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Sir, please step away from the team

Picture by AndyWilsonIn conversations with upper management, I often hear that they wish to start using an Agile approach to increase their return on investment (ROI) and the employee motivation – which is great! They have read or have been told that changing their approach should lead to:

  • Delivering solutions that meet the business needs…
  • …without exceeding time lines or costs and…
  • …increase efficiency and productivity.

Many people manager (although not all) understand that people are more motivated when they are self organized and as such, take their commitments more seriously than if the commitments were made by others on their behalf (i.e. their manager).

What is news to many of these managers is the impact an Agile transition will have on them – and their management style. I like to point out that to them that:

  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted;
  • Team performance improves greatly when people settle their own issues;
  • Changes in the composition of the team affect the team’s productivity.

As such, people manager need to learn to:

  • Transfer the authority and the responsibility to the team members to allow them to do their job properly;
  • Avoid interference and micromanagement;
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork;
  • Support learning without systematically penalizing failures;
  • Establish a culture conducive to Agile projects;
  • Adapt their management style to the context of team.

Overall, they must learn to change their management style from a command-and-control approach to a servant leadership style.

Easier said than done – that’s where the Agile Organizational Coach steps in.


Looking for a challenge? You may be interested in an Agile Organizational Coach Job

We are currently recruiting Agile Organizational Coaches.

Main duties and responsibilities

The Agile organizational coach works directly with the Information Technology and Business management teams to help leaders assimilate and apply the Agile principles to their day-to-day activities.

The organizational coach helps transform the traditional management style to a more Agile approach. Thus, the coach helps managers to properly assess the differences between the current situation and a set target. He then works with the managers to define a suitable plan and take concrete actions to address the obstacles encountered during the transition. More specifically, the organizational coach:

  • Through appropriate training, educates managers to the application of  Agile to their management style;
  • Creates groups (communities) of interest and exchange to assist managers in their development;
  • Meets with various stakeholders to understand the fears, challenges, and resistance and provides the necessary support to help them;
  • Participates in various management committees to train members of such committees and support them in their development.


  • Have held a management position within a large organization;
  • A minimum of fifteen years of experience in managing software development teams;
  • A minimum of two years experience in an Agile development environment;
  • Significant experience in project management;
  • Bachelor’s degree in business administration, commerce or management.


General Criteria

  • Political acumen and diplomacy;
  • Ability to find solutions win-win situations;
  • Passionate and self-motivated;
  • Team player;
  • Talented facilitator;
  • Understanding of business needs, business processes and organizational dynamics of a business.

What the heck does an Agile Organizational Coach do?

Picture by icedsoul photography .:teymur madjdereyIf you are in the process of transitioning your organization to an Agile approach, you have certainly realized that moving to Agile impacts more than the software development team – if you haven’t realized it yet, you will eventually find out the hard way 😉

In a large scale transition, it is necessary to work with the various managers to help them understand and assimilate the principles related to Agile and make them integrate those principles into their day-to-day actions. Therefore, an Agile Organizational Coach helps managers change their management approach to a leadership style better suited for an Agile environment.

The transition to a new leadership style is not limited to the software development teams. It also applies to the interactions and relationships with the business team’s managers. Making managers more Agile requires changes in their behavior, more specifically, it requires managers to:

  • Transfer certain powers to the team members themselves so they can determine how best to accomplish their tasks;
  • Define the desired vision, to adapt to the context of each team to ensure alignment with the overall objective of the project and ensure cohesion between the teams and their members;
  • Accept and publicly endorse the idea that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that the old methods are no longer adapted to the new reality;
  • Adapt their style of management when necessary to use an inclusive and democratic approach.

As such, the role of the Agile Organizational Coach is to:

  • Educate managers through appropriate training;
  • Create groups (communities) of interest and exchange to assist managers in their development;
  • Organize individual and group meetings with various stakeholders to understand their fears, their challenges, their resistance and to provide the necessary support to help;
  • Work with groups who require special support during the transition;
  • Participate in management committees where the presence of an agile expert is required.

    Are You a “Fiber One” or a “Cocoa Puffs” Manager?

    In line with my earlier post (Are you an Agile Leader? – Nine questions for people managers), I like to use metaphors to explain various concepts but I also like metaphors to determine the profile of the people attending my presentations. I recently used the cereal metaphor presented below (the power point slide is available here).

    In addition to being a good ice-breaker for the presentation, this slide usually gets people talking about (and sometime defending) their management style. Needless to say the “Fiber One” managers are often the ones who find the agile concepts harder to grasp.

    Which cereal are you?

    Are you an Agile Leader? – Nine questions for people managers

    Picture by angus mcdiarmidOne of the frequent obstacle encountered by project teams when transitioning to Agile is the resistance of their manager. When an executive declares that the organization is moving to Agile, many team members look forward to working differently – that is until their manager gets involved.

    As an organizational coach, I often use a simple questionnaire to assess the level of agility of the managers I deal with. Below are nine questions to help determine how Agile the manager I’m talking to actually is.

    Go ahead – try the short test.

    True or False?

    1. To get the best results, it is preferable to properly control the activities of the team members
    2. A process that is not well defined at the outset will always give sub-optimal results
    3. To reduce the loss of productivity, it is preferable to isolate team members in cubicles and use email as the preferred a mode of communication
    4. A team of experts with specialized knowledge is always more efficient than a multi-disciplinary team
    5. The best tools and processes are those selected by the organization and standardized for all groups
    6. It is generally preferable to thoroughly document what we people do even if it reduces their speed
    7. Money is the best way to keep individuals motivated
    8. It is more important to follow the plan than to adapt to changes
    9. A signed contract is better than an informal agreement to ensure cooperation between different departments

    How did you do?

    If you answered True:

    • 9 times (out of 9): As you enter an Agile transition, your current management paradigms are likely to be severely tested, but with the right mindset and the willingness to change you could be surprised. You may want to take this test again a few months after the beginning of the transition to see how much you have progressed.
    • Between 5 and 8 times (out of 9): You have some of the right reflexes but you haven’t fully grasped the concepts behind Agile. With some work and an open mind, you could modify your leadership style and eventually become an Agile manager.
    • Between 1 and 4 times (out of 9): You’re almost there. You are comfortable with most of the Agile concepts but still need to fine-tune some of your reflexes to make it to the top of the chart.
    • 0 time (out of 9): Congratulations! You seem to understand the Agile approach and the underlying concepts very well. If you behave the way you answered these questions, you are an exemplary Agile leader. Send me an email, I certainly would like to hear from you.

    Seven wrong reasons to adopt Agile

    Picture by eir@siIn conversation with potential clients, I almost always ask them the following question: “Why do you want to move to Agile?” and in most circumstances their answer makes sense. I would get answers such as:

    • We are hoping to improve productivity;
    • We aim to decrease time to market;
    • Turn over has been high and we wish to implement an approach that will increase employee morale;
    • We need to reduce costs;
    • Etc.

    And then, I get what I would call “wrong answers”. Those answers address my question at face value but also show that the decision has not been evaluated for more than thirty seconds. Here are 7 “wrong reasons” to adopt Agile. Go ahead – share yours!

    1. We recently attended a conference and Agile is becoming more popular. If others are doing it, so should we.

    2. Because Gartner and Forrester say so.

    3. Because employees asked us to do so.

    4. Some of our people are available to experiment with a new approach.

    5. Our competitor is gaining market share and they are using Agile. We need to use the same approach if we want to be able to compete.

    6. We produce too much documentation.

    7. Because our boss told us to do so.

    Other interesting articles:

    Destination: Agile Top Eight Reasons Why Organizations Are Making the Switch

    3 Reasons Why I Would Not Do Agile Project Management

    Introducing Agile Methods: Mistakes to Avoid

    Why Agile doesn’t sell with Management ?

    11 Ways Agile Adoptions Fail