Is an Agile Transformation Coach any different than being an Agile Coach?
The answer is both yes and no.
When most people think about Agile Coaches, they tend to think about a person who comes in and assists the teams with things like:
- Learning Scrum, SAFe, LeSS
- Setting Up Team Spaces
- Sprint Planning
- Release Planning
- Backlog Creation & Refinement
If that’s your definition of an Agile Transformation Coach, you’d be right—but only partially. The fact is that Transformation requires more than Agile Coaches teaching people the ceremonies of Scrum or how to do SAFe and LeSS.
To achieve the outcomes necessary to run a structured and disciplined Agile Transformation, your company will need an array of people to take on various roles and responsibilities. This team of e Agile Transformation Coaches will consist of people focused on executive-level understanding and leadership, people that teach team-level technical practices, and everything in between.
In the rest of this post, we’ll explore the various Agile Transformation Coach roles that we deploy on our engagements. We’ll define their responsibilities and explore some of the traits that will make them successful, as well as the core competencies each should possess.
Agile Transformation Coach Leaders
This section will look at two roles at the very top of the Agile Coaching stack—the Transformation Lead (TL) and the Expedition Lead (EL). The TL and EL are the ones who typically work closely with executives and delivery leadership to create, execute, and drive the Transformation strategy within the organization.
The TL partners with and works alongside the C-Suite to create innovative and customized solutions to meet the business’ needs. This role is, in effect, a high-influence peer to the executives who act as a trusted advisor. As such, they have the ability to challenge their partners to produce clarity around the Transformation strategy.
Some of the responsibilities of the TL are to co-create the vision plan, craft an actionable roadmap to deliver the Transformation, and develop benefits cases and methods to show progress along the clients’ Transformation journey. Ultimately, the TL ensures that everyone is clear on the strategy and has what they need to execute at the highest level.
The TL should be persuasive, politically aware, highly driven, and possess the gravitas to influence other executives. They’ll need a high EQ, strong communication skills, and an unflappable tolerance for stress and uncertainty. Lastly, the role of the TL demands that this person have a systematic view of organizations and strong problem-solving and solution design skills.
- Executive-Level Experience
- Lean/Agile Leader
- Change Management
The EL works with Directors and Managers to ensure the Transformation strategy’s execution throughout the organization. The EL develops detailed outcome-based plans that deliver on the Transformation strategy and create clarity and alignment between the coaches and the delivery teams.
This role is responsible for making sure the rest of the Agile Transformation Coaches, and the teams, are adhering to the Transformation Plan and Strategy. As the one responsible for executing the Transformation Plan, the EL will collaborate with delivery leadership and the coaches to ensure that the organization is developing cohesive teams operating off a maintained 90-day backlog. This person is also responsible for establishing tooling and utilizing metrics to demonstrate progress and improve delivery performance.
Like the TL, the EL will need to have a strong, influential leadership presence and be naturally charismatic and a people person. Strong team-building skills and a high EQ paired with the ability to adapt and maintain their integrity is a must.
- Leadership Experience
- Lean/Agile Leadership Practitioner
- Strategic Planning
Other Agile Transformation Coaches
The Program/Portfolio Coach (PPC) is a critical component of large, scaled product teams. The PPC is a member of the portfolio or program team whose focus is on creating repeatable frameworks for selecting which customers to invest in and defining self-assessment mechanisms to improve their system analysis and strategic deployment.
The PPC is responsible for creating curriculum and tailoring methodologies to meet the client’s needs and help them understand how to connect strategy to execution through the decomposition of investments into products at the highest tier of their governance model.
This role isn’t just teaching people new practices. Instead, the PPC is expected to influence and change the system around the people to enable the organization to create the optimal conditions that will maximize the business benefits of Agile Transformation.
The PPC must often switch between micro and macro viewpoints of the organization’s development, so they must possess a skill set that is cross-functional across teams. This person must exude a strong leadership presence and have masterful communication and prioritization skills. Additionally, the PPC will need to adapt to quickly changing demands and focus on owning the Transformation outcomes.
- Jobs to be Done
- Outcomes-Driven Innovation
- Lean Portfolio Management
Agile Process Coach
The Agile Process Coach educates the Expedition on Agile principles, providing them with tools and coaching for implementing the process in their own work. They conduct workshops and training sessions that teach Agile practices and ceremonies that lead toward the organization-wide adoption of Agile methodologies.
Additionally, this person will work with the EL and Analyst to ensure the delivery of the Expedition plan and assist the EL with team formation. The Agile Process Coach will also develop and maintain a detailed rolling coaching plan and coach teams on Agile processes and ceremonies while looking for opportunities to improve the process.
The Agile Process Coach must be a skilled systems thinker who can operate autonomously and with integrity in high-stress environments. Strong leadership skills, self-confidence, a passion for continuous learning, empathy, and a high EQ are all requirements.
- Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, etc.
- Team Mentorship
- Metrics and Tooling
The Technical Coach collaborates with the TL and EL to understand the Expedition Roadmap and the desired outcomes. This person is then responsible for developing coaching plans to get Expedition teams to their target outcomes while effectively detecting, communicating, and escalating impediments—both organizational and technological.
The technical coach mentors the Expedition teams on Agile approaches for flowing work, XP engineering practices like TDD, CI, and pairing, and DevOps. Additionally, the technical Coach will facilitate code reviews and provide a leadership perspective on design and code quality.
The Technical Coach must be a seasoned software developer with a breadth of experience in multiple languages, software delivery disciplines, and full systems Agile coaching. This person must also possess a personal emphasis on the continued development of skills. Familiarity with leading both from a technical and interpersonal perspective is needed, along with a passion for strong, test-driven development coupled with a flexible and open view of new technical possibilities.
- Senior-Level Software Architect
- Lean/Agile Practitioner
Bringing it All Together
So, back to the original question. Are Agile Transformation Coaches any different than Agile Coaches?
The reality is that these two terms are used synonymously. And, in fact, they are the same thing. But to truly understand the role and responsibilities of an Agile Transformation Coach, you must understand that to be effective. Your role is responsible for more than just teaching people methodology, more than just DevOps, and certainly more than just executive mandates.
If you have nothing but Agile Process coaches, your Transformation will fail.
If you have nothing but Technical Coaches, your Transformation will fail.
If all you have is a Transformation Lead or an Expedition Lead, your Transformation will fail.
Because Transformation should be transformative, and to be Transformed is to Transform the business from top to bottom, in all the ways that people do work.
To do this, you need a team of coaches with varied skillsets and domain expertise.