Becoming an Agile Coach – 7 Tips for Client Engagement

I recently spoke with an aspiring Agile Coach the other day and spent a couple hours coaching him through taking on work as an Agile Coach and beginning his next path into coaching. *An exciting process indeed!*

He had a great list of questions queued up for me, but as we moved into the conversation it quickly became apparent to me that we needed to do was set a few ground rules… (a framework that I personally follow) with my clients.

Below are 7 areas to consider when beginning your trek into Agile Coaching and for any of us in the coaching realm, a healthy refresher of how to engage with a client!

7 Tips for Agile Coaching

1.  Don’t “jump” at the first offer (or what may seem to be the best offer) when a client comes knocking… or a recruiter comes knocking 

  • ask a ton of questions – About the environment, culture, and nuances of the client or engagement.
  • seek wise counsel – know people that have worked there? Other Agile Coaches? Get the skinny before you dip.
  • what are “your” motives for considering it – Is this a strategic client to go after, or a paycheck?
  • don’t force your family and spouses to accept this new reality – A personal anecdote from a guy who has been traveling for over 10+ years, and… over 400,000 hotel points (@ 1000 points/stay). If you’re jumping into this and it includes travel. Get support for it  … as you would with any career choice!

2.  Show up as a servant, not a savior

  • confidence is one thing, arrogance is another – Reality check. You don’t know everything about your client. You don’t have all the answers… yet.
  • respect the heritage of the past – YOU ARE A LEARNER BEFORE YOU ARE A LEADER – need to earn the right to make the right changes.
  • lose the “I’ll make it right” attitude – You most likely have the right attitude, but you won’t fix everything (consider person/cultural dynamics). It’s impossible.
  • your job: to listen, to learn, and position potential change where applicable – At the right pace. We can’t eat an elephant in one sitting… but in the course of a year, you can gobble it up.
  • your mission: to lead people towards sustainable change – The goal is to LEAVE your client. Build up champions at the company, get the positive change to be part of the cultural DNA and then leave. Want a tough note? – If you’ve been at a client for more than 12 months (as a true change-agent Agile coach) you’ve been in-effective and need to leave. *OK – So what if it’s an enterprise company with 100K+ employees doing a 3+ year transformation. True. You’d need to stay longer… but… I’d wonder if you’d get somewhat “pickled” in the process. Tell me I’m wrong here.

3.  Learn as much as you can as fast as you can

  • digest the history of the client – This will reveal vital insights to why and how things are done.
  • discover the strengths and weakness of the client from the perspective of the membership – Not just the leadership.
  • learn what motivates the people (what do they speak excitedly about?) – Understand their cultural and business dynamics.

4.  Gather some “change” before you implement change

  • this is the initial leeway the people give you upon arrival – See what ‘change’ is going to look like at this client. One size doesn’t fit all. Just because you kicked-butt at a previous client doesn’t mean you can cookie-cutter it over here cowboy.
  • we can increase the change – By being a positive change agent with a positive outlook.
  • we can decrease the change – By being a jerk, insensitive, and situationally-unaware. As far as I know, there aren’t any PhD’s in Agile Coaching (ie. knowing it all). So be a servant leader first.

5.  Align your productive strengths with the clients greatest need(s)

  • create a backlog of your client’s needs – Do a workshop with a client to create a working backlog of what they need to accomplish. Match this with ROI and your specific skill-sets to get it going.
  • you’re great at some stuff, but not everything – That’s the reason why there are teams of coaches at some engagements. Because you can’t do everything and frankly you’re not good at everything anyway.
  • know your own strengths and behavior patterns for positive change – Know thyself. Understand how you can effect change the most effectively.

6.  Invest more time in less people

  • minimize meeting with people about things that are not significant – Yes. Once people hear that the “great Agile Coach” is here, you’ll be pulled in many different directions. Focus.
  • practice the multiplication principle – Delegate and coach others to take on personal responsibility. You’re not the savior, you’re here to model and coach others to sustainable pace.
  • make meetings about changing lives (as much as possible) – Another personal anecdote. Changed lives (within a company) equal changed output, work-ethic, and delivery of products and services to a company. Don’t believe me? Let’s chat. I spent 7+ years in 3 Masters degrees studying organizational change, culture, and enterprise processes and then employing the human-side of software development at my clients and have worked with some of the most fantastic Agile Coaches in the world employing this method. They too, know this.

7.  Communicate vision from your heart and mind

  • provide direction – Clear, concise, and actionable direction. Give it straight.
  • express belief in the people of the company and leadership to change – It begins with a positive mindset that things can change for the better. You’re belief… (faith?) might be the glue that gets things going to where they need to be.
  • deliver hope – My last personal anecdote. Without hope we can never change. With hope, all things are possible.

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