If someone asks for an Agile Coach, how do you know if you can help?


Hi community!

I have recently been approached with two completely different agile coaching assignments: 1. Agile coach to help teams work with more test automation technically hands on. 2. Agile coach to work with a very large public sector organisation top down (only on the business side, not IT) to identify value streams to initiate a SAFe transformation and potenial reorg.

I think this illustrates how different an agile coaching assignment can be. I would guess that in a lot of cases, someone who calls themselves an Agile Coach might not feel completely comfortable helping with both of those assignments, as they are so different in nature… Although I’m sure there are exceptions.

My questions is: What is the definition of an Agile Coach? What different flavours are there? If someone asks for an Agile Coach, how do you qualify whether you can help them or not?


So if a sports team advertised for a coach, they’d be specific about what they are looking for. First, obviously, would be the sport itself. No baseball coaches applying for a football team probably. Then, do you want a head coach, QB coach, receiver coach, running back coach, offensive line coach, defensive line coach, defensive back coach, etc.? So unless it is clear what the coach is expected to do, you would not know.

In the Agile space, if someone asks for an “enterprise” coach does that mean a coach who will work across the entire organization at the management level doing transformation work or one working across the organization to help POs and SMs (assuming they are doing Scrum as an example) be more effective? Should such a coach expect to conduct training sessions? Should they expect to have to do more traditional project management work (too)? And is that latter expectation not something a coach should be involved with.? And does it mean, if the client is asking for that PM activity, that the client doesn’t know what a coach is all about?

I look at things like LinkedIn posts for Agile coaches (not because I am looking) to see what companies think they want under that title. Doing so certainly makes your point about the vagueness of what “Agile Coach” means.


The sports metaphor is a good one. All teams need a person to lead with a common core set of skills related to the sport/discipline, but each organization has its own strengths and weaknesses that are the current base to be worked from.

I personally look at my past experiences and extrapolate which cultures, environments, and problems I’m most experienced at. I seek out those new opportunities that overlap with past work, but extend from that comfort zone into new areas for growth reasons. I will sometimes consider if my skills can be applied in other places. I do make sure though that I avoid places that are not aligned in any way to my pathway. Both of the examples you give are paths I can not take (and don’t desire to), but I still have many others variant agile coaching pathways that I do focus on.

Another metaphor might be mechanic. Just because you work on common street cars does not qualify you to work on a fleet of cargo trucks. My father works on Caterpillar construction equipment which makes him perfect for agricultural equipment also, but not Honda Accords.

There are many problems to solve, there’s room for all of us. Just do your best to carry the servant leadership mantra and hold the agile mindset at the forefront of your message!


Thanks for some good advice and some Interesting metaphors guys.

Just to throw another into the mix: We need a policeman. Ok, but do you need someone for the SWAT team, patrol car, narcotics expert, administrative, gang-expert, technical crime scene investigator, manager, or something else? (Disclaimer: I know nothing about how recruitment works in the police force.)

From another forum (thanks Viktor Cessan) I got this resource which I thought could be a great platform for centering a discussion around, with a potential suitor:
I haven’t tried it yet, but will go experiment! :slight_smile:


My style of coaching involves asking lots of questions, so that’s typically how I start the conversation with a potential client. Not questions about the role, but questions about the team and the product and the challenges they face, whatever comes to mind from my own curiosity.

Sometimes they just look at me funny, because the questions I’m asking aren’t interesting or relevant or they just don’t want certain things to be questioned, and we don’t end up working together.

Sometimes they get a flash of insight prompted by my questions and we see the value of working together right away.

And sometimes it’s a delayed reaction. I once talked to a potential client over lunch and asked lots of questions as usual, and the questions didn’t click so we didn’t proceed with working together. But three or four months later his team was facing challenges that made him realize that my questions were indeed relevant, so he called me back and I ended up working with them for a solid couple of years.


The first question I ask potential clients is: What makes you think you need a coach? Some people say they want a coach when in reality they want a consultant, there’s a big difference between the two.

Afterwards, I use my professional coaching skills to dig deeper to help them discover their goals and the reality of what’s going on.

If they like what they are experiencing then we move on from there.

Regardless, I always start off in the coaching stance.


Thematically with some of the other observations - Is the org looking for a coach-as-expert who will provide directive solutions? Or is the org functioning as a client wanting coach-as-coach help the client to uncover possibilities and create accountability? Building on the reference to Agile Coaching Institute and Lyssa’s book - what stance(s) are required?