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Who Is Agile Coach? Let’s Hear From A Coach

  • Agilemania
  • Aug 29th 2017
Agilemania Blog
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I got an opportunity to interact with Ankit Tandon to understand what is agile coaching, what's needed to be a successful coach and lot more. Ankit is working as a Scrum Master/Agile Coach with Citi Bank in Pune.

What makes a good agile coach?

I would say, ability to understand humans well, thorough practical in-depth understanding of Agile values, principles and practices and having situational awareness are the top few characteristics of an effective coach. A coach should be able to understand why people do what they do, be able to read people’s fears, aspirations, needs, motivations and connect with them at a deeper level.  I feel an Agile coach should not be framework obsessed and be receptive to new ideas. S/he should also be able to understand the context and have the courage to make bold and disruptive decisions as needed.

How agile coach is different than Scrum Master? Being a PST, I teach Scrum Master is a coach in my workshop so how do you see?

I totally agree with you here. A Scrum Master without coaching skills cannot be really effective in realizing his responsibilities well. A Scrum master uncovers the dysfunctions present in the system and makes them explicit, coaching skills equip him to help the organization navigate through these dysfunctions and find a path for themselves in their journey. Both the roles are mutually inclusive.

What will be your advice to aspiring agile coaches? What kind of guidance you like to give them such reading books or attending workshops etc.

Do not go with the flow. Do not aspire to be an Agile coach just because it is in demand more than ever.
Best learning happens while doing the act, at the moment. While reading books, attending workshops, seminars, conferences are helpful, but someone else’s experience serves you as information only until you validate it in your context. So, learn- validate (for your context)- adjust- share. And there is no best time to start your journey than now. Go ahead, look for one thing in your current system, no matter how small it is, that don’t align with Agile or fundamental human values and do something to better it. You don’t need a formal title to be an Agile coach. That leader is already in you. Apply uncommon good sense and take the ownership to move your team forward.

I’d like to learn a bit more about you personally. What are some things you learned that made you better over the past years?

Ability to challenge everything that looks obvious has helped me to understand the complex nature of the system.  Also, I have learned to learn from failures. There is no failure only feedback.  Fear of failure doesn’t stop me trying any more. Last but not the least, no process or tool can take precedence over my ability to understand and respond to my own or other’s humanity.

I do hear a lot of criticism about Scrum certifications but same time many more enrol for it? How do you see this?

Certifications are there because there is a demand for them. I think they can be a good starting point for someone in their journey.

Coach is coach but I always see some requirement mentioning Agile Flow coach or Agile technical coach and SAFe® coach etc. Is there is difference and if yes then can you please help us to understand the same.

In my opinion, it is important to also look for the job description for these roles. These are company-specific roles with additional focus on any particular area. For example, an Agile technical role might imply an Agile coach with strong hands-on mentoring experience on engineering practices. Similarly SAFe® coach might mean a coach with SAFe® implementation experience.

Majority of the time people refer Scrum when they speak about Agile. How you define agile?

Scrum is a way to be Agile. An analogy I often use is- Agile is like humanity that all religions (frameworks) are based upon.  I practice Hinduism (Scrum) that fundamentally is based on valuing humanity (Agile). For me, being Agile is people collaborating towards a shared goal focusing at innovation and success, at a sustainable pace unleashing their human potential by fostering an environment of safety and trust.

Scrum is the most popular framework and adoption for the same is very high but I hear people often say without XP engineering practices, these adoptions will not last especially for software development. How do you help your team in regards to XP practices?

XP core engineering practices are like white blood cells present in your blood. They (Engg. practices) help your body (codebase) fight against infectious disease (bad technical debt), viruses (defects) and harmful invaders (untested code check-ins). I help my teams and stakeholders understand the same analogy.  I coach them by asking questions like – Could this defect be avoided by doing peer reviews? Or could we have saved effort if we were using Test Driven Development (TDD)?  We have embraced practices like TDD, Code reviews, Pair programming, Continuous Integration, collective code ownership etc.

If Extreme Programming (XP) is so good then why it is not equally popular? All because Scrum offers certification but XP doesn’t. Please share your thought on this.

XP and Scrum complement each other well. Teams start with Scrum and then adopt their own version of XP (specifically core engineering practices that XP mandates).  A high performing Scrum team would always be focused on XP practices. I think we already have certifications on these engineering practices, if not on entire XP framework, and they are quite popular too. Who knows if there comes a certification on XP, it becomes equally popular too :)

I hear a lot about Scaling Frameworks like LeSS, SAFe®, Nexus and Spotify etc. Does your organization use any of these frameworks? If yes, then which framework and why you decided for that framework?

No, we don’t use any scaling framework per se. We try to find out what Agile principles are becoming a challenge for us to stick to while scaling up and then try to establish our own practices to ensure we live by them even at a larger scale. In the realm of constantly changing reality, problem shifts from one place to another requiring tweaking and tuning. We learn and adjust our own DIY framework accordingly. There is a DIY Scaling framework workshop that I conduct. You may find the slides here Connect with Ankit Tandon. Reach out to us to know more about agile coaching and agile coaching training program in your city. Visit our upcoming training: https://bit.ly/3eGr4j
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