Why an Agile Coach is Vital to Your Modernization Efforts

Blog

September 18, 2020

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

While organizations undertake legacy modernization, they tend to focus on what is being done. For example, moving to the cloud, using updated technology stacks, and releasing a new product to stay competitive in the marketplace. All of these are important aspects of your modernization, and they should be taken seriously; however, including a large focus on how these things are accomplished is often not examined deep enough. We see organizations determine the “how” regarding processes, such as how they will shift from on-premises to cloud-hosted deployments or move from Java EE monolith to a more focused microservice architecture.

But, I ask you this—have you thought about how to transition your teams to work with these new technologies? Or how to build a culture that enables effective communication across business and technology teams? Or how do we manage all of this change at once and decide what is the most important thing to do right now? You may have determined to make the shift to an agile methodology and implement Scrum along with modernizing your technology; however, is establishing that agile process alone enough?

The answer to these questions lies within an effective Agile coach on your teams. Agile coaches are an asset because they assist your teams with establishing a culture that empowers people to speak up when they see issues, make recommendations when they see opportunities, and refine an agile team’s processes to deliver more value to your customers in less time. All of this works to limit the risk your organization takes on when modernizing legacy systems.

An Agile Coach Puts People First

If you played sports at all in your life, I would like to think there was a coach you had that left an impact on your life. For myself, one baseball coach took the time to invest in me as a person. He not only cared about my performance on the field but also in the classroom and the community. He took the time to learn about where I wanted to be and guided me in the steps to get there. Reflecting on those conversations, I have found that, more often than not, he asked questions that drove me to make my own decisions. This is exactly what an Agile coach is designed to do with teams.

Understanding that your teams consist of people, not resources, helps establish an effective culture of agility. All of these people bring their own experiences, expertise, and opinions, and, if you value their input, they can impact your organization. People are the driving force of growth inside your organization. Influence from team members across the organization can revolutionize your product offerings.

All of this is heightened by adding Agile coaches to your teams. Coaches are there to develop a culture of psychological safety, enabling team members to speak their minds and make a change. Not only does this happen at the team level, but coaches are challenged to make organizational changes with the support of their senior leadership.

Much like my high school baseball coach, Agile coaches use their soft skills to create an environment where team members are empowered to make decisions to improve their and the team’s ability to deliver high quality, high value, working software to customers. An Agile Coach will strive to have software development teams deliver more valuable software in less time and with less defects.

This is achieved through deep coaching conversations where team members have the opportunity to ask for advice on how to improve. Coaches are trained on techniques needed to drive a team member to a decision that can be implemented. These conversations can only occur when your agile teams’ culture and the organization allows for open communication, psychological safety, and job security, regardless of the recommendations team members propose. Having a culture in which this is embraced also leads towards higher morale across team members, improved job satisfaction, and lower attrition rates.

An Agile Coach Refines and Improves Process

During a modernization effort, it is likely your organization also made the transition to agile and chose a process framework, such as Scrum. Agile coaches are expected to be knowledgeable in multiple frameworks to help drive process improvements.

While Scrum has its strengths, there are also points of friction on many teams, and resolving those is under the ownership of the team’s Scrum Master. Like any other role, Scrum masters need someone more senior to rely on for mentorship and guidance when overcoming hurdles on their team(s). When coaches put people first, it creates an environment of open communication and deep conversations to determine these solutions.

Scrum is not a one-size-fits-all approach, hence it being named the “Scrum Guide” and not the Scrum rulebook. Each team will need to modify their process to enable them to deliver a shippable product increment at the end of a sprint. An Agile coach is there to help a Scrum Master learn from their experience on multiple teams to pick the things that have worked best in the past and incorporate them into their current teams’ workflow. More often than not, these decisions for process change can come out of a sprint as an action item. An Agile Coach could take co-ownership with the Scrum Master to help guide the team into the new process and validate its success or failure.

Coaches, along with Scrum Masters, are responsible for pushing teams forward in mindset, driving them to deliver value-adding features every sprint, and improving a team’s process is one way to accomplish that. Putting a working framework in place and continuously refining and improving it, helps team members feel engaged in their work, and, therefore, a part of the larger legacy modernization process. An Agile coach is responsible for the facilitation of change by mentoring, training, and teaching not only a development team but businesses as a whole.

An Agile Coach Delivers Value

Agile coaches are not only for software development teams; they can also be a coach to a Product Owner. Establishing a Product Owner on an Agile team has likely been overlooked during legacy modernization. Product Owners are needed to work alongside the Scrum Master in leading an Agile team to deliver value. Having a Product Owner participate in a regular cadence of Agile coaching will enable effective roadmap creation. Having a product roadmap allows an Agile team to understand what is upcoming for development, and they can begin focusing on the value they will deliver to customers.

Many Scrum Masters work with a product owner to convey this value to a Scrum team, but teams fall short in understanding value when they become indented with old project management styles and task completion tracking. While an effective Scrum Master can reiterate the value a team is delivering, adding an Agile Coach to the team can keep conversations and processes focused on value versus checking items off a to-do list. They assure the all-important agile mindset is first and foremost.

In fact, agile methodology encourages the delivery of working and valuable software over excessive project management. This enables your Scrum Master to work with a self-organizing Scrum team to track work completion. If delivering valuable software is part of your modernization effort, effective agile coaching is critical.

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Our 2020 Legacy Modernization Report is here.

We surveyed hundreds of IT executives to understand their biggest challenges. See the survey results, symptoms of legacy systems, and our business solutions on modernization to improve business success.

An Agile Coach Drives Culture

As we progress as a society, we see the increase of distributed work, a younger workforce that uses every bit of technology they get their hands on, and a busier instant gratification lifestyle. This is impacting organizations that are looking to hire the top talent available.

At Levvel, we have learned that skill is anywhere, so our recruiting pool is nationwide. We have cemented an Agile Mindset and culture that encourages collaboration, communication, and trust in your teammates. This empowers our employees all over the country, and, with the click of a button, it’s as if we are sitting across from each other in a conference room. Yes, that means we have technology like Slack and Zoom in place, but these applications are only effective if we see them as a tool to drive an agile culture and not only as a resource to complete a task.

Having the appropriate culture, along with effective tools, drives the possibility of a successful modernization. Establishing a culture where people are treated like people, and processes and technology can always be improved, can set your organization up for a successful modernization.

An Agile Coach Limits Risk

Pulling all of these things together is where a team of Agile coaches make a true impact on your modernization efforts. Their ability to listen to team members, drive process improvements for teams and the organization, drive continuous value delivery to customers, and build an Agile culture will drive down the risk associated with modernization. As change happens across the organization, Agile coaches are experienced in working with multiple teams to achieve organizational and business agility, thus increasing their receptiveness to change.

If you find that a scaling framework is needed, you will also need an Enterprise Agile coach. Filling an Enterprise Agile coach role is necessary to drive technical and business agility, while also serving as a coach for multiple Agile teams. If you need to scale due to the number of Agile teams you have, there are outlined coaching roles for most scaling implementations. For example, agile coaching in SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) would be the responsibility of a Release Train Engineer or Solution Train Engineer, and agile coaching is outlined as an aspect of LeSS (Large Scale Scrum).

An Enterprise Agile coach would own multi-team, program, and enterprise-level planning activities, such as quarterly planning or Scrum of Scrums. These ceremonies put multiple teams together in an environment where potential impediments and risks are discussed and worked through. Having a coach in the room to create a safe environment to ask powerful questions allows these risks to be called out, and mitigation plans to be determined.

Nevertheless, this is not easy, and it does not happen overnight. Breaking down long-standing workplace barriers is much like replacing old technology—it is going to take time, there will be failures, and some people may find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. However, Agile coaches thrive when others are outside of their comfort zone. This is where true change can occur within an individual, then on a team, then at the organizational level. Much like your legacy modernization, the Agile journey consists of navigating everchanging roadways, and an Agile Coach is tasked with steering teams in the direction best suited for them.

Have any other thoughts, or need some help getting Agile coaches engaged with your teams? Give us a shout at hello@levvel.io

Authored By

Bill Moll

Senior Project Management Consultant

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Meet our Experts

Bill Moll
Senior Project Management Consultant

Bill Moll is a Senior Project Management Consultant for Levvel. Throughout his career he has been involved in all aspects of software engineering, including manual and automated testing, as well as back and front end development. He now serves our clients as a Project Manager, Scrum Master, and Agile Coach. Bill uses his skillset to help deliver value to customers, improve processes and develop efficient and cross-functional teams. Bill graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a B.S in Computer Science.

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