see that facilitation role as primarily one that the Scrum Master will play. I understand that most people see that as a “Team Coach” and that is fine. It is important at the team and at the leadership level, must not sure that it makes the top 10. Perhaps we could agree to make this item 10 1/2?
Thanks again, Anthony
Nice article, though a bit too tech driven for current Agile practices.
I would definitely add ‘Style flexibility’: Able to easily move and coach across all layers in (and outside) the organisation, from C-level to team level and from external vendors to customers and everything in between.
‘Experience as a developer’ was maybe a pro in the old days about 10 years ago. Nowadays theres a lot of agile transitions happening outside IT. But even if you’d narrow the context to IT, true Agile transitions need so much business, that ‘experience as a dev’ is not necessarily a pro. I’ve seen it both as a pro and as a con. Def. wouldn’t take it up in a top10.
Would change that one into: Easy Public speaker: Does not shirk away for big presentations / announcements / kickoffs / Meetings.
Hi Niek, thanks for your comments. I have mixed emotions about the developer comment. On the one hand, you are right. Agile is being applied in all areas of the business and not just in IT or technology. So experience as a developer may not be required.
On the other hand, development skills are increasingly critical everywhere. Very few projects are business only and have no technology components. So knowing how to code and having empathy for those in technical roles is a key trait for a Scrum Master.
In terms of public speaker, I think that communications and teaching are important, though I know of great Scrum Masters who are not out in front, but rather very effective leading from behind the team.
Thanks again and please continue to read and respond!