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Agile Coach Skills and Competencies

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Today, more and more companies are moving towards Agile methodology and are adopting Agile techniques to be competitive in the existing market scenario. And for this, they are using Agile coaches to facilitate the smooth transformation from traditional approaches to Agile techniques. In fact, coaching has become an integral part of Project Management these days and the Agile coaches play a crucial role in training and mentoring not only the Project Management teams but also individuals and organizations as a whole. The Agile coach is the one who helps in the implementation of Agility. The main task of an Agile coach is to help, guide, and mentor the people in an organization in adapting to the Agile methodology, both in their minds as well as actions. 

The scope of work of an Agile coach depends on the requirements of the particular organization which engages them. An Agile coach may be asked to work at the team level or more broadly at an enterprise level. Irrespective of their scope of work, their role does not change much. At the enterprise level, their job is to help the companies to become more adaptive and inclusive. At the team level, they help in boosting and cultivate the skills of the team members thereby motivating them to successfully deliver the projects. In every case, they help in changing the mindset of the people or organizations (whatever the case may be) to quickly and consistently adopt the Agile methodology. Therefore, Agile coaches are also called agents of change. 

Almost all companies, which want to adapt to the Agile methodology, engage an Agile coach. This may be an internal coach or an external coach. Whatever the case, an Agile coach ought to have certain skills and competencies so as to be able to help in a smooth transition to Agile methodology. In this article, we are going to describe various Agile coach skills and competencies that are essential for him or her to be successful in implementing the change to Agile. These skills and competencies describe the knowledge and the level of performance that an Agile coach is expected to possess. Let's look at the skills required to be a successful and effective Agile coach.

Agile coach skills

An expert Agile coach is expected to have the following skills:

Should be an Agile practitioner - The first Agile coach competency is that he or she should have practical experience in Agile methodologies and should have adopted the Agile values which would reflect in their way of thinking and acting. Agile coaches should have good assessment skills so that they get an idea of the work required for bringing the change to Agile within a team or an organization. An Agile coach works on the roots of the problems and processes that impact a team. Therefore, an Agile coach must have enough proficiency and knowledge in Agile methodology so as to fix the elements influencing a team's performance. This is done through the training sessions conducted by the Agile coach. 

Teaching or coaching skills - Possessing Agile knowledge is not sufficient. An Agile coach ought to have the competency to teach or coach. Coaching means helping people to change their mindsets to achieve high performance. The Agile coach must have the ability to transmit his or her knowledge in a way that enables people to learn and adopt the concepts of Agile into their daily work. The coaching expertise would include knowing how to work with tough or rigid people and how to motivate them to adopt the change. So, keeping an open mind is important for an Agile coach and he or she should always be open to new perspectives and methods. The role is quite challenging and puts great demand on an Agile coach's skills. Hence, an experience in Agile coaching would be very beneficial when working towards bringing about organizational change or the change in a team.

Mentoring - Mentoring means sharing one's knowledge and information with those who are being mentored. Agile coaches need to share their knowledge and offer advice from their own experience to encourage the growth of individuals. This includes growth both as a person as well as a professional. Since an Agile coach is a subject matter expert, he passes on his knowledge and experience so that mentees can make independent decisions. He promotes creativity, learning, and development. While doing this, Agile coaches build confidence and rapport with people.

Facilitation - The next in the list of Agile coach skills is the facilitation skill. This is an ongoing process. An Agile coach acts neutrally providing objective feedback and guidance. This way they facilitate sound decision-making and collaboration. For this, they must get support from the team and other stakeholders to bring about the required changes so that everyone is on the same page. This encourages everyone to work toward a common goal. While in a meeting, Agile coaches do not interfere arbitrarily. Rather, they wait for the right time to intervene, thus allowing the team to find their own solutions using their own knowledge and skills. So, as good facilitators, they possess facilitation skills and tools to bring about positive changes.

Catalyzing - We have already said that Agile coaches are the change agents. They are the leaders who lead transformation. They are required to frequently interact with people in the organization at all levels, from business heads to managers to executives. So, they must act as catalysts for aligning the goals of the organization. This is important because they are the ones who help the team members in further developing their skills and capabilities. So, they have to drive the changes in the right direction. Being the guides and the mentors of the team, the whole process of change revolves around them. So, they have to work hard to bring the whole team to work collaboratively toward achieving the organizational goals.

Great communication skills - Conveying more in fewer words is a skill that not only impresses people but brings conviction also. So, an Agile coach should have the ability to express himself clearly without any lengthy discourse or talk. The idea is to convey the message impactfully and explicitly to the targeted audience. Good communication skills include being a good listener too. This is an important aspect of communication. An Agile coach must be able to listen attentively to the team members so that the conversation doesn't become one-sided and the coach is able to clearly understand the problems being faced by the team members. Comprehending what others are saying and then passing on the precise message in as less words as possible to them is a skill that an Agile coach must possess to build the confidence of the team in him or her.

Handling conflicts - Conflicts within teams or organizations are not so uncommon. Resolving such conflicts needs skills and competencies that are essential for an Agile coach. In Agile, the self-organizing teams are free to work independently and in their own way. It is only natural that there could be differences of opinion. But the self-organizing teams are expected to solve their differences on their own, without any intervention from the management. But they should not be allowed to go out of control. An Agile coach plays a crucial role here. Agile coaches must be able to recognize open or underlying tensions or conflicts and should enable discussions on them. Breaking the ice in such situations is vital and an Agile coach has to take the initiative.

Should be an influencer - An Agile coach may face visible resistance to change. So, he or she can't simply do with telling the Agile rules to the team. They may have to do more. In such situations, the influencing skills of the coach must come to the fore. It is important that they have the capability to overcome hindrances by bearing a positive influence on the team members and mellow down the resistance. They must be able to build such a rapport with the team that every team member listens to them and they have a positive impact on them.

Self-managed - This is one skill that is essential for any coach but particularly so for the Agile coach. This goes a long way in ensuring harmony in the workplace. Coaching is a crucial role and managing one's own self is critical to understanding the needs of the team and the individuals being coached. An Agile coach needs to be calm and should be able to keep his or her emotions under check at all times, particularly when faced with challenging situations. Agile coaches must be able to objectively analyze the situation and the available information before attempting to resolve any issue or situation. It is important that they keep their emotions aside and see the situation from the right perspective before reacting to it. This is extremely important for an Agile coach to be successful.

Agile coaches are people who assist teams and organizations in adapting to the Agile framework and help them in improving and prospering. They are the facilitators of an organization's understanding and implementation of Agile. So, in a way, they are both, the teachers and the mentors. Being subject matter experts, they lead a team's or an organization's journey toward Agile transformation. It needs high technical capability, good facilitation and communication skills, and most importantly, the ability to self-manage. These Agile coach skills and competencies are critical for anyone who wants to become an Agile coach and be an agent of change to bring about transformation for the better.

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