Do you need an Agile Coaching Playbook?

Do you need an Agile Coaching Playbook?

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I happened upon the Boston Consulting Group paper entitled Why Your Agile Coaching Isn’t Working—And How to Fix It.

Here’s a short snippet from the article that I want to use as a backdrop for several points—

The coaching playbook is especially useful when coaches run two-week “sprint” interventions with teams that need to improve a specific capability or to address performance gaps. The coach then chooses from hundreds of “battle-tested” interventions in the playbook that target that capability or performance gap, and designs a sprint plan based on it. At the end of the sprint, the coach and team evaluate the impact of the intervention. Reflecting on the effectiveness of the intervention and creating new ones also helps propagate and improve the catalog of interventions.

“In the early stages of rolling out agile at scale, it’s especially important for coaches to work as a collective so they can coach to the playbook while actively improving it.”

Requiring all coaches to follow the same playbook for interventions has other benefits:

— It demystifies coaching, moving it away from the idea of acolytes following a guru and toward imparting a standard set of skills and ways of working.

— It improves an individual coach’s confidence in their ability to lead change.

— It provides a consistent path for teams new to agile become self-sufficient, which boosts overall effectiveness.

— It accelerates training by having a single, consistent coaching method for both internal and external coaches.

Intervention coaching helps an organization put sufficient team-level coaches in place to make the transition to agile at scale at a pace that’s right for the company’s goals and needs. In the early stages of rolling out agile at scale, it’s especially important for coaches to work as a collective so they can coach to the playbook while actively improving it.

What I want to dig into a bit are the following ideas in the article—

  • Using the term intervention for initiating a coaching relationship.

  • Using the phrase—acolytes following a guru for the agile coaching relationship.

  • The need for an agile coaching playbook.

I honestly can’t think of a worse term to couch agile coaching than the word intervention. Well, perhaps a few, but this is an overloaded and disrespectful term.

And, since words matter, the use of this term clearly illustrates the intention, mindset, and tactics of BCG agile coaches.

It also illustrates how BCG is communicating the coaching role with its clients. So, my advice is don’t use it!

Nowhere in any of the agile coaching literature I’ve read (or written) have we framed the agile coach as a guru. Nor do we refer to the coaching clients as acolytes. There is no hocus pocus, no cultish behaviors, and certainly no worshiping in professional agile coaching.

Again, I believe words have power, and BCG is doing the world of Professional Agile Coaching an extreme disservice using this phrasing. It embarrasses me that they share it with their clients, for goodness’ sake.

I wrote about my feelings about playbooks in this previous post.

I do see value in developing playbooks, particularly in larger-scale agile instances. However, they can become a crutch for under-skilled coaches while also encouraging a mindset that places playbook solutions over individual coaching skills, personal development and self-mastery, and dynamic sensing of the client context.

When I explain the intention behind Self-Mastery and the Mindset of the Agile Coach to students, one of the keys I try to convey is that “cookie cutter” approaches are often dangerous. They can encourage checklist thinking and pattern-based advice in your coaching. Sure, that makes it easier for the coach. Still, it ignores that each of your coaching clients is a unique individual, group, or team of human beings within their unique organizational and business context.

I also contend that it cuts down on our listening and sensemaking skills because we think we know what the (answers, fixes, patterns, and recommendations) are in advance rather than staying present with the client and letting the coaching direction and strategy emerge.

And finally, I believe it’s flat-out disrespectful for your clients because you treat them as commodities and stereotypes.

That I was disappointed in the Boston Consulting Group paper is an understatement. Surprised, no, but very disappointed.

When writing, I think their mindset had little to do with Professional Agile Coaching practices, skills, ethics, competency, and frameworks.

To be clear, if I was interviewing an agile coach and they expressed the recommendations in the paper, I wouldn’t hire them. Competency skills aside, they wouldn’t have the agile coach mindset I look for in experienced and skilled coaches.

I share it here only as an anti-pattern for your learning and avoidance.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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