Wednesday, April 24, 2013

All Things Agile - Episode 001 - Selecting a Good Agile Coach

In this episode, I will start the podcast discussion by providing tips to help you select a good Agile instructor or coach for your organization. It's a tough decision facing all organizations when the begin their journey with Agile. I have also added a transcript of the episode below for your convenience. If you have suggestions for future topics, please send an email to [email protected]. Also, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast in iTunes using the icon provided on the right.

All Things Agile - Episode 001 - Selecting a Good Agile Coach


Welcome to the All Things Agile Podcast – your destination for tips and interviews with the leaders in the world of Agile. Don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast in iTunes and please, check out our sponsor: And now, here’s your host, Ronnie Andrews Jr.

Hello everyone and welcome to the All Things Agile podcast, episode one. Today’s topic will be ‘How do you select a good Agile instructor or coach?’ But before we begin, a quick reminder that this podcast is for informational purposes only and accepts no legal liability. So let’s get started – large and even small companies may want to hire a coach or instructor to help them start their Agile journey.

In my opinion, key aspects to look for are: experience, knowledge and communication skills. So let’s start with experience. You really need to take a good look at someone’s background. It’s more than just the number of years. I recommend instructors with experience at different companies and different types of teams. That provides a more varied and useful background which can provide additional insight and experience. Let me elaborate. Say you have someone who has been at one company for say, 5 years, and that’s the only company that they worked at regarding Agile. In that case, that person realistically probably just knows how that company does things, okay? Therefore, their experience is a lot more limited. And now compare that with a coach or instructor who’s been at literally dozens of companies. They’ve seen all kinds of things work and not work – and also across different industries; that provides them with additional insight that they can leverage at your organization. Please keep that in mind.

Moving on. Experience in larger companies requires scaling. A company with billions in revenue and thousands of employees is a totally different ball game than a start-up. An instructor with only experience in teaching Agile in a young company may have difficulty with a corporate giant. Quite frankly, the larger the company is, the more any mistakes or errors or ineffectiveness in their processes or their practices – it only becomes magnified as the company rose and is larger and larger. So if you had a smaller company, let’s say 10 people, and the practices you’re putting in place don’t work out as well, it’s probably more recoverable. You know, maybe they lose a couple hundred dollars or thousands of dollars – maybe. But at a larger company, if there’s things that go awry, it can cost the company billions. And instead of a few people perhaps – if things really went south – they may lose a few people a few jobs; at a larger corporation, if things really go awry, thousands of people could potentially lose their jobs. That’s a huge responsibility! And so, when you’re working at a larger company, it has more integration points and many, many more people and larger scale teams – you really have to be at the top of your game. And also, in terms of working with those larger companies, in order to get things done, you really have to automate. You have to automate as much as you can – things like minute gathering and metrics, etc. It forces you to really take a good look at what you’re spending your time in, time on, and be able to automate that as much as possible. However, those same principles that apply at trying to streamline larger organizations also apply to smaller companies as well. Being able to leverage some of those automation principles, even at a smaller company, can certainly produce huge benefits.

But let’s move on. If you have a coach or instructor who is perhaps familiar with younger companies, they can provide additional insight regarding how to achieve Agile with fewer resources. Because if you’re in a company who doesn’t have a bigger budget, they may not be able to spend as much funds on training and other types of programs. So when you’re looking to bringing in a coach or instructor, see if you can find someone who again has experience at different companies, different types of teams and also including experience at different sizes of companies – that’s how you’re making sure they have experience with a company that’s of your nature.

Next up, I’d like to talk about knowledge. The instructor or coach should definitely be certified. And I’d definitely prefer a strong alliance or similar organization. The effectiveness of an instructor is often based on who taught them. So the source of the coach’s knowledge is critical. The quality of an instructor can make or break a training course, or significantly impact the success of an Agile adoption. I definitely recommend knowledge across implementations such as ‘Scrum’ as well as ‘Kanban’. If you have someone who only knows one way of doing things, that may or may not translate well to your organization or your team, based on your company’s industry. So being able to have someone with background in multiple different Agile implementations, allows them to configure and approach as a better fit for you. Again, that’s also where knowledge and experience combine to help provide a better fit for you.

Let’s also talk about, again the quality of the training that the instructor, the coach themselves received. I definitely like to know that, because we can only impart what we possess. And how the person was trained or taught is going to be a direct reflection on how they will teach. And so, by finding out the quality of the person’s original trainer, that will help you better gauge on how this coaching instructor will work with you or your organization, or your team.

Let’s move on to communication. Communication is of course also very critical and your coach or instructor needs to be a good teacher or a good mentor. The coach should have an open personality and be warm and invite all questions. Soft skills make the instructor more effective. If you have someone who is very unapproachable, then the team members may be intimidated or just not comfortable asking questions. And that can then lead to bitterness and passive-aggressive behavior. I’ve certainly seen it in organizations before, so I definitely recommend someone with that open and warm personality, because then people will feel comfortable asking questions and what that provides you with is buy-in. It’s when people are able to ask their questions, they feel good about it, they have buy-in regarding the adoptions of Agile or maybe you’re already using Agile but you’re bringing in a coach or instructor to help you get to that next level: again, if they’re able to participate, it increases their motivation and the likelihood of success for the adoption or for the further improvement in Agile.

So those are some quick tips regarding selecting a coach or instructor. I certainly help you found them useful. Remember, you can check out my blog using the website: Feel free to contact me using [email protected]. Also, don’t forget to visit our sponsor: which makes this podcast possible. It’s a cloud-based Agile team software package designed for small and large companies alike. Thank you once again for joining me for this podcast. Please join me for Episode 2 where we’ll discuss ‘Ideal Scrum Team Sizes’ – it’s a popular topic. People always ask what’s too small, what’s too large – so we’ll definitely address that and you don’t want to miss it. Remember – it’s time to accelerate your team, today!

Thank you for listening to All Things Agile. We look forward to you subscribing to the podcast in iTunes and leaving a kind review. Thanks and God bless!