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What is the one thing you must do before starting any engagement as an agile coach?

What is the one thing you must do before starting any engagement as an agile coach?

It’s contract.

In the world of coaching, contract is when you sit down with your client and work out what the coaching session or engagement is going to be about.

It is where you define what the client is trying to achieve and why that matters to them.

It isn’t a surface level conversation, instead you are looking to really understand what it is that you are there to help them with and dig two or maybe even three levels down so that you have a great understanding of what the client is trying to achieve and how you can assist them.

  • Why is this important?
  • Why is it important now?
  • What are the driving forces behind the decision to adopt coaching?
  • What are they hoping to achieve through the coaching sessions?

As an agile coach, you need to be doing this for the whole engagement.

You need to be speaking to the customer or sponsor to understand what they are hoping to achieve at each level of the coaching engagement, why it is important to them, and how you can create or deliver value through your coaching.

So, it isn’t about turning up at the coaching engagement and working with the team to adopt scrum or Kanban, although you might be doing that, it is instead about learning what is important to the client, why it matters to them, and understanding what they require of you, as a coach.

You need to clearly understand what measures are important to the business so that you can perform your craft in the right way, with a clear idea of what needles you need to move in order for the client to derive tangible value from the engagement.

Improving flow may be important to you, as an agile coach, but the client may be more interested in increasing employee satisfaction. You need to be aware of the measures that truly matter.

The goal determines what you are going to do and how you are going to approach the problem.

It determines what steps you take and how you engage with the team.

So, the one thing I would recommend that you do upfront is sit down with your client and have the conversation. It isn’t coaching, it’s more about consulting and negotiation.

You are trying to develop an understanding of what problems they are attempting to solve and what they are trying to build, nurture or create. This becomes your North Star.

  • What are you looking for from an Agile coach?
  • How do you want to go about this?
  • What measures are you looking to improve?
  • How would you define whether this coaching engagement is a success or not?
  • What would you like to see emerge from the coaching sessions?

Really dig deep and get to the roots of why they are investing in an Agile coach.

You also want to be clear about how you, as the agile coach, are going to be measured and how those metrics will inform whether you are doing a valuable job or not.

This affords you the clarity of purpose. You know why you are there and what you need to achieve, both personally as well as professionally, for the engagement to be considered a success.

These conversations and the information you gather is what is going to allow you to formulate an approach to the engagement and measure, frequently and consistently, how you are performing against the goals and objectives behind your engagement.

It will also focus your efforts.

You won’t be wasting time and effort on things which don’t matter to your client and the team will be able to see whether they are improving, in alignment with business goals and objectives, and how each intervention or action taken moves the needle on that performance.

If you don’t start with a contract and don’t invest the time and energy into understanding what you are there to do and why that matters, you are simply just going to do ‘stuff’.

You see this a great deal with newbie agile coaches.

They are busy, busy, busy yet achieve very little. They have a world of things they are trying to implement or change and very few people know why they are doing what they are doing or how that aligns with the business goals and objectives.

It becomes incredibly hard for those coaches to justify why they are there and what, ultimately, the organization is paying for. It is difficult for teams to understand what the coach is trying to achieve and why they should invest additional time and effort in those tasks, sessions, or recommendations.

The agile coach is simply reacting the environment and attempting to put out fires. They see something and make an intervention. They witness something that doesn’t appear to be textbook ‘agile’ and set about ‘correcting’ that without a deep understanding of what matters and why.

They can invest months of hard work and effort into a client engagement without achieving anything that the client or the team truly values.

Don’t be that coach.

Take the time to understand why you are being engaged, what success for the team and the organization looks like, and how your efforts will be measured. It makes all the difference in the world.

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit or connect with John on LinkedIn at

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.

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author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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