Five Reasons to Hire a Coach for Agile Teams

I run into managers who think that they can coach the team as the team adopts Agile methods. In my experience, this usually doesn’t work out very well.

So managers, support the team as they learn Agile methods by hiring a coach! It’s a investment in success.

Here are five reasons that coach cannot be you.

1. The team needs someone skilled in XP engineering practices and current on the latest testing tools. If you haven’t written code in more than three years, or you’ve never worked on a team that used all the XP practices you don’t have the knowledge to coach the team. Sorry. Doesn’t make you a bad person or cancel out your value to the organization. Does mean you are not the right person to coach on XP.

2. You may have a conflict of interest. If you are being measured on delivery dates, its possible that you’ll ask the team to cut corners, work extra hours, or drop practices to meet a date. That would be bad. The team needs someone who will hold the process in place and help them hold firm when someone is worried about making a date. That can’t be you, if you’re the one worried about making the date.

Even if you’d never do that, on some level, the team may not believe that yet, especially if you’ve ever done so in the past. And if they think you’ll cave in the face of a date, they’ll cave before you even ask them to. It just works that way.

3. A coach will help the team stick to the process, and guide them away from making adjustments that nibble away at iterative incremental development until they are back in a mini-waterfall.

Agile really does involve a shift in the mental model of software development, and until you have an intuitive grasp of the principles and values, the nibbles will make sense to you, too. You’ve got to live it for a while before you can coach it.

4. As long as you are there to solve problems and tell people what to do, it will be easy for the team to remain dependent on you. It may feel good to be needed, but in the long run, it doesn’t help the team, doesn’t help the company, and doesn’t help you.

5. You’ve got a ton of other stuff to do supporting the team, removing obstacles, running organizational interference, and working on the work system. Plus you have to do the budget.

Of course, you don’t have to be dependent on outside coaches forever. Once you’ve established a few Agile teams, you can develop a cadre of coaches made up of your own experienced people.

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