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Interview with Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd – Coaching Agile Teams

The need for an Agile coach and a right channel for coaching has become imperative for many Agile organisations. This forces us to nurture a community of coaches who understand the role requirements and goes beyond the usual to tackle the implementation challenges. Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd are pioneers in coaching the Agile coaches to handle large enterprise problems. Their experience in life coaching and expertise in the industry gives them an edge. They have more than 15 years of experience in leading projects and organisations.

Lyssa is also trained as a Co-active coach and leader. She authored ‘Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition’ in 2010.

Lyssa Adkins

Lyssa Adkins Book

Michael is trained as a Team and Organisational coach, in co-active leadership and in executive coaching.Currently he is writing a book called Coaching in the Agile Enterprise.

Michael Spayd

Lyssa and Michael are running a workshop at Agile India 2014 for Agilists who wants to increase their overall Agile coaching skills, including in the areas of Teaching, Mentoring, Facilitation, and Professional Coaching.

We had a short chat with them to understand their views about Agile Coaching

1. What is the role of an Agile Coach in the Agile transformation journey?

Lyssa Adkins: You know Agile coach is a word that we just use generically because almost every corporation has their own version of these words. They’ll say “XP coach” or “Scrum Master” or “Agile Project Manager” or something like that. And we’re not really religious about which form or the word we use. What we care is about how the coaches help teams move beyond just getting the practices up and running and, into helping teams on their joyful and deliberate pursuit of high performance. It’s really going beyond what we would consider as a basic Scrum Master or XP coach for example.

Michael Spayd: It is, as Lyssa is saying, a pretty broad range of definitions. The word “coach” is interesting too because it’s such an overloaded term. You know, it means sports coach to some people, it means professional coach – like a life coach or an executive coach to some people, and it means kind of you having coaching by your manager which really means telling you what you need to do or you are going to get fired.And that’s created some confusion around what Agile coaches do and a really wide range of activities they do.

We’ve done some writing about that and talked about all the competencies that Agile coaches need to have. But basically they stand in a position or work in a position that’s kind of like a team leader in a certain way and kind of outside the team, helping the team, serving the team, and helping the team become a better team. Not like doing things for the team, not getting and making all the decisions for the team – anything like that, but really trying to help the team become a better team.

2. What does it take to be an effective Agile Coach?

Michael Spayd: Well this is where the term Agile coach is both overloaded and really big actually, there’s a lot of things to do as an Agile coach. So we look to impart facilitation, like professional facilitation and having skill at being a neutral facilitator of meetings and events (you know games whatever it is in the Agile environment). And help leading teams through that without getting involved in the content without voting on “Oh you should do this way” but actually helping the team get better themselves.

The thing that most people think about when they think about an Agile coach is what we call an Agile-Lean practitioner, so knowing about the Agile processes, knowing how the values relate to the principles, relate to and generate the practices, how you innovate, how you modify them in a consistent way – that sort of thing – so all the world of knowing all about Agile and Lean. That’s one big, big piece but it’s definitely not the whole shooting match.

Lyssa Adkins: The predominant role we’re playing now is to help coaches create awareness in themselves of which of those disciplines (we didn’t even go through all of them but we’ve gone through a good number of them) they have solidly and which they don’t. And how at any given moment they will choose which one serves the purposes of the transformation best.

Michael Spayd: So making for an Agile coach in terms of transforming or working with a team they have to draw on this pallet, if you think about this, because coaching, facilitation, teaching, mentoring, Agile Lean practitioner. It’s like a pallet of colours that you are painting with so to speak, and the art of it, in a lot of ways, is which one do you choose at which time to help an organization make this transition.

Lyssa Adkins: We recognize that transformation is about “transformation”. Which means you can’t consult your way into it, you can’t cajole someone into it, you can’t make them do it. It’s a lot about each individual person and how that radiates out to a whole organization. So, in the center of all of those disciplines is this thing we call the coaching stance. Which is very much just like a home base that an Agile coach comes back to as a way to help activate in other people their next positive steps towards the transformation they see needs to take place. And that’s how the results stick. That’s how an organization continues to transform once the Agile consultants have left the building. And that’s an important thing for us. I guess the higher calling of why we’re together is that Agile is this incredible positive transformation virus. It is unleashing a wave of positive change everywhere that it goes. And we believe that Agile coaches when they are well equipped are powerful transformation agents to help that virus spread in a positive and useful way. Not only for people but also for products.

 3. What are the key take-aways from your workshop?

Lyssa Adkins: Well instead of us telling you about the take-aways from our workshops, you can find the testimonials from our participants on ‘Our Impact’ page in our website.

This workshop has limited seats. Book early to avoid disappointments: http://booking.agilefaqs.com/agile-india-2014#workshops


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