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Developing Great Agile Coaches

Towards a Framework of Agile Coaching Competency Part I
Published in alignment with the IC Agile Coaching & Facilitation Track

By: Michael K. Spayd, Co-President

Lyssa Adkins, Co-President

Purpose We believe, however, that Agile Coaching is an

Getting good results with Agile is relatively emerging profession. And we hope to be agents
easy: form a cross-functional team, prioritize inand accelerators ofthat evolution.
backlog items, create shippable product each Our intention is to begin giving form to the
iteration. Basically, follow the process and discipline of Agile Coaching. In this paper, we
your team is likely to deliver value. No focus on the core element needed for Agile
surprise here. Coaching to become a profession: we propose the
Getting truly great results, especially beginnings of a competency model, namely a
consistently, is a bit more rare. Great results framework for a competency model. We believe
require a great team. And great teams rarely that now is the time for such a framework: to begin
just happen. A team aspiring towards using it, to learn from its use, and to evolve the
greatness often needs a coach: trained, framework through new situations, uses and needs.
experienced, competent in her craft. We welcome your feedback at
Ah, theres the rub! How do we create good
(even great) Agile Coaches? We maintain model/.
that, as an industry we do not know how.
A Competency Framework
Beyond basic Agile training, there is no
A competency model is a key prerequisite for a
clear path a coach can take towards
serious profession. Here we want to distinguish a
competence, let alone mastery. For instance,
competency model from the competency
how do Agile coaches know what to study,
framework outlined in this paper.
with whom, and for how long? Just as bad,
who (or what) will recognize them when To make clear the contrast, lets look at an
they achieve competence? example competency model from the International
Coach Federation (ICF):
Consistently creating competent Agile
coaches requires guidelines for what (
coaches do, criteria related to what they education/icf-credentials/core-competencies/).
must know, and one or more methods or Here is an excerpt from the ICF competency model
pathways to help them get there. In former revealing its very specific level of detail:
times, the guild structure developed C. Communicating Effectively
craftsmen, who became skilled 6. Powerful Questioning - Ability to ask questions
practitioners. In the modern world, the that reveal the information needed for maximum
concept of a profession has replaced the benefit to the coaching relationship and the client
guilds. Agile coaching has neither. It is
1. Asks questions that reflect active listening and an
conducted in an ad hoc, even erratic manner. understanding of the client's perspective,
It is not a profession.

Summer 2011 2011 Agile Coaching Institute

2. Asks questions that evoke discovery, expert in the content. For instance, the Coach
insight, commitment or action (e.g., those holds the mirror of accountability for the
that challenge the client's assumptions), individual, team, group or organization they coach.
3. Asks open-ended questions that create Similarly, the Facilitator conducts the process of
greater clarity, possibility or new learning the meeting or event without getting involved in
4. Asks questions that move the client the content.
towards what they desire, not questions that
ask for the client to justify or look Specifically, acting as a Coach means allowing the
backwards. clients priorities and values to determine the
direction, rather than the coachs expertise or
This level of behavioral detail supports a fair opinion. In the same vein, the ability to act as
process (such as certification) that allows Facilitator for a team or group process requires
experts to judge whether others have met the hewing to their purpose and definition of success,
standards in the model. rather than to ones own.
For Agile Coaching, this level of detail may Of note, both Coaching and Facilitating are
well be useful at some point, but it is not the professions in their own right, with competency
first move to make. Instead, we are models, professional standards, and ethics.
proposing a framework for the competencies
an Agile Coach needs, rather than specific Content-focused competencies: Teaching
behavioral statements that may be required & Mentoring
for different applications. We hope to In Teaching and Mentoringin contrast to
activate the Agile community into reflection, Coaching and Facilitatingthe practitioner
introspection and discussion of this specifically relies on her content expertise, seeking
framework, not debate or argument about to impart some of it to the client.
the details that could become necessary at Teaching is the ability to offer the right
some later point. knowledge, at the right time, taught in the right
Our framework consists of eight primary way, so that individuals, teams and organizations
areas of competence that provide a focus for absorb and use the knowledge for their best
education and professional development for benefit. It requires a focus on both why and how
the aspiring Agile Coach. The competency people learn.
areas are clear statements of direction, rather In a parallel manner, the ability to Mentor requires
than detailed enough to allow practitioners enabling others to learn, grow, and become better
to judge whether they (or others) have professionals, thereby advancing their career and
acquired the relevant competency. their teams results. A good mentor does this in a
way that does not merely provide the answers, but
An Overview of the Competencies builds capability in the mentee.
A brief description of the eight Agile
Coaching competencies follows, divided Teaching is clearly its own profession, though
into four clusters, plus a central integrating competency models here tend to be more
stance. distributed or localized. In contrast, mentoring
does not appear to be a profession per se, but more
Process-focused competencies: a skill set for professionals of any type. Mentors
Coaching & Facilitating may use the relevant competency model of their
profession when working as a mentor.
Coaching and facilitating are related areas of
expertise. In both, the practitioner is
responsible for holding the process on
behalf of the client1, rather than acting as an

Our use of the term client is not meant to apply concept is used by internal Organization Development
only to external Agile Coaches, but to employee practitioners, who typically see themselves as a
Agile Coaches as well. This is similar to how the consulting service within their organization.

2011 Agile Coaching Institute

Agile-Lean Practitioner: Knowledge & frameworks, product innovation techniques, six
Application sigma or other business process management
The third cluster is the area most Agile approaches, and other techniques that relate to
Coach training focuses upon. In fact, it is innovating products, processes or operations in the
often the only knowledge area and skill set business domain. Business Mastery is often paired
even considered by Agile Coaches. As they with Teaching, Mentoring or Facilitating.
begin their career as Agile Coach, this may
make sense. As time goes on, however, it Transformational Mastery
becomes limiting, even debilitating. Transformational Mastery is the ability to
facilitate, catalyze and (as appropriate) lead
First, Agile Knowledge is the ability to learn
organizational change and transformation. This
and deeply understand Agile and Lean
area draws on change management, organization
frameworks and principles, not only the
culture, organization development, systems
practices, but also at the level of the
thinking, and other behavioral sciences.
underlying principles and values.
Transformational Mastery is frequently paired with
Second, Agile Application is the ability to Coaching and Facilitating, plus Teaching in some
use Agile and Lean practices on real teams, instances.
in real organizations, innovating practices in
a way consistent with the underlying The Coaching Stance: The Heart of
principles and values, and to apply their use the Competency Framework
in novel situations appropriately. What we call the coaching stance is for us the
heart of the competency framework because it
Domain Mastery informs all the other competencies. The coaching
Our intent in this area is perhaps the most stance is the place we start from, the place we
difficult to understand, and for some it may return, and ideally the place we include when using
even be an optional portion of the any of the other competencies.
framework. We divide it into three very
different areas: technical, business and Without the coaching stance, the work of an Agile
transformational. A given Agile Coach will Coach may become manipulative, ideological, and
likely become expert in only one. The driven by the coachs own desireseven when
degree to which competence (or even those desires are seemingly benign and believed to
mastery) is useful in each area will be driven be in the best interest of the client.
by the organizational and business context, Watch-words of the coaching stance are
as well as the Agile Coachs personal maintaining neutrality, serving the clients agenda,
proclivities. We compare the three Domain reducing client dependence, not colluding, and
Master areas to that of a doctor with his or signature presence.
her specialty (e.g., pediatrics, surgery, etc.).
Maintaining neutrality By neutrality, we mean
Technical Mastery the ability to not vote on your favorite position,
for instance when the team is discussing a
Technical Mastery is the ability to get your problem, or an individual is working something
hands dirty architecting, designing, coding, through for themselves, with your help. Neutrality
test engineering, or performing some other is clear when using the Facilitating or Coaching
technical practice, with a focus on competencies, but we extend it to Teaching and
promoting technical craftsmanship through Mentoring. The neutrality we mean extends even
example and teaching-by-doing. This to the point of assisting the client in choosing not
Technical Mastery is typically delivered to use Agile, if that is what is trying to happen in
through Mentoring or Teaching. their organization, or is what the client chooses
after full exploration of the consequences.
Business Mastery
Business Mastery is the ability to apply Serving the clients agenda Client in this
business strategy and management context could mean an individual, a team, an

2011 Agile Coaching Institute

organizational department, or the whole with Backbone and Heart. We use it here to mean
organization. Each of these has an agenda. the Agile Coach must find their unique voice, their
Serving could mean holding (balancing, individual way of expressing their coaching, of
reflecting, supporting) all of these agendas taking a stand when necessary, and of being
at the same time. The underlying belief: authentic while filling their role.
They are the experts in their own lives and
This coaching stance is, for us, the default position
organizations - they are whole and can make
as an Agile Coach. This stance makes what we do
their own choices.
powerful, filled with integrity, and respectful of the
Reducing client dependence - Everything clients right to choose. Ideally applied in all eight
an Agile Coach does is for the sake of competency areas, it is ultimately a distillation of,
transferring a practice, skill, mindset or and largely borrowed from, the Coaching
value to the client, striving to create a competency area and the world of professional
healthy agile ecosystem that is self- coaching.
monitoring, self-correcting and self-
sustaining. For instance, external Agile Leadership
Coaches should build an organizations If the coaching stance is metaphorically like the
ability to develop and sustain their own earth, underlying the framework, then Leadership
Coaches, developing them in the full breadth is like the sky. Above all, the Agile Coach is a
of the competencies described here. Internal leader a leader who seeks to enroll others in a
Agile Coaches should build the capabilities vision, the Agile vision; a leader who leads from
of every Agilist and every team, trusting that a spirit of service to others rather than of taking
there will always be more and better charge or attempting to achieve something in
challenges to face. particular.
Not colluding - The coach does not collude For an Agile Coach, the concept of servant as
with the clients desire to accommodate their leader (Robert Greenleaf, Servant as Leader)
dysfunctions or limitations. If the client should combine with the notion of a Catalyst
reformulates their chosen Agile method to Leader (from Leadership Agility, Bill Joiner &
sidestep problems Agile has exposed, then Stephen Josephs). The type of leadership we mean
the coach calls this out, reflecting the current is not soft or weak, despite the reference to servant.
situation, making plain what is actually The leadership we mean is the ability to build
happening, but without attachment or culture, to enroll members in a common vision, to
judgment. The coach does not go along lead by example, to seek to truly understand before
with the compromise but, instead, attempting to take leaderful action, as well as the
recognizes the current situation for what it ability to stand in ones truth without backing
is, meets the client where they are, holds out down, yet without harshness or attacking those
the vision of Agile done well and continues who disagree. We will have more to say on
to coach from a place of letting the coaching leadership in subsequent writings.
be loving, compassionate and
uncompromising (Coaching Agile Teams, p. Conclusion
In this first part, we have made the case for a
While this may seem paradoxical, this competency framework for Agile Coaches based
approach is not inconsistent with Neutrality. on eight complementary disciplines, linked
On the one hand, we do not pretend with together by the coaching stance. In part two, we
the client that they are really taking an Agile will dive into some detail for each of the eight
approach even when they are not. On the competency areas, then consider how the
other hand, we do not resort to shaming or framework can be used for applications such as
coercing them into doing it the right way. self-assessment, creating an Agile Coach
Signature Presence The concept of development plan, selecting Agile Coaches, and
signature presence is from Mary Beth others.
ONeill in her book Executive Coaching

2011 Agile Coaching Institute