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Created on 04.03.2019

An agile coach – what on earth is that?

Agile work has many benefits but it also has to be practised. Because it only works when uncertainties have been eliminated and participants are on the right path. This is where agile coaches such as Felix Bucher from PostFinance can provide support. Drawing on his own experiences, he describes what his role encompass.

In order to react faster and more flexibly to the markets’ needs, more and more organizations, including PostFinance, are implementing agile work methods. In most cases its about bringing products to customers quicker. Agile teams act independently and manage themselves as much as possible. 

Agile work changes values, principles and cooperation.

But what has this got to do with coaching? With the introduction of agile project management and agile work methods, hierarchies, responsibilities, values and principles also change. Or rather: they are thrown into confusion. For example, every team member takes on leadership tasks in an agile team, whereby traditional leadership work and management responsibility is divided up.

It sounds simple and obvious – but it’s not. The shift in roles, responsibilities and balance of power leads to resistance and insecurities and frequently get in the way of agile work. This is where the work and main task of an agile coach begins, to ensure that the changes in the company can work and are long-term and lasting. 

A coach steers the process and supports the structural change.

The coach provides suggestions, tries to improve the process quality and acts less as a problem solver. The task is to support the team and organizations, so they can solve problems independently and continue to develop. Mutual trust is very important for success – this means openness and transparency, direct and honest feedback as well as voluntariness. In order for the agile coach to provide optimal assistance to the team in terms of agility, they must not only know the theory behind the agile approaches but also draw from their own experiences. They must also have the ability to communicate this knowledge to the teams and organization.

The coach and team define goals together which are orientated towards strengthening capacity and self-guidance. The coach ensures that real added value is created and encourages the team in their actions. The agile coach also takes the values and principles of agile working into account and ensures they are upheld.

Improving direct communication as well as unconditional transparency are frequently the key drivers for the move towards more agility. Agile work usually goes hand in hand with a cultural shift, which is supported by the coach as required.  

An agile coach is a trainer and advisor

Depending on the assignment and its design, the role of an agile coach can change. This is also linked to the experience and maturity of the team. A coach is more often than not a trainer for a team which is starting to get to grips with the agile principles. Coaches convey the agile values and principles, explain agile methods and helps introduce these into the team. How much communication is necessary? Enough to be able to get things started.

Its important that a team can learn by experience, or rather must, to an extent where the coach becomes redundant. In this phase, the coach is not a trainer but rather an advisor or expert, who selectively supports the team with issues and steers them in a common direction. An agile coach can also act as a mentor, moderator and mediator, always on the condition that they are able to and are wanted by the team.

With their experience, coaches can help connect teams and knowledge by, for example, making teams aware of communities of practice (in German) and motivating them to take part.  

Starting at the end

The aim of every coach must be to not be needed by their team anymore, because the team has internalized the values and principles of self-organization and self-guidance. Every coach should set to work with this aim in mind. They give the team as much input as it needs for it to become self sufficient again. They also demonstrate possible paths or courses of action, but the team decides which path it wants to take.

About the author

Felix Bucher is an agile coach in various teams at PostFinance, in the context of agile transformation and The link will open in a new window DevOps. He has been using agile methods himself for the past seven years. He is also happy to share his knowledge in coaching sessions and training. Felix is convinced that in the future, agile values and principles will bring significant added value for PostFinance. 

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