What Our Agile Coaches Love and Hate About Their Jobs

Time and time again, our annual State of Agile Marketing Report has shown the value of Agile coaching. Team members and leaders alike report that coaching helps them adapt Agile to their needs and better understand the principles behind it. 

But like with any role, it comes with plenty of challenges and rewards. That’s why we asked several of our very own Agile coaches what they love, and hate, about what they do. Whether you’re considering becoming an Agile coach or just hiring one, this list will help you understand their role far better.

What Agile Coaches Love About Their Jobs

Let’s start with the positive, because honestly there’s a lot to love about empowering teams to work smarter and achieve more.

Creating “ah-ha” Moments

Any teacher will tell you that seeing students come to an “ah-ha” moment is incredibly special and our Agile coaches are no different. Seeing Agile click and knowing that a person or team just discovered a better way to do their work is one of the best parts of the job.

Meeting People and Learning About Their Challenges

One of the key parts of an Agile coach’s role is figuring out how to adapt Agile to specific companies, teams, and industries. So it’s no wonder our coaches talked a lot about how interesting it is to learn about challenges, pull from their own experiences, and uncover new ways to help. In particular, bonding with teams over their struggles goes a long way toward helping them improve.

Helping Teams Rally Around a Common Goal

A challenge every Agile coach faces is getting teams inspired to tackle the challenge of Agile adoption together. While that’s not always easy (more on that below), when it happens it’s a joy to behold. Seeing a team embrace the Agile mindset and the value they can create together through it is deeply fulfilling.

Reducing “Busy Work” for Overloaded Teams

A lot of the talk around Agile focuses on delivering more value for stakeholders, but it’s also about eliminating the kind of busy work that grinds people down. So it’s no surprise that Agile coaches love helping people eliminate that kind of work by focusing on improving quality and delivering the right work at the right time. This results in a pace of work that’s more sustainable and less burnout. Considering the astronomical cost of burnout today, it feels great to help people avoid it.

Hearing “Thank You” After Helping People Find Better Solutions

Whether you’re helping someone carry a heavy bag to their car or helping them improve their work processes, hearing “thank you” always feels good. Our coaches talk about how good they feel helping people work through their challenges to not just find one-off solutions, but repeatable processes for continuous improvement.

Hearing 'thank you, I feel so much better' after talking through it makes you feel like you can help and make a difference in someone's day.

What Agile Coaches Hate About Their Jobs

No job is perfect and there are certain things Agile coaches just hate about their roles. Fortunately, those same things can also help everyone else understand what to avoid when working with an Agile coach.

Teams Wanting the Benefits of Agile Without the Effort

Unlocking all the benefits of agility isn’t easy. It requires understanding Agile principles, deciding how to apply them to your specific situation, creating an Agile environment, fostering an Agile mindset, and actually implementing all of this. Considering what’s required, it’s hardly surprising that many teams want to skip the middle steps and get right to the Agile benefits.

Unfortunately, this is a bit like someone going to a personal trainer, ignoring their advice, not exercising, and then complaining they’re not getting results. Trying to take shortcuts and expecting to get all the Agile benefits anyways is generally a recipe for fake Agile. Coaches know this and it can be frustrating to see this preventable problem happen in real time.

When Managers or Leaders Don’t Get on Board

We’ve mentioned many times how Agile without leadership is doomed to fail because it’s a phenomenon that we’ve seen far too often. Because of all the steps we just mentioned, trying to manage an Agile transformation without leadership support is a recipe for failure. For one, Agile transformations require greater resources that usually only come with leadership buy-in.

Then there’s the issue that if stakeholders and Leadership are not fully involved and understand the changes teams are undergoing, they’ll continue to try and work with them the way they always have. 

This puts the team in the middle and causes them to feel like they don’t have the autonomy or psychological safety to push for the change that they need to truly be Agile. These teams tend only to fall into the “fake Agile” trap, causing more frustration and the thinking that Agile is now the reason for their problems.

When managers/leaders don't make the shift, it's very hard to create an environment for the team to get past 'storming' and be successful.

“When managers/leaders don't make the shift, it's very hard to create an environment for the team to get past ‘storming’ and be successful.” - Cheryl Sutton

When Agile Gets Pushed Without an Explanation

Despite the focus that processes usually get, Agile is ultimately more about mindset. You can force someone to implement a new process because you told them to, but you can’t really force a mindset shift. That’s why Agile coaches get so frustrated when Agile gets pushed on teams without any explanation as to why.

When team members don’t understand the “why” of Agile, they’re far more likely to push back against it. As a result the chance of the team successfully implementing Agile plummets.

Knowing They Can Only Do So Much

Every teacher, coach, trainer, and consultant in the world understands the reality that there’s only so much they can do at the end of the day. Agile coaches make recommendations and try to guide teams, but it’s the teams themselves that make the decisions and implement those recommendations or not.

Unsurprisingly, pointing out an issue and seeing teams fail to address it can be draining and demoralizing. The good news is that this makes up a definite minority of cases because we put so much emphasis on getting leadership buy-in as well as ensuring the team understands the “why” and is onboard.

When Agile Gets Blamed for Problems It Surfaces

Inevitably, Agile transformations can surface deeper issues (usually leadership, culture, or not having a growth mindset) that ran under the radar when the organization was operating in a traditional way. Successfully implementing Agile usually requires addressing these deep issues, and as you can imagine, that’s not always simple.

As a result, it can be easy to take a “shoot the messenger” approach and simply blame Agile for those issues it uncovered.

Want to Learn More?

Now that you’ve got a deep view into all the things Agile coaches love and hate about the work they do, why not delve deeper into the value of Agile coaching. This is a great way to determine whether an Agile coach might be able to help your team or organization blaze a trail to Agile success.


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