We get it, everybody is a Coach nowadays. Trying to find the right Agile Coach for your project might be a challenge. Knowing what to look out for in the initial discussion will give a little more clarity on the !
An Agile Coach is an expert in one or several Agile frameworks (meaning, he or she has relevant experience, can explain the value and reasons behind the different practices and has an established track record of successes and failures in teaching and coaching teams in adopting the framework)
If you know which framework the team will be working with, make sure you add that to the job description.
It would be easy to state that this person is then obviously a trainer in Agile, but not so much. Being a teacher, or trainer takes practice, skill and study. An Agile Coach can provide you with a detailed training canvas or script on the topic of their expertise. They can also relay their knowledge in a meaningful way. Ask potential candidates to bring a few of their training materials or ask them to prepare un short training workshop for you and your team to teach you one of the values of Agile for example.
If you were captivated by the workshop and feel you have understood the learning and the objective was met in a way that you will remember it (the learning sticks because it was new, interesting, surprising or simply fun to go through) then you know you have a great Agile trainer in your midst.
The reason you are looking for an Agile Coach, and not a project manager is that your team works, or is going to work, in a self-organized framework where they are asked to take certain decisions for the team and the product(s) they are building for the stakeholder(s). This means that within the team, but also around, people will need to learn and accept certain new truths about the way we work, about their roles and about the processes they employ to get the work done.
An efficient Agile Coach will be able to facilitate the growth of an Agile Team and mentor each member in their personal development towards making their new role their own, and work with the team to help the world outside the team understand Agile as well. Being able to respectfully coach teams and individuals towards acquiring a different mindset towards hierarchy and the way command and control management impedes innovation and engagement.
To be able to do this an Agile Coach needs to be able to connect and gain the trust of the team, but also the stakeholders, the Product Owner and any other layers of management, leadership and teams that have a stake in the work the team delivers. Working with an Agile Coach that understands and continuously works to improving their own Emotional Intelligence will help you in the long run. This coach knows how to build bridges between departments, stay neutral towards office politics and serve the team as a whole in reaching their goals and objectives. Agile coaches should be able to speak the language of the team, listen and observe and understand and document their growing pains.
You will also want to ask about the way this coach facilitates meetings. What is important for the Coach to get right when facilitating an Agile event? If your candidate explains that their meeting must be fun and engaging and therefore, they have a vast ranging toolbox of games and structures up their sleeve to animate events and keep the team “engaged” in the meeting, perhaps ask a few more questions? Facilitation is an Art, it is a difficult role to hold and has nothing to do with keeping pumped up towards reaching the decision or concept they wish to build. A question you may want to ask is “How do you prepare for the event you will facilitate?”
A trained Agile Coach will be able to show you a prepared session canvas, or script in which the flow of the session is carefully crafted to reach the well-designed purpose and outcome of the session. The Facilitator is prepared for the unexpected and knows how to help people reach their destination without stepping into the playing field.
And finally, make sure you hire an Agile that knows how to Coach. Individual coaching and team coaching skills come after experience and practice. When hiring an Agile Coach, ask the coach what they need from you to help them facilitate their coaching agreements with your team. If the Coach is lost for words, you know that you may want to send him to an Agile Coach Certification course!