Top 5 things for an Agile Coach

Category : AgileAgile Coach





By Vineet Patni | 29 April 2017






I am putting down my thoughts in an attempt to clear some misconceptions around the Agile Coaching profession. I get many questions from the participants of my workshops as well as clients from my agile consulting engagements, revolving around the responsibilities of an Agile Coach, and what lies within and out of scope of an Agile Coach’s responsibilities.


In this post, I have tried to point out my “Top 5 things an Agile Coach must NOT do”. These are purely my thoughts, after having coached quite a few Agile teams with varying degrees of success. So here we go.


1. An Agile Coach must not own the delivery or the outcome expected from the team.

Many have seen and believed that delivery ownership is a key responsibility of a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach. In my opinion, the Agile Coach must be totally separated and detached from the “outcome” that the team is out to achieve. “Are you serious?” is the usual reaction I get when I say this. Do you also have this question to me in your mind right now? Wait a minute. Let me try to explain.


“Be detached from the outcome.”


The coach helps in making the team better by focusing more on the character and the improvement process (“Kaizen” culture). If the right character and the improvement culture is in place, the outcome will follow and the delivery success will chase you. If the coach gets attached to the outcome, he might miss out on the bigger picture of long term team improvement and sustained performance.


2. An Agile Coach must not try to be a great coach or expect to be loved by the team.

As the team’s Agile Coach, do not work too hard, or try to be a superhero. Do not try to change organization policies overnight or fight too much against the system. Changing the policies in bulk will not help. Mindset and culture change cannot be achieved overnight by bringing drastic changes.


“Go slow! One improvement at a time.”


Go slow! One improvement at a time, both at the team and the organization level. Focus on helping teams to inculcate the right agile mindset and behavior will generate maximum desired impact.  A team will have a love-hate relation with the coach. The team will hate you many at time, be prepared for this.


3. An Agile Coach must not solve the team’s problems.

One objective of an Agile Coaching engagement is to solve the team’s problems. And the best coach will NOT solve any of team’s problems. Such an irony, isn’t it? If you wish to build great teams, you need to work towards making your team believe they can solve any problems. In this regard, my first rule for an Agile Coach is to not solve their problems.


“Do not solve any of your team’s problems yourself”.


Rather, guide the team towards the right direction. Get the necessary organization support. Create an environment of accepting failure so that your team can freely experiment while trying to solve their problems. Ask powerful questions which will make the team think and explore the solutions. Encourage healthy conflicts (“constructive disagreement”) within your team.


4. An Agile Coach must not stay too long with the same team.

I am not sure how long is too long. I generally start with a horizon of 5-10 iterations or 3-6 months with one team. I believe this is a good enough time period to create some positive impact on the team’s belief, culture and performance. If no improvement has happened, it’s time to look beyond. May be this team could not adapt to the coach’s style. May be the coach did not understand the team dynamics at all.


“Move on if it’s not working out.”


Also, during this recommended initial duration, I would advise to do a couple of self-assessments by the team or an assessment by an external Agile Coach. This will help in getting the pulse of the team with respect to the coaching engagement. Based on the findings, the team and the coach can mutually decide on the future engagement.


5. An Agile Coach must not make prior assumptions about the team.

Do not assume that the team you are going to coach is a challenging or a problematic team. Every team is unique and has its own culture and challenges. The uniqueness in every team makes Agile Coaching all the more exciting and challenging. As a coach, you need to maintain neutrality and be emotionless. If you react to the team’s current behavior, you are no more a coach.


“Maintain neutrality and be emotionless.”


The above points are my top-five in the “Agile Coaching – DO’s and DON’Ts” list. What are your thoughts? I would love to know about your opinion.


“Be Agile, Scale Up!”


About the author: 

Vineet Patni is the Founder and Principal Agile Coach at ScaleUpAn avid learner and a passionate facilitator, Vineet has been assisting enterprises and individuals in becoming truly Agile. Please feel free to connect with him at


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the author’s own. The author welcomes and respects any difference of opinion.

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