What is one of the most important traits of an agile coach?
Patience. Without a doubt, patience is one of the most important things for an agile coach to master.
As you move away from working with individual teams, things take longer to achieve.
Team level agile coaching
When you work with a single team, you spot an opportunity for an improvement or see a coaching opportunity present itself, and you take that moment.
You immediately invest in the practice that best serves your team and within a relatively short span of time, you will receive feedback that lets you know whether it was a valuable intervention or not.
Whilst your feedback is not as immediate as a developer receives, you do see activity and you are able to prove or disprove your hypothesis within days or a couple of weeks at most.
Great teams want to improve and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, so you often see new ideas, recommendations, or action steps to improve deployed within a matter of days after the sprint retrospective.
As a developer, I aimed to commit code every 15 minutes and I would receive immediate feedback as to whether the code was successful or whether it needed to be reworked.
So, working as a scrum master and agile coach meant that I had to adjust to a longer feedback cycle and grow my patience to ensure that I remained focused on what I was trying to achieve and used data and evidence to ensure that I was achieving the right things in the right way at the right time.
As a scrum master and agile coach at the team level, your progress is measured in days rather than hours, but at the enterprise level, it shifts completely and takes considerably longer to get feedback on whether your idea, concept or intervention has merit.
Enterprise level agile coaching
As you move away from a single team and begin to work with multiple teams, and with multiple departments and portfolios and programmes throughout the organization, it takes a great deal of time to implement ideas and receive feedback on whether your hypothesis is valid or not.
Each time you progress higher up the organizational ladder, your feedback cycle will slow down.
Team evolution is a great deal faster than organizational transformation and so you need to develop your patience and curiosity with each step up the ladder.
It isn’t your fault nor is it under your control.
If you want something to happen at the team level, you simply need all the individuals on the team to agree to the experiment or intervention. At the organizational level, you require multiple teams and multiple managers, leadership teams and executives to agree to the proposal.
Each of these individuals within the chain of command have competing priorities and are not always available so that you can walk them through your concept or idea.
Your proposal may also serve the local environment but fall short of the bigger picture which the leadership teams are trying to achieve so you may find that your proposed ideas and concepts need to be reworked, adjusted and presented on multiple different occasions.
In the event that your concept or idea is adopted, you need to wait significantly longer for multiple teams to implement and execute against that idea, and you need to wait longer for the results of those efforts to come back to you.
It also takes more time to compile all the evidence in a coherent fashion and evaluate whether your intervention has helped the organisation achieve a short-term, medium-term or long-term goal.
Some of the programmes you work on take years to complete. Some of the portfolios you are a part of take several years to implement let alone know whether it is the correct course of action or not.
Many of the programmes I am involved in today take a significant amount of time to justify.
We can’t simply walk in and make changes across the organisation based on a hypothesis. We first need to test that hypothesis at the local level with pilots and experiments before we can take what we have learned and apply that to the next level.
We run multiple experiments and use that data and evidence to inform which direction of travel we need to follow, and which elements need to be abandoned.
We also need to present that evidence to leadership teams and executives to achieve buy-in for a proposed direction of travel.
Each experiment takes time, and for that pilot or experiment to succeed, it requires tweaks and adjustments before we can see what is performing versus what isn’t performing. This takes time too.
It takes a great deal of patience to work through the process and slowly check each box before progressing to the next level, based on evidence rather than hypotheses, and repeat the process for each new rung you climb on the organizational ladder.
Performance over time
One of the pilots I was a part of involved the HR department of a large organisation.
The experiment needed to run for long enough to prove or disprove the hypothesis and it also needed to have multiple implementations to test whether we achieved critical mass with this intervention or not.
Because you are dealing with people’s performance within a working environment, it is critical that you observe a great deal of rules, regulations and established guidelines. It needs to be scientific, and it needs to run for a significant period of time before you can conclude that it is successful or not.
Again, this takes patience and close attention to detail over prolonged periods of time.
So, in closing, I would say that patience is one of the most important traits for an Agile coach and something you need to invest a great deal of time and effort mastering.
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