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Agile coaching in 21st century world

Agile sounds to be on everyone’s plates nowadays and I have the feeling that you can put “agile” in front of everything you are on the wave. Unfortunately, this is not possible.

Try this out: Sales → agile sales (but it is always about the same sale), Marketing → agile Marketing, and so on. Even agile manufacturing, the source of the word agile, is almost manufacturing but the game changer is how you handle it.

Since Agile has become a noun grouping a lot of methodologies, tools and techniques and even a couple of manifestos, Agile hasn´t been clearly defined yet.

My thesis, as an agile coach and trainer, is to return to the source of agile or agility, which is agile manufacturing (AM). The core high level purpose of AM was to move from a robust structure to a responsive one. As an evolution of Lean Manufacturing, AM was a proposal to adjust leaned organisations to such adaptability to threads, risks or opportunities in a world where product lifecycles are getting really shorter.

From the 90´s eXtreme Programming, a new role emerged in software development, the role of the agile coach. At that time, this role has to support the development team towards engineering mastery. And that was an awesome idea. 2009, Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley came with Agile Coaching Book.

Then Agile evolved to project management, product development, startups, finance and a lot more and we needed new insights. In her book Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Atkins came in 2010 and enhanced the first idea by explaining how to coach agile teams. This approach introduced the concept of multiple hats for an agile coach like a mentor, consultant, coach, teacher, a facilitator with a deep understanding of Agile.

The expansion of agile is so exponential that now agile coaches are transforming whole organizations, whole enterprises and, indeed, the skills of an agile coach are no longer based on engineering mastery only.

Nowadays, agile coaching addresses mostly 3 important pillars:

  • Board coaching using techniques from Family coaching taking roots in Satir Model because an enterprise behaves like a family
  • Systemic coaching: how does a system of multiples systems behaving towards the Enterprise purpose or True North.
  • and Personal development coaching (incl. Executive coaching): how I interact with the system I´m involved with and how I can find myself in such a system.
The level of agile coaching

Considering that the whole organization has to move to agility (adjective), this imposes to think that Agile is no longer a methodology, nor a mindset.

Like manufacturing moving from paternalistic command-and-control (mass production) to system thinking (mass customisation), Agile has to be considered as an evolution of system thinking like lean where the purpose is no longer to reduce the variability in such system but to increase the diversity in that system allowing the collection of a bigger amount of data for better decision making. That system becomes agile even if a part of it doesn´t have an “agile mindset”.

Even if you are a systemic coach, the “agile spice” is in the dynamics in that system.

Agile systems dynamic model

The Agile System Dynamic Model is inspired by the learning dynamics in the Cynefin model (D. Snowden).

Since 2018, a new program has been introduced to address the evolution of agile coaching and a new set of skills are necessary to understand the challenges of working in agile systems:

  • understand Agile towards the nature of work
  • get some genuine agile techniques like Scrum or Kanban
  • understand Agile Organisation models (https://myao.blog)
  • managing and leading change
  • facilitation and communication techniques

Such programs an actually running in Western Europe to sharpen the skills of coaches and takes usually 5 days in a row + 10 hours of group coaching.

For information, feel free to contact me: pierre.neis@agilesqr.com.

Pierre E. Neis