Agile Coaches: Types, Roles & Responsibilities

Agile Coaches: Types, Roles & Responsibilities

Many organizations seek the council of Agile Coaches to aid in guiding organizational strategy and leading Agile practices across a team or organization by aligning them with Agile values and concepts introducing Agile methods and encouraging a culture shift in the workplace.

However, not all Agile Coaches have the same ability to coach at various levels of an organization. Some coaches have the ability to coach at all levels, some only at the Team level. Certification in a scaled framework, such as a SPC in SAFe (SAFe Program Consultant in Scaled Agile Framework) does not automatically certify the abilities of an individual as an Agile Coach. Coaching stems from individual strengths, experience, personality, desire and passion.

Agile Coaching is not only knowing the ins and outs Agile principles and values, but also has knowledge and experience with various frameworks (Scrum, Kanban, XP, Scrum@Scale, Scaled Agile Framework, and even traditional PMP experience). Agile Coaching also incorporates communication and facilitation skills, crucial conversations, mentoring, training, and knowledge of various agile tools.

Various Levels of Agile Coaches
  • Team Coach
  • Program Coach
  • Portfolio/Enterprise Coach
  • Business Agility Consultant
    • Other variations: Business Transformation Coach/Consultant, Agile Transformation Architect

Team Coach

A Team Coach is concerned with creating a unit that can consistently and sustainably keep increasing its throughput, while decreasing its lead time. This is the most common level of Agile Coaching seen in organizations, where the Coach establishes team roles and responsibilities, sets up boards, teaches and guides the facilitation of agile ceremonies, introduces continuous learning, etc. A Team Coach generally has experience as a Scrum Master, Product Owner or both.  

Program Coach

A Program Coach’s concern is the coordination of multiple teams working on the same Program or Value Stream. Programs and Value Streams emerge when an organization has large Product(s) that need to change fast. The required volume of work exceeds what one team can deliver in a given timeframe, so work gets done in parallel by multiple development and specialist teams, and across a larger timeframe, e.g. months instead of weeks. Some of the teams, e.g. infrastructure teams, may not even be working in an agile way, which further complicates the coordination and synchronization of Program/Value Stream work, increasing the need for a Program Coach.

A Program Coach generally has tours of duty not only as a Scrum Master or Product Owner but also as a Release Train Engineer (RTE) or Product Manager in a large organization. A Program Coach may also have some domain knowledge, DevSecOps experience but it is not a requirement, in addition to experience instructing Scaled Agile Framework courses such as: Leading SAFe, SAFe for Teams, Scrum Master, Advanced Scrum Master, Product Owner/Product Manager and perhaps even Release Train Engineer (RTE), DevOps, Architect and Product Management (DevOps, Architect and Product Management are more technical/advanced courses so definitely not a must for a Program Coach).

Portfolio/Enterprise Coach

A Portfolio/Enterprise Coach is concerned with an organization’s Investment Agility among the Program/Value Streams. The “puzzle” at this level is how to finance multiple streams of work with a finite budget to maximize the value generated by the Portfolio. This will require achieving progressively shorter lead times at Program/Value Stream level, in order to get fast feedback of actual Value achieved. With fast feedback, the funds can be moved faster to more profitable Program/Value Streams.

However, fast change of funding at Program/Value Stream and Team level would mean a certain amount of reorganization, which is disruptive to work at those levels, thus reducing the Value they achieve. This is where a good Portfolio/Enterprise Coach’s knowledge and experience will help establish common patterns serving the Program/Value Streams. For example, establishing LACE’s (Lean Agile Center of Excellence) or Communities of Practice will standardize the work across Program/Value Streams and increase the Portfolio Agility.

A Portfolio Coach probably has experience in DevSecOps (not required), Design Thinking, Value Stream Mapping a great understanding of a Lean Portfolio Management as a value and function in an organization and experience with Executives. They should also have the experience in instructing the introductory Scaled Agile courses (see above) in addition to Lean Portfolio Management and implementing other various scaling frameworks and workshop experience.

Business Agility Consultant

A Business Agility Consultant can perform at any level within an organization. They are concerned with an organization’s strategic Agility in its marketplace: how quickly can we move to a new position without “breaking the bank”? Each marketplace has a certain speed of change, inertia, at any given time. The organizations that compete in the marketplace need to move “slightly” faster in order to be ahead of the competition. However, too fast, and they may lose too many customers who do not need to change fast. Too slow, and the competition will overtake them.

An Enterprise Coach has the experience of the other coaches but more importantly they have a strategic mind. If you’ve even taken CliftenStengths Finder 2.0 – you’ll have an understanding of this.

Both a Portfolio Coach and an Enterprise Coach has a great understanding of Business Agility. Leading an organization to achieve agility from not only software development team, but also to legal, marketing and human resource organizations.

Hiring an Agile Coach

A consideration in bringing on an Agile Coach to your organization, whether internal or external is: What are your needs? If your need is someone with a passion for strategy and solving complex problems in a large enterprise, you’re looking for an Enterprise Coach. If you’re looking for someone to form, train and coach leading practices for Agile Teams, you’re looking for a Team Coach.

Do not have the expectation that an organization can pay for an SPC certification of Scrum Master and they automatically can drive an organization to business agility by conducting value stream workshops to identify operational and developmental value streams, aid architecture in Design Thinking strategy, stand-up a Lean Portfolio Management team, and coach facilitating Program Increment Planning.

By asking good questions during the interview process you get an impression of the experience level and passion of the Agile Coach you are speaking with. Depending on the phase of the transformation, the domain, the size, the pace, the responsibility for the transformation will help you determine the Agile Coach that will best fit your needs.

Looking for an experience Agile Coach?

Let us know where your organization is on their Agile expedition, and we'll set up a consultation to assess what your needs are. Strategy & transformation is PinnacleTek.