How to self-assess your agile coaching competency
Do you know how competent you are as an agile practitioner?
How do you compare yourself against what the market wants and is willing to will pay for? Do you have a process to understand how your skills compare to others in the market?
So that we do not delude ourselves and think we are more capable than we are, I believe it is a useful practice to undertake a periodic competency self-assessment. This post is a guide for you to do this.
The three types of agile coaching roles
Last year I authored a book on the topic of agile coaching (www.responsiveagilecoaching.com); I dedicated a whole chapter to discussing the three roles of agile coaching. Here is an exert from the book.
Agile Coaching – the Three Roles in a Career
I’d like to spend a little time demystifying and simplifying the types of agile coaching roles that exist. There is no set and agreed way to list all the types of roles in the market, so I'm going to generalize a bit and reduce all agile coaching roles down to three main types aligned to the size of the system of work being coached:
Agile Coaching Small – a system of work involving 2 – 30 people
Agile Coaching Medium – a system of work involving 31 – 300 people
Agile Coaching Large – a system of work involving 301 – 1300 people
For systems of work any larger than 1300 people, I would argue you’re probably not doing much coaching and most of your work is consulting or managing. I’ve worked at all the above levels as an agile practitioner (doer), agile coach (enabler) and agile consultant (problem solver). Each level is important and has its challenges and rewards. Agile coaches usually progress through their career from small through medium and on to large as a sequence, and I would argue this is the right way to go about it. Working in small systems of work is where you learn the basics and how to do them well before thinking about what it means to scale up your coaching practice into the bigger systems of work. I wanted to share this view so you can understand roughly where you are and what you are aspiring for in your career.
A competency breakdown by role type
In my book I provide a very brief breakdown of what competencies are required for each role, but I want to expand on this in this post to enable you to assess yourself.
Let’s start with a scale to compare what we believe we can do to what we have actually done. Recently I have been experimenting with a capability assessment interview approach. I created a spreadsheet to help me capture competency data for coaches that I mentor. Here’s the scale I use to assess each competency:
0, NONE: no knowledge or experience in the competency
1, AWARE: some knowledge or indirect (not responsible but was involved) experience
2, BEGINNER: some direct (had responsibility) experience and associated knowledge
3, INTERMEDIATE: moderate experience (1-2 years) and high levels of knowledge
4, ADVANCED: extensive experience (3-5 years) / deep and broad knowledge
5, EXPERT: considered by peers to be a thought-leader / trainer of other practitioners
I did some work to list all the competencies across all three agile coaching roles. I suggest you do this for yourself using the three roles types I listed above. What you will then have is a way to honestly self-assess where you are versus what you aspire to be able to do. Here’s a screen capture of my spreadsheet with an example from a recent coach interview. I have obscured the image as this intellectual property underpins my business, but it still gives you an idea of how to prepare your own version.
Below is a screenshot of recent agile coach interview I conducted.
Think about a basic competency such as facilitation of agile ceremonies; how would you rate yourself across each role type. Facilitating team-level ceremonies versus facilitating across multiple release trains/tribes; have you actually been responsible for leading the facilitation or have you attended/been involved? Being honest about what you have actually done is important here. When I take a coach through this assessment process I encourage them to not try to impress me (like you would during a job interview), but to just be open and honest; vulnerable.
What is interesting when you undertake this type of assessment is to reflect on whether you actually know what coaches do in the role you are aspiring for. When I sit with beginner agile coaches most want to become an enterprise agile coach. I then ask “do you know what an enterprise agile coach does?” Often the answer comes back as “oh, well sort of; they coach the executive don’t they?”. My response is “maybe, sometimes, it depends.” So what I am saying is the process of considering if you can do a role is in itself a useful practice of self-reflection.
The graph below shows how a coach is strong in a particular sized system of work. Of course there are also soft skills and other assessments I do with coaches to help round out their profile; this graphic is only one input.
An objective view of just how competent you are
The value in doing this exercise is not so much the final artefact but the process of creating it. Similar to planning being more useful than the plan. You may be thinking “ok, now what do you do with this assessment output?”. This assessment is what I use to mentor the coach as well as represent them to my clients who are sourcing coaches. I have found that clients appreciate candidates that are self-aware of what they can (and cannot) do; nobody wants an imposter agile coach.
Final thoughts / conclusion
I encourage you to build your own version of an agile coaching competency spreadsheet. List the three roles and all the competencies you think would be required under each and then asse