Derk-Jan de Grood works as an Agile transition coach for Squerist. As a consultant, he helps organizations with their Agile transformation and embedding quality. He’s an experienced trainer and he wrote several successful books. In 2016, he published “Agile in the real world - Starting with Scrum”. On his blog, he shares his knowledge and experience for everyone to benefit.  

28 January

“We’ve mastered the Agile way of working. The teams will continue doing their work, whether you coach them or not.” I just started a new assignment as an Agile coach and did my new manager just tell me that I wasn’t needed?

Agile has been around for many years and some organizations are pretty far in adopting the Agile practices and mindset. Others are just starting and many are struggling to make it work. In this transformation, I distinguish three waves that have their own challenges and scope. In part 1 of this article, we had a look at the first two: teaching Agile and training the teams, followed by cross-team alignment. The third wave comes with teams building a technical product and changing their focus to delivering value and boosting business performance. As in the first two waves, there might be a downfall in maturity as more people in the enterprise get involved, but this will enable a further acceleration in business delivery.

The three phases of Agile. The challenges and scope change as Agile maturity grows over time.

Understanding and recognizing the waves of an Agile journey helps to grasp the different perceptions organizations have and enables us to tailor our coaching approach. The first reviewers of this article started to map their organization on the waves and spontaneously indicated which practices were already in place and what they needed to work on. I, therefore, believe it will enable us to have a better grip on Agile transformations and help us to explain why we focus on certain aspects. It puts our interventions in perspective and provides a roadmap for the organization. It also offers insight into how the role of an Agile coach is developing.

The third wave: business focus

In the third wave, organizations revisit their business focus. Agile never is a goal in itself, so it’s good to challenge the impact of the adoption. Does the way of working yield better quality, a shorter time-to-market and more delivered value? The performance dialogue changes once more and will be business aligned rather than release focused. After all, it’s not about the release, it’s about business impact.

By now, management will need to show agile leadership. They need to lead the way by explaining the strategic themes, defining the business aim of the next release and helping the product owners to prioritize. In order to do this right, the IT organization needs a clear definition of its commercial products. Some organizations have this in place, but many still have a systems way of thinking. Product and customers aren’t well defined. Once the products are defined, their relative customer value can be determined. Release planning should be based on the value and include cross-product dependencies. Dependencies outside the organization may lead to delays or introduce inefficiencies.

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Leadership should stimulate raising these impediments and take an active role in eliminating them. Most organizations I work with have too much on their plate. When product owners indicate that their teams are unable to deliver the requested or expected epics, it’s up to the leaders to take action. No matter how difficult this may be in the corporate culture, they should address this at their level. This implies that in the third wave, higher management needs to adopt the Agile way of working as well.

Typical challenges Wave 1 Wave 2 Wave 3
Agile roles Defining and helping the product owner and scrum master to fill in their role effectively Discussing the management role in relation to the product owner and scrum master role Empowering leadership with management
Collaboration Stimulating interdisciplinary collaboration within the teams Stimulating the product owner and team members of different teams to align, helping and integrating their work Stimulating cross-team collaboration with a focus on delivering a business product
Dependencies Discussing dependencies between user stories and optimizing work during sprints Making team interdependencies transparent and part of the portfolio planning Making cross-product dependencies transparent and part of the commercial release planning
Governance Measuring Agile maturity of the teams based on the execution of events Measuring Agile maturity based on the adoption of Agile values and team autonomy Measuring Agile maturity based on quality, predictability and delivered value
Organization/team structure Forming teams based on history or required skills Reorganizing teams into feature teams Reorganizing teams around customer journeys
Quality Ensuring all user stories are tested according to the DoD Organizing integration and end-to-end testing on the integrated system Measuring the perceived quality (of the business solution)
Release planning Planning sprints with the team to work on the most important items Engaging overall portfolio planning with the product owners of the teams, thinking in minimal viable products/releases Drafting an organizational roadmap and defining minimal viable products with business stakeholders focused on business value
Review and demo Organizing reviews for the team and involving stakeholders Organizing collective review sessions with other teams and involving business stakeholders Reviewing and demoing the completed features and epics with respect to the business goals defined for the minimal viable product
Performance metrics Completion of sprint goals Completion of release or quarterly goals Business KPI based on delivered value, net promoter score, compliancy

In the third wave, the Agile coach is working closely with the leaders. Giving them feedback on their leadership style, addressing concerns and protentional problems. The coach helps setting up the performance dialogue and defines the appropriate metrics for key characteristics such as value and predictability. He or she facilitates design sprints at various levels in the organization to align the product definition and view on customer value. Root cause analysis sessions can be held with the teams to optimize the flow and get bottlenecks on the table. Not seldom this will yield insights into process flows and team dynamics that can be improved. Once again, the impact will be addressed on a higher corporate level and involve business management as well.

Note that there’s still a need for team coaching and teaching the basics. Teams tend to fall back in maturity. On top of that, the demands put on them change and the product owner and scrum master roles evolve as the organization transforms into a more agile enterprise. Even in the third wave, Agile coaches will need to guide the teams to grow their Agile maturity and business impact. However, we also see new roles emerge for them: in the third wave, they’ll act like counselors and business consultants with a strong focus on empowering leadership and optimizing business value. Since only a few organizations are already in the third wave, these roles aren’t clearly defined yet, but I believe they’ll shape the Agile coach of tomorrow.

Edited by Nieke Roos