Nearly everyone is hanging out the “Agile Coach” shingle. Agile has reached the point where many large organizations are adopting Agile practices. As a result, consultants and consulting companies are trying to jump on the bandwagon to take advantage of this fad. Unfortunately, we at BERTEIG are often being called in to clean up after other Agile coaches have made a mess of things.
Here are the most common mistakes that organizations make when hiring Agile coaches.
1. Not Measuring the Results of Your Agile Coach
Agile coaches should be able to measure their results as they work with your teams and your organization. Important measures include performance, cost, quality, time to market, customer satisfaction and others. If you aren’t measuring results, you can’t possibly know if the money you are investing into your Agile coach is worth it. Of course, some qualitative measures such as staff satisfaction with the coach are useful too, but quantitative measures are also essential.
2. Not Benchmarking before an Agile Coach Starts
You need to be able to know if an agile coach is making a difference. Knowing where you are starting is necessary. Having benchmark measurements of important KPI’s will help you to make sure that your agile coach is successful. Benchmarking is something that your agile coach should be able to help you with, but make sure that you are involved directly! At a minimum you should have detailed information about project or product-level ROI, time-to-market, customer satisfaction, defect rates, and organizational-level information about corporate culture.
3. The Agile Coach is Lacking Advanced Certifications
Agile coaches need to have proven their knowledge and experience by obtaining advanced certifications. A “Certified Scrum Master” designation is just not sufficient. At a bare minimum a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) or Kanban Management Professional (KMP) certification are critical. However more advanced certification’s such as Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), Kanban Coaching Professional (KCP), or even non-Agile coaching certifications such as Leadership Circle Profile are important to see in a candidate.
4. Lack of Diversity of Agile Experience
An Agile coach must be able to prove having worked with at least Scrum and Kanban methods on more than one team in more than one organization. However, there are many other Agile methods and techniques, and it is critical to explore the depth of your candidate’s knowledge and experience with those techniques. Do they know how to do the Agile engineering practices? Have they used many different retrospective techniques? What about Innovation Games? Estimation and planning tools? If your coach has less than five years of experience with Agile techniques, chances are they don’t have the depth to deal with the complexity of your situation.
5. No Huge Agile Coaching Failures
An Agile coach needs to be able to explain how they have failed to achieve results in at least one case, ideally getting fired as a result. Failure and learning from failure are critical parts of the Agile framework. If an Agile coach can not share with you a significant failure then you cannot trust that they are able to learn from their mistakes. This is a tough one because big failures can also make someone appear un-hireable… but as a hiring manager, your mindset needs to change to look at a failure like this as a huge positive!
6. No Systematic Agile Coaching Approach
Helping teams, groups and organizations become more Agile requires systems thinking and systematic approaches. Organizations are complex (and sometimes chaotic!) – if an Agile Coach does not know how to deal with this complexity, and cannot describe to you their systematic approach, then they probably aren’t going to be consistent in their results. And if the approach they describe doesn’t seem to make sense to you, you are probably right to give that coach a pass. This systematic approach should include easily articulable principles, processes and practices. Of course, not all coaching approaches are equal, but if there’s nothing, you aren’t going to get value from your coach.
7. Missing Clear Agile Coaching Goals
This mistake is a little less common, but it is important enough that it still needs to be mentioned: your organization absolutely must have clear goals for the Agile coaching. Those goals should be related to both Agility and business results. Agile techniques are a means to an end. Lacking clear goals often results in an organization spending far more than it needs to on Agile coaching. One of the most important goals is knowledge- and skill-transfer… your coaches should be coaching their replacements so that with turnover or contract expiration, you still have skill and expertise in your organization.
8. Hiring an Agile Coach to do Training
(Or the other way around.) Coaching and training are two completely separate disciplines! It is rare to find an individual who is able to do both well. The systems and techniques of coaching are different than those of training. Becoming excellent at one, takes many years of focused work. Becoming excellent at both, takes deep commitment and opportunity. If you hire an Agile Coach who has good experience, don’t just assume that they can do training just because they have delivered a few talks or made up a slide deck. Put the same discipline into hiring an Agile trainer that you would put into hiring an Agile coach.
9. Not Letting Leaders and the Agile Coach Work Together
This is probably one of the biggest mistakes of all! An Agile coach must work with your organization’s leaders (ideally c-level executives and the board of directors) to have any hope of helping you with lasting change. No matter how large your organization, the culture is set by leadership, Agile has a huge cultural impact, and your Agile coach needs to be able to link the two together (leaders and Agile culture). Even if the Agile coach is “just” working at the team level, a lack of contact with leaders will make the coaching work inefficient, frustrating, and unsustainable.
We have a systematic program to develop Agile coaches: the Real Agility Program – Management Track. Check it out here: