Agile Coaches are key transformation agents when organizations look to pivot from traditional ways of working to Agile methods. Such transformations are sponsored by organizations for various reasons — competitive pressure, low employee engagement, as part of digital transformation and in many cases just for its coolness factor. Whatever the reasons, business and organizational leaders bring in Agile Coaches to own the transformation journey.
Agile Coaches are generally configured as senior management or leadership positions due to the influence they need to exert in the change journey. Trained and certified in various Agile frameworks like Scrum, SAFe, LeSS, Kanban etc. Agile Coaches bring their own blend of training, mentoring and coaching and apply them to unique situations every team and organizations presents in the transformation journey.
Oftentimes however, Agile Coaches in all good intentions and in alignment with their charter, use the language of their own Agile Frameworks to teams and leaders who do not understand them well enough. E.g. a coach who is an expert in Scrum will train, mentor and coach teams and managers in Scrum rituals, help pivot project managers and team leads into Scrum Master roles and inject Agile backlog and collaboration tools into the organization’s fabric.
“If we truly want to be Agile, we are going to have to adopt the language of our customers. To that end, we must choose words and concepts that they are comfortable with—not force them to learn a new, arbitrary, and unhelpful vocabulary.”
Daniel Vacanti in Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability
In ideal conditions, Agile Coaches will succeed in bringing about change both in letter and spirit. In most scenarios however, Coaches hit upon mental blocks and resistance from the very leaders who sponsor these change initiatives. This comes from two broad areas:
- Leaders grow up through the ranks with traditional management styles and expect all Agile transformation change to be restricted in the “lower layers” of the organization while still retaining the comfort of their own Command and Control mindset. It is only fair to expect this because the organizational structure, power structures and the domain of influence is founded in hierarchy — with no models to challenge and educate.
- Organization leaders typically see Agile as a “software thing”. When organizations take up transformation, they would limit the influence to remain within the software development community. Such a constraint limits the impact of Agility and bring sub-optimal outcomes. Agile Coaches find it hard to challenge the fallacy — and Agile frameworks provide no vocabulary to do the same.
“A Scrum Master who takes teams beyond getting agile practices up and running into their deliberate and joyful pursuit of high performance is an agile coach.”
Lyssa Adkins in Coaching Agile Teams
Under such conditions, using the language of Agile frameworks is NOT sufficient to break through such resistance. Agile coaches need a new vocabulary and framework that encapsulates Agile to communicate what it needs to build self managed organizations and self-organised teams – the essence of Agile. Something more broad in scope is needed.
Such broad frameworks by necessity have to talk about transformation, but in generic terms (not limited by software) and the role of business leadership in the transformation. Assessment tools, process flows/practices and governance rituals that such frameworks emphasise must also talk in terms that transcend the boundaries of software and technology.
The Semco Style framework is one such framework that practicing Agile Coaches can find very handy to break out of the shackles that they may find themselves in. The broadening of their horizons with insights from the Semco Style framework will help them learn how to challenge leadership mindsets in people who may be above their pay grade or are the same people who are their sponsors. The framework equips Coaches with assessment tools that expose the dysfunctions in organizations brought out of traditional mindsets. These findings will help navigate the resistance from senior/exec leadership.
The Semco Style framework also provides a roadmap that Agile Coaches can use to devise a path that is unique to the organizations’ state in adopting Agile mindsets, starting with senior leadership. It also prepares Coaches to recognise areas of resistance and build empathy on why they exist. Such awareness equips Agile Coaches with the patience and also the wisdom to navigate the choppy waters that will come in the form of leadership resistance.
In summary, using Agile tools to drive Agile transformations in organisations beyond the execution teams and software/technology is often limiting. Agile Coaches need frameworks that transcend these boundaries and equip them with knowledge, tools and practices that expand their areas of influence and drive true Business Agility — something that can bring growth to them and their organizations.