Agile done well through effective project coaching

This chapter excerpt written by expert testers Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin works as a field guide for teams looking to unify their development and testing efforts in agile. According to the authors, agile development is easy to implement and hard to be good at. Proficient agile teams are the ones guided by strong project leaders and kept functional by committed team members.

The Agile Coaching Context


Agile itself is sufficient; coaching deepens it.
Described as lightweight, agile frameworks feature a small set of practices
to teach, which makes it quick and easy to get teams up and running with
them, at least with the basics. In my experience, getting a team using agile from
scratch within a day not only is possible but is common. Agile is lightweight,
fast, and simple—deceptively simple.

Agile is easy to get going yet hard to do well. Many reasons collude
to make this so. Chief among them is that agile exposes the dirt people
have been sweeping under the rug for years.Who wants to look at that? Yet,
we must.

As a way of working, agile seems full of opposites: simple yet challenging,
lightweight yet mighty, commonsensical yet subtle, easily accessible yet deep.
To coach teams to do agile well, you need not add new artifacts, events, or
roles to the agile framework you have chosen. Instead, find things that help
express the challenging, mighty, subtle, and deep aspects of each element
already present in the framework. Enter the allied disciplines.

The "doing" of agile Coaching
As Figure 1.1 illustrates,we can think of agile as a continuous backdrop—a set
of values, practices, principles, and roles we uphold as we coach people to use
agile well.To do this, we bring to them our skills in many allied disciplines,
which allows us to step fully into the role as their agile coach. We become
their facilitator, teacher, coach and mentor, conflict navigator, collaboration
conductor,and problem solver.We bring to them other things we've learned
that help express the challenging, mighty, subtle, and deep aspects of agile.

You will discover different disciplines and schools of thought than I did.
That's why the model has room for what you learn.As you incorporate a new
discipline and prove its usefulness with your agile teams, plop it in the "Your
favorite goes here" spot. Make this model your own, and expand it as you
learn new things. Share what you've learned with others so we can, together,
continually advance the art of agile coaching.

This book explores each of these allied disciplines, contextualized for
use in the agile world. For example, we don't bring the full intent of work/
life coaching to agile teams because pursuing each person's individual agenda
would overshadow the purpose of an agile team—to frequently produce real
results that people find valuable. Instead, we use skills from work/life coaching
to help each person become the best agilist they can become.Thus, we
contextualize it for the agile world.

The "Being" of Agile Coaching
We just ran through a description of the many things the agile coach does,
among them teach, facilitate, collaborate, and mentor. It adds up to a lot of
things to do. Certainly, the doing matters. You must know your job as coach
and your way around agile and be constantly searching for that next breakthrough
idea for the team. Just as important as the "doing" part of agile coaching,
though, is the "being" part.

Agile coaching is more about who you are and what behaviors you model
than it is about any specific technique or idea you bring to the team. Throwing
some very rough numbers at it, I would say that agile coaching is 40% doing
.and 60% being.The powerful (silent) influence you have because of who you
are and how agile values shine through your every move should not be underestimated.
It's potent stuff.Through your being, you exert a far-reaching and
long-lasting impact on people, teams, and organizations, much more so than
applying a whole textbook of agile techniques perfectly.

An agile coach models agile all the time, and just by being teaches all the
time.This comes through in how you coach individuals on the team and how
you interact with the team at large. It speaks clearly in how conscious you are
of your actions and their impacts and how you take responsibility for those
impacts, simply and transparently.

Through these ways of being, the coach also creates a living example of
the depth and usefulness of agile, honoring the values that underlie it in every
moment with every decision and through every action (or nonaction).A good
agile coach walks the walk and, in so doing, creates a path the team can follow.
As an agile coach, modeling the key behaviors of a good agilist, you are what
you're trying to teach them to be.

You're not going to hit the mark all the time.You will make mistakes.You
will lose your cool and yell.Your mind will wander during the stand-up meeting.
You will skillfully manipulate people into doing what you think is right for the
team.The most important thing you can do in the face of your mistake is to model
the agile value of openness.Transparently and with humility, simply own up to
the impact of the mistake, and apologize for it.Tell the team which agile value or
principle your mistake undermined so they can learn from your example.

Imagine a team that admits mistakes, reinforces their shared values, forgives
one another, and moves on. Do you think such a team would come up with
astonishing ideas? I do.

This was last published in June 2010

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