ArticleFebruary 23, 2022 · 5 min read time
The role of an Agile coach is both rewarding and demanding. Personal solid experience in various fields forms a solid cornerstone, but literature can also deepen competence. This article goes through what skills are essential for an agile coach and summarizes our Lean-Agile coach Kirsi Mikkonen’s comprehensive book tips to help you deepen your skills in each area.
An Agile Coach benefits from skills from these six categories:
Lean-Agile practitioner: How solid is your experience of agility? The insights generated through your own experience lead to lasting change that you can pass on to your clients.
Professional coaching: How can you act as a pure coach without an agenda?
Facilitation skills: How can you help larger teams work together?
Domain mastery: In which area do you have strong experience (technology, marketing…)?
Mentoring: Can you set an example of different roles and jump into the part of product owner or Scrum master, for example?
Teaching: Can you deepen your customer’s understanding of the subject by sharing theory?
The six categories mentioned above come from Lyssa Adkins, a pioneer in the Agile coaching field. You will also find her book on Coaching Agile Teams in the list below.
While one’s experience is crucial, literature can also deepen these areas. Below you will find Kirsi’s recommendations to help you build your knowledge of the areas above
1. Study the Lean mindset
It is essential to think of an Agile coach as a Lean-Agile coach, as the whole Agile mindset is based on Lean, of which Agile is one application. It is also crucial for an Agile coach to understand the different frameworks that can approach the elegant way of working. These frameworks include LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), and Kanban. All of these are grounded on customer value. Each frame is based on the same agile principles that are universal and do not change.
Excellent books on the Lean mindset:
Taiichi Ohno: Toyota Production System. Beyond Large-Scale Production
Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Lean mindset, guides the reader to the roots of Lean.
Jeffrey K. Liker: The Toyota Way, 14 Management Principles
Mike Rother: Toyota KATA: Managing people for improvement, adaptability, and superior results
An excellent book for an Agile Coach in particular.
KATA is Lean's Coaching method: how to coach change and change things to a specific direction in small steps.
Small, easy-to-read books that simply explain Lean's principles:
Pascal Dennis and Robert Martichenko: Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade
Teamwork, transparency, learning, failure.
Niklas Modig and Pär Åhlström: This is Lean: Resolving the Efficacy Paradox
Flow optimization vs. resource optimization.
Demonstrated through a concrete example in a hospital environment - agile works regardless of the industry.
Eric Ties: The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses
A classic! What is learning for the customer, how to make the feedback cycle work, understand the customer's wishes and needs, and adapt to one's own customer company.
2. Develop your professional coaching skills
The following books are about coaching and professional development as a coach in any context. The main idea in these is to remain purely a coach, without any hidden agendas.
David Rock: Quiet Leadership: Six steps to transforming performance at work
Easy to read with numerous examples.
David Rock & Linda J. Page: Coaching with the brain in mind: Foundations for Practice
A thick book that explores coaching from many different viewpoints.
David Rock: Your Brain at work: Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long
Ideas for working: When is the brain most active, and what time of day is ideal for doing work that requires much thinking. A brilliant book for constructing the day based on how the brain works.
3. Coaching agile teams
One of the core elements of Agile is the shift from working alone to working together. Therefore, possessing the ability to coach teams and larger groups is worth gold for an Agile coach.
Lyssa Adkins: Coaching Agile Teams.
A must for an Agile coach!
A comprehensive book about the role of the Agile coach.
Esther Derby & Diana Larsen: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great
How do you build a good retrospective and brilliant steps to guiding a retrospective.
Jean Tabaka: Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders
How individuals learn new ways to work in a team.
The elements of cooperation.
Patrick Lencioni: The Five Dysfunctions of a team
How can collaboration in a team be built through trust, and how do we build long-existing teams.
4. Change, self-management, and responsibility
In a genuinely agile organisation, people are self-managing. Genuine self-management is possible once the whole team realises that I must change myself for things to change in my environment – it is of no use to look for reasons outside of oneself.
Christopher Avery: The Responsibility Process
How does one embark on the journey of becoming genuinely responsible.
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.: Mindset. The new psychology of success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential
Fixed mindset versus growth mindset – a growth mindset is vital in an agile organisation.
Charles Duhigg: The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business
James Clear: Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones
5. A constructive, positive language creates trust
Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.: Living Nonviolent Communication
It helps find a way of speaking that builds a common path forward even in difficult situations.
Richard Bandler: The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to build a successful life
The book guides you learn to hear how people talk and what kind of language they use. Is the way of speaking towards change or away from something? There’s a significant difference in the mindsets.
To end with, here are some tips on books that help you to clarify your inspiration.
Simon Sinek: Find Your Why
Amanda Kudo: My little Ikigai journal
Simon Sinek: Together is Better: A little book of inspiration
Enjoy the reading!
Based on everything she’s learned, Kirsi has developed Nitor’s Agile Coaching course, where you will learn professional methods that support your role as an Agile coach. In addition, she introduces several means for facilitation and gives you tools to build and strengthen the Agile mindset in your organisation. Read more about the course here.