I ran a workshop with James Pullicino at XP2009 on "What Does an Agile Coach Do?" I've been writing a book about Agile Coaching with Liz Sedley and so have done lots of thinking about this topic over the last year. Everyone has different ideas about what agile coaches do.
When I look around for books on coaching, I find that there are many about life-coaching. These focus on coaching an individual overturn assumptions to move toward achieving their personal goals. Although I do work with individuals, as an agile coach, I'm especially interested in their interactions as a team. Like sports coaches, our focus is on building effective teamwork as this is essential for agile software development.
I've found one useful book on coaching teams is "Leading Teams" by J.Richard Hackman. He introduces the idea that coaching interventions fall into three basic categories: Motivational, Consultative, and Educational. His model intrigues me. I've been coaching agile teams for the past 7 years and tend to go with my intuitions rather than consciously following a model.
Our workshop at XP2009 was designed to explore Hackman's model through asking some experienced coaches how they would attempt to coach a team in a selection of typical coaching scenarios such as:
- Team member does not participate in Agile meetings.
- Team doesn't have time to write automated tests.
- Team agrees to take on more work than they can realistically achieve.
- Manager/ScrumMaster undermines Agile process by micro-managing the team.
- No support from business for Agile team. No time from Customer/Product-Owner.
- Designers and Architects don't buy-in to Agile approach.
- Team works on more features rather than fixing problems.
- Team don't find retrospective is useful.
- Team miss release deadlines and haven't released code for months.
- Developers work in different city to testers.
It helped that we had some very experienced coaches as participants including Dave Nicolette. We gathered up their different coaching interventions on sticky notes and then attempted to cluster them using the Hackman categories: Motivational, Consultative, Educational. We also created an Other cluster for those notes that didn't seem to fit neatly in a single category.
You can see some photos of the outputs here: http://agilecoach.typepad.com/photos/xp2009_agile_coaches_work/index.html
As you'll see from the photos, there was no big consensus that coaching interventions fit the Hackman model. Although we had lots of interesting conversations exploring how different coaches would work on the above scenarios. It was also great to catchup with James and hear his latest coaching experiences at BBC.
XP2009 conference was in a great location - wonderful to have Open Space sessions on the beach and around the pool - see more photos by Hubert Baumeister.