5 Pitfalls Agile Coaches Must Avoid
Successful agile teams often have a coach driving continuous improvement. While some coaches are effective initially, many eventually succumb to pitfalls that inhibit their team’s growth and fail to compel any lasting changes.
Here are five common pitfalls of agile coaches I see in most projects that fail to improve.
1. Not Applying Agile to the Coaching Plan
The most ardent champions of agile sometimes fail to apply it to their own work. Agile coaching—or really, any coaching endeavor—is an iterative process. Attempting to plan out a year’s worth of coaching without understanding the team is a waste of time and effort.
Coaches should look to define milestones and a vision for where they would like to see the team in the future. They should create a backlog and be prepared to adapt to changing needs as the team evolves.
2. Failure to Address Culture
The most challenging aspect of effective agile coaching is dealing with team and organizational culture. For example, a team that does not value testing is not going to suddenly adopt test-driven development effectively.
Coaches should take time to understand where the team is and how they got there. It may be necessary to address long-standing frustrations, habits, and personalities to positively transform team culture.
3. Forcing Change
It is human nature to cling to what we know. People are more open to change when they understand where they’re going. As a coach, experimentation is your best friend. It allows the team to live the change without fear of committing to something that won’t work.
Experimentation also implies that failures will happen. Coaches should let stakeholders know that failure is expected when we try to improve. We need to build successful teams that recognize failure, take ownership of the effort, and correct course when necessary.
4. Treating Agile like a Religion
Certain agile practices may be highly effective for one team yet not effective at all with another team. Coaches with strong personalities will often push for what they are most comfortable with, whether or not those practices and processes are right for the team. I’ve seen coaches who force Scrum on a team that is effectively working in kanban for no other reason than the coach prefers Scrum.
Coaches need to recognize that change is hard, and there is no silver bullet. Find out what works well with your teams and keep doing those things. Understand the situation, listen to the team’s concerns, and be open to adopting whatever technique is most effective.
5. Being a Dictator, Not a Coach
Likely the most prevalent coaching pitfall is the tendency to dictate and manage instead of coaching and leading. An agile team is like any other group of people: While they may do what you say if you dictate orders, they are more likely to adopt good practices if you develop a shared vision, inspire others to get behind you, foster creativity, and empower the team to self-organize.
With these pitfalls in mind, reflect on your coaching efforts and apply a little continuous improvement to your own techniques.