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The SPaMCAST is on a three-week hiatus. We will be back with new programming on September 25. In the interim, I asked the SPaMCAST columnists (Jeremy, Jon, Susan, and Tony) for a couple of favorite columns they delivered.  Today we have:

Jon M Quigley – SPaMCAST 397 – Project Strategy – Want to listen to the full podcast? (Note: this was Jon’s debut column and he doesn’t know I am slipping this in.)

Susan Parente and Jon M Quigley- SPaMCAST 585 – Most Agile Transformations Ignore Technical Skills – Want to listen to the full podcast?



As a coach, I suspect I spend more time facilitating and observing than playing any other sub-role. Chapter 6, titled Coach as Facilitator, provides a number of gems that piqued my interest more during this read than in the first. Like the author, many of us come to coaching from a more activist role. In earlier career incarnations I viewed myself as an action hero. I got things done by adding pushing, prodding and actually doing real work. Jumping up in the middle of the night to help rectify a system crash was who I was. An Agile Coach’s role is different, we exist to help the people we are working with to become more agile and to deliver more value (the two goal conundrum mentioned in Chapter 5). Acting as a whip or doing work doesn’t help the team or organization develop. Action heroes rarely grow teams, they grow themselves – it was a hard lesson for me. Facilitation is the replacement for our individual heroics.  


Chapter 5 begins Part 2 of Coaching Agile Teams. During my initial read of this book, I found Part 2 the most immediately useful. During this re-read, I reflect less on techniques to engage people and teams and more on engagements that I have had and where my remit and my behavior took me off track. Understanding where things have gone wrong is a step to changing my behavior. Don’t 12-step programs all need you to admit that you have a problem before you can progress? As a human being, the only way to improve is to reflect on your behavior and thoughts; unfortunately, it is a skill that is rarely taught and even more seldom practiced. To be a good agile coach, or in the author’s words, a coach-mentor, introspection has to be a well-honed practice. The first time I read this part of the Coaching Agile Team, I did not understand the ramification of getting this practice even slightly wrong.


Chapter 4 of Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins, discusses the idea that a team, individual, or organization follows a path from a learner, to mastery to a teacher using the Shu Ha Ri metaphor. The concept of Shu Ha Ri represents a continuum of learning. In martial arts or any demonstrable activity, practitioners must learn and practice before they can take the next step forward. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, postulated that even the most gifted athletes need an open mindset to succeed in the long run. To progress across the continuum of learning everyone needs to put in the work. I suspect that for many, the Shu state is the hardest to accept because we all want to believe we are special and we are all impatient to meet the prize of mastery.


This week we are re-reading Chapter 2 of Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins (SPaMCAST Amazon affiliate line – buy a copy). The basic idea that permeates this chapter is in the title. As a coach, you need to have high expectations of yourself and those you are coaching.


This week, Chapter 1 of Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins (SPaMCAST Amazon affiliate line – buy a copy). The chapter tackles more than just the question embedded in the title exploring why a coach is needed, the path to becoming a coach and the mindsets, and skills a coach needs.   

When I was a youth I played some sports more or less competently, I did not say competitively.  All of the organized endeavors had coaches. I still argue chess was a sport and yes, we did have a coach. When we had good coaches I learned and got better; when the title coach was a stretch, I usually got bored, lost all motivation, and at some point wandered away. When I entered the workplace, coaches were replaced with bosses and an occasional mentor even though I was still working almost exclusively in teams. I missed having coaches although the management text I read inferred that the role of a manager includes coaching. The problem was (and still is), that bosses rarely came close to playing even a mediocre coaching role. That is not an indictment, but rather an assertion based on more than a few years of observing the world around me. One of the most significant innovations that agile has given to the business world is reintroducing organizations to the idea of a coach. In many organizations the term coach is cool, everyone wants to be one regardless of skill and capability. A few years ago I watched as a person I knew took an online course and exam over a single weekend and then announced they were a coach. In Chapter 1 the author asks, “Will I Be A Good Coach?” and then provides a framework to think about that question. When I first read this book, I did not spend much time considering the nuances of this chapter, I should have.


An Agile Coach’s Code of Ethics (ACCoE) will have a broad set of implications  Some of those implications will deliver tactical impact while others will have a more systemic effect. The systemic effects can be grouped into two categories. For example, an ACCoE will act as:


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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 613 features our essay on directive and non-directive coaching. DIrective coaches, akin to many athletic coaches, are a hard sell at the team level. Non-directive coaches, akin to mentors, are not always viewed as effective by senior leaders. In reality, it is not cut and dry.

Essays in the Directive – Non-directive Series

Agile Coaching Techniques: Styles of Coaches –

Directive or Non-directive Coaching – 

Directive or Non-directive Coaching: Why Everyone Needs To Know – 

In the second spot this week, Jeremy Berriault brings his QA Corner to the cast.  We discuss coaching testers. Indirectly we have a discussion about the use of directive and non-directive coaching styles.  You can reach Jeremy at (more…)

Move you head this way!

The word coach is used so indiscriminately that the meaning is hard to discern. Saying you are a coach still sends a signal, but the signal is at the mercy of the person that hears the term and it might not be what you’ve intended. In Agile Coaching Techniques: Styles of Coaches we used two different coaching approaches to define a continuum: directive and non-directive.  We used athletic coaches to mark the directive end of the spectrum and life coaches to mark the non-directive end. Each style has a very different approach to involvement.

To get a sense of how the market is leaning on the coaching involvement level scale, I grabbed a handful of job postings from LinkedIn from the US (some from the East Coast, Central Plains, and West Coast). I pulled out the job requirements and sorted them into categories. These categories could then be interpreted as directive or non-directive based on the verb they used.  For example, if the requirement used the active verb “manage” I put the requirement in the directive column. Verbs like advise and mentor I put in the non-directive category. I threw out things like projects and activities to be assigned as needed.

Coaching styles, as noted earlier, can be separated into two macro styles: directive and non-directive.  The basic approach of a directive coach is to “tell, show, do.”  The coach will teach the coachee (individual or team) how to perform a behavior or ceremony, then demonstrate, and then oversee the coachee performing the activity. The train-the-trainer approach used for transferring the knowledge to teach classes is a form of directive coaching. In directive situations, the coach needs to have deep levels of knowledge about the subject matter. For example, if you were coaching a team on behavior-driven development (BDD) you need an understanding of not only the theory but the practical knowledge of how to write and execute BDD tests.  

Directive job requirements included action verbs such as: 

  • Enforce,
  • Implement,
  • Lead,
  • Manage,
  • Methodologist,
  • Participate,
  • Improve (process), and
  • Measure.

The basic approach of non-directive coaches works by helping the person or people they are coaching to discover and apply their personal experience to solve their problems.  Lyssa Adkins, the author of Coaching Agile Teams, uses the phrase, “ask the team” which is reflective of non-directive coaching. This style is very popular in agile circles.  

Job requirements whose action verbs include one or more of the following were judged as non-directive:

  • Facilitate,
  • Mentor,
  • Coach (this feels like defining a word with the word being defined), and
  • Train.

Even though the non-directive style of coaching is more popular in the agile community, the small sample of job descriptions include substantially more directive type responsibilities (about a 60/40 split). Styles are just styles; I have used directive and non-directive techniques. The context and my agreements with the people involved provide a way to navigate between the two camps.  

August 4:  Why understanding style matters

August 6:  I am an agile guide

Mt Kilamajaro

It you don’t walk you won’t see the world.


I was recently asked if agile coaches needed to exhibit flexibility. Unfortunately, the answer which should be ‘of course’ had to be, “it depends” because the word coach in agile circles is used indiscriminately. Organizations have many roles that have coaching somewhere on their job description or work order. The goal of the act of coach is straightforward, to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in someone’s or some group’s life. The broadness of the goal means that anyone using any set of techniques can jot coach down on their resume in good conscious. The problem is that the expectations of the approach will differ.