A pile of empty pizza boxes!

WIP limits are needed to stop waiting in queues.

Recently a long-time reader and listener came to me with a question about a team with two sub-teams that were not participating well together. In a previous entry we began describing how kanban or Scrumban could be leveraged to help teams identify issues with how they work and then to fix them.  We conclude with the last two steps in a simple approach to leveraging kanban or Scrumban: (more…)


Restroom Closed Sign

Sometimes a process change is required!

Coaching is a function of listening, asking questions and then listening some more.  All of this listening and talking has a goal: to help those being coached down a path of self-discovery and to help them to recognize the right choice for action or inaction.  Sometimes the right question is not a question at all, but rather an exercise of visualization.

Recently when a long-time reader and listener came to me with a question about a team with two sub-teams that were not participating well together, I saw several paths to suggest.  The first set of paths focused on how people behave during classic Scrum meetings and how the team could structure stories.  However, another path presented itself as I continued to consider options based on the question.   (more…)


Every moon, planet, and sun in the universe pulls on every other moon, planet and sun; the size and distance between the objects impact the degree of influence. Each object exerts a gravitational pull, the stronger the pull the bigger and deeper the pull, a gravity well. The organizational influence of that any individuals exerts is something akin to a gravitational pull. Each person is a gravity well and their pull influences those around them. How can we map the influence of a coach? The answer depends on whether we are talking about the influence on how work is being done or the influence on organizational goals.  Hierarchically, coaches fit between IT management and the business and Scrum teams. Coaches exert influence on IT and business management who control organizational goals. They influence the Scrum teams who control how work is done. The amount of influence a coach exerts depends on how they are perceived within the organization. Coaches are part of the Agile gravity well between teams and management, drawing them both closer to the values and principles of Agile. (more…)


Why would a team and/or organization want an external coach? In previous entries we have discussed the attributes of a good coach  and what a coach delivers, all of which may have whetted your whistle. However, it doesn’t answer the question why you would seek out an external coach. An external coach brings new ideas to the table, different perspectives and a shot of energy. (more…)


Agile Coaches help teams and organizations embrace Agile and help maximize the delivery of business value.  We use terms like enable and facilitate to describe how they help organizations and teams transform.  But what does an Agile Coach actually do?  If we unpack enable and facilitate what do we actually find?  We actually mean a variable mix of activities that includes: consulting, cajoling, training, arbitration and mentoring. (more…)

A coach is much like a honey bee...

A coach is much like a honey bee…

I strongly believe that coaches are not managers or Scrum Masters.  Coaches are a unique mixture of attributes, including being a listener, a learner, a mediator and an evangelist. A deficit in any these attributes will reduce a coach’s effectiveness.

A good coach is a listener.  A coach listens by making a conscious effort to hear not only the words that the other person is saying but, more importantly, trying to understand the complete message being sent. A coach listens to obtain information, to understand and to learn.

A good coach is a learner.  There are two related reasons that being a learner is important.  Agile is continually evolving, therefore the value of what you know now will erode quickly. Secondly, a coach is much like a honey bee, transferring ideas and techniques from one project or organization to another. A coach must actively seek out and learn new techniques and concepts to pollinate new teams and organizations. Without the ability to continually learn, the utility a coach can provide will also erode.

A good coach is a mediator. Conflict that leads to decisions is part and parcel of team life.  Sometimes these decisions and interactions are hard.  A coach plays the role of a mediator who facilitates negotiation to help team members reach a mutually satisfactory solution to their problems, without compulsion. Coaches that can’t mediate tend to revert to management compulsion, which will not only reduce the effectiveness of the coach, but may also injure the team.

 A good coach has to be an evangelist. Lean and Agile focus on only doing the work that delivers business value. Helping a team or an organization embrace Agile techniques effectively means personally embracing and helping the organization embrace the underlying philosophy of Agile.  A coach needs believe in the philosophy so that they can champion and shepherd the journey along the “new way.”  Not being willing to evangelize for the underlying philosophies of Agile will lead to crappy Agile.

Each of the attributes of a good coach – listening, learning, mediation and evangelism – are all required.  Deficits in any will hurt the coaches ability to coach and will reduce the effectiveness of the team.  The attributes that good coaches acquire and foster will increase the ability of teams and organizations ability to deliver value.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s the difference between an Agile coach and a scrum master? A quick internet search returns a variety of competing opinions (and a lot of ads for training classes).  This is not an arbitrary question – these terms have a great deal of power to set expectations for behavior. While some of the components of the roles are similar, the two roles are different in at least one major way –  scope.

Both Agile coaches and scrum masters help teams.  Both roles are tasked with helping Agile teams use Agile values and practices to deliver value to the organization.  Agile coaches and scrum masters use similar techniques to guide, facilitate, and coach teams so that they learn and use Agile techniques, confront delivery problems as they occur, and work together as a well-oiled unit.  If we stopped here the two roles would be the same. However, the scope of the two roles is different.

Agile coaches typically pursue the implementation of an organizational vision of Agile, or are tasked with delivering external knowledge and expertise to a team.  In both cases the coach is external and is not a member any specific project team. In order to effect change from the outside the project, the coach needs a broader exposure to Agile roles than a typical scrum master.  A coach should have played all of roles on an Agile team multiple times. They have the gravitas to influence without direct authority and from outside the team. They interact with a team or teams, and then let the team synthesize and internalize the advice. The Agile coach is typically the voice of Agile at an organizational level.  This generally requires broader exposure and experience with Agile techniques, which is why many organizations use external consultants to play this role. The need for an Agile coach is generally transitory, specifically they are needed when external injections of knowledge or energy is necessary to help ensure the application of Agile continues to evolve.

On the other hand, the scrum master is the team’s tactical coach (scrum defines the team as the scrum master, product owner and the development team). He/she facilitates the team’s use of Agile techniques and helps to protect the team from the outside world. Scrum masters are the voice of the process at the team level.  Scrum masters are a critical member of every Agile team. The team’s need for a scrum master is not transitory because they evolve together as a team.

The role of an Agile coach and that of scrum master have similarities, but also significant differences.