What is an Enterprise-level Agile Coach? When people use the term “Agile Coach” it is often not exactly clear what they mean.
Typical Team-level Agile Coach Role
Most often, what they’re talking about as an “Agile Coach” is what I would call a team-level Agile Coach. That is someone who works at a tactical level with individual members of an Agile team to help them become more proficient in executing a Scrum process.
- There is very little standardization or certification for what it takes to become an “Agile Coach” at that level and
- Almost anyone could claim to be an “Agile Coach”.
What Is an Enterprise-level Agile Coach?
Beyond that; however,
- The role of an Agile Coach at an enterprise-level needs to be better-defined and differentiated from a normal team-level “Agile Coach” role.
- An enterprise-level Agile Coach works at a more strategic level to integrate an Agile development process with a company’s business. (See diagram above)
An Agile Coach at an enterprise level typically helps plan and organize an enterprise-level agile transformation.
- However, many Agile Coaches are only trained in Agile from a team-level development process perspective and make the assumption that whatever is good for the development process must be good for the business as a whole
- They also may assume that it is a binary and mutually-exclusive decision to be either “Agile” or “Waterfall” and attempt to force-fit the entire company into an Agile model when the right solution is to fit the approach to the company’s business
The Impact of the Business Environment
The problem is that there is a big difference between companies whose primary business is focused on product development and other types of businesses.
Product Development Companies
- Agile works very well in companies that are in the primary business of developing products (particularly software products). Intuit is an example that develops TurboTax, Quicken, and QuickBooks).
- In those companies, there is a strong and natural alignment between an Agile development process and the overall business goals of the company
- It is very easy to apply an Agile development process in that environment.
Non-Product Development Companies
It is much more difficult to apply an Agile development process in a company that is not in the primary business of developing products. In that kind of business, the relationship of an Agile development process to the company’s overall business strategy is much more indirect.
In companies that are not in the primary business of developing products,
- You can’t just force the company to be “Agile” in order to make the company more amenable to an Agile development process
- The company’s overall culture and business strategy needs to be optimized around the critical success factors for that business
Fitting the Approach to the Business
- If a company is in a business that requires operational excellence, it needs to focus its overall culture and business strategy primarily on efficiency of operations and reducing costs and
- That doesn’t necessarily align completely with just becoming more “Agile”.
- In that kind of environment, you have to develop a strategy that considers both the company’s business strategy and the requirements of an Agile development process to develop a well-integrated approach.
- The implementation of that strategy often requires fitting the approach to the company’s business environment rather than simply trying to force-fit the company to some kind of overall Agile approach.
Blending Agile and Plan-Driven Project Management
The approach that you might wind up with in that kind of environment also could be a blend of Agile and traditional plan-driven management principles and practices blended together in the right proportions to fit the situation. That is a lot more difficult thing to do and requires a lot more skill than a typical team-level Agile coach would normally have. It requires an understanding of:
- Agile principles and practices; as well as
- Traditional project management principles and practices
- And a deeper understanding of the principles behind both of them (not just the mechanics) to know how to blend them together as necessary to fit a given situation
Beyond that; however, it also requires the ability to look at a very complex, broad-based, enterprise-level business from both a more strategic high-level business management perspective as well as a more tactical product development process perspective to develop a strategy for integrating the two.
What often seems to happen is
- Someone who is trained in “Agile” from a development process perspective attempts to steer the company in the right direction and
- That person typically doesn’t have the breadth of business management experience and agile development process experience to know how to successfully integrate the two.
Is it any wonder why some of these “Agile transformations” are not successful?
You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.