Knowing what to look for to succeed at agile transformations
Knowing what to look for to succeed at agile transformations

How to Implement an Agile Mindset

The hardest part of undergoing an agile transformation is to implement an agile mindset. Cultivating an agile mindset requires a seasoned coach who will be able to demonstrate and teach the values of the agile manifesto, as well as the technical skills that form part of the underlying principles and methods.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies select their agile coaches based on certifications only, which is placing the emphasis on the technical skills, neglecting the importance of the coaching skills and mindset.

Beyond everything else, however, an agile coach is a coach. Sure, they need to be a master of the agile methods they are trying to teach, yet this alone does not make you a master at teaching agile — it makes you a master at doing agile.

There’s a difference. A big one.

A master at agile methods alone can show people how to do agile, while a master at teaching agile methods on the other hand, is a transformational architect, instilling an agile mindset throughout the organization. Someone who is able to inspire change, someone who empowers the people to grow an agile mindset, someone who teaches the teams how to learn how to be agile, rather than telling them how to do it.

Both roles have value, and while you might need either the one or the other, best results are always when there is a marriage of two complementing, yet opposing forces. In the case of undergoing an agile transformation, this is no different.

The difficulty lies more in knowing what to expect and what to look for in an agile coach. Here are the top 10 things to look for when choosing an agile coach:

1. An agile coach starts with a problem

As any seasoned consultant will tell you, the answer to any question is always “it depends”. The same rings true to an agile transformation.

Although it might have some value in implementing a standard Scrum practice in your workplace, a really good coach, will rarely start with a big bang approach, implementing an entire solution such as Scrum in one go.

Rather, a really good coach will first observe and do a problem analysis by speaking to the different stakeholders to get a holistic view of the problem, not only management’s perspective of it.

Anything the agile coach suggests to implement, will be as a result of solving a problem.

That means that they are a master of Scrum and other agile methods, and know it well enough to be able to make a judgement call as to what is needed to alleviate a specific problem.

2. An agile coach defines success

A really good agile coach will always embark on a leadership coaching journey as part of their service offering, as they understand the importance of defining success on an organizational level, as well as ensuring alignment to the vision and values of the company.

All coaching sessions start with defining your goals. It is a way of knowing when you’ve reach your goal. Without first taking the take to concretely define some measurable goals, an agile transformation might risk carrying on forever without making any measurable progress.

A seasoned agile coach will not only help you define what success looks like, but make sure that you constantly reach defined milestones and can see and quantify progress.

3. An agile coach takes one step at a time

Like the story of the tortoise and the hare, an agile coach can be compared to the tortoise. They slowly, yet surely, progresses towards the defined goals and make sure that everyone stays on track.

In the story, the hare got distracted, and too late realized that the tortoise has overtaken him. Similarly, a good agile coach realizes that the teams they work with risk being distracted as they speed up, and will put measures in place to keep everyone focused on their goal.

They will implement one change at a time and ensure that it has become ingrained in the habits and culture before incorporating the next ingredient.

4. An agile coach perseveres

The one thing you can be sure of when you embark on an agile transformation is that there will be obstacles. A really good agile coach will help you overcome these obstacles.

A good agile coach will ensure that the organization meets it’s milestones, even when the going gets tough.

It’s easy to keep going when things go according to plan, but it’s when things start falling apart that you can see the courage and integrity of the leader and the coach.

5. An agile coach helps you gain a different perspective

A really good coach asks the right questions to help you see a different perspective. They don’t tell you what to do, or how to do it. Rather, they demonstrate a possibility, and then ask probing questions that will help you come up with your own solution.

The really good agile coach allows you to experiment to find a sustainable solution, and point out possible issues by asking questions. They empower you to make your own decisions, and your own mistakes.

6. An agile coach supports, rather than suffocates

They don’t tell you what to do, but they also don’t leave you on your own to struggle through the problem. They have found the perfect balance between allowing you to grow, while ensuring that you have all the support in place that you need in order to reach your goal.

A really good agile coach trusts the people they work with. They remain objective and fair, yet caring and interested.

7. An agile coach keeps the big picture in mind

While a Scrum Master is concerned with the details of the team they work with, the agile coach has a helicopter view of the entire organization. They see and point out the impact of changes on other parts of the organization. They realize that you are as weak as your weakest link, and you can only be as agile as your least agile team or department.

The Agile Coach ensures continuity and harmony throughout the organization.

8. An agile coach values people more than process and tools

Though people, process and tools are equally important in an organization, it is hard to keep these in balance, as there is a constant dance between what is important at different times within the organization.

The agile coach knows that process and tools support people, and constantly question whether the processes and tools in the organization does.

9. An agile coach is compassionate and fair

An agile coach never follows rules blindly, or make judgements based on a pre-defined set of rules. An agile coach judges each situation after carefully evaluating it from different perspectives.

They realize that people are the most important part of any organization, and that people, other than robots, have good and bad days. They make the workplace a more human place to work, and makes judgements that is fair.

They don’t treat everyone the same, because they realize that everyone isn’t the same, and that, in itself, is the strength of the organization.

10. An agile coach never stops learning

Inherently, agility and a culture of learning in an organization, is the same thing. You can’t keep improving or, as the manifesto puts it, “uncovering better ways” to do things, if you don’t continue to learn.

An agile coach can’t possibly teach or instill a culture of learning without continuing to learn themselves.

A really good agile coach continues to enroll in courses, workshops and events where they can hear what other organizations or people are doing. The best agile coaches and Scrum Masters I’ve seen, are the ones that didn’t come from a software development background. They were able to question things that others took for granted, and they were the ones who brought a new perspective to the team.


Like any profession, you get bad people, average people, and a hand full of really good people. The problem often comes that when you embark on an agile transformation that you don’t know what really good looks like.

This blog lists the top ten things to look for when evaluating the skills and abilities of an agile coach. What do you think? What are the most important thing you look for in an agile coach?

Originally published on Medium: