Sometimes I feel that measuring the performance of an agile coach is similar to assessing the quality of a creative dance performance. But it shouldn't be that subjective. This post will give you some hard performance data on the art of agile coaching. My aim; to give you confidence in your performance AND be able to back it up with evidence. If you want to some day be an agile coach then this article will give you some indication of what's expected of the role from a person who has hired dozens of agile coaches over the past 10 years.
Are you performing?
If you deliver agile coaching how do you know you're doing a good job? In the past when I myself was coaching, I used blunt indicators such as whether I got my contract renewed or achieved a "meets expectations" on my yearly performance appraisal (don't we love those). Often that's it for the year and you forget about performance; if nobody complains or you get all positive feedback you then consider that you're doing "well enough". We all know this is, at best, a rough approximation of performance but hey, why change? Because being an awesome high-performing agile professional gets noticed by those hiring, it improves your career prospects and is .. well... what we tell our clients to do! So this post will help you to have some performance transparency on your work as an agile coach; that's the spirit with which I've written this post. Or if you aspire to be an agile coach then this should give you some insights on what good looks like.
Performance Management for Agile Coaching
Writing this I can't help but cringe. To say to an agile coach;
"I'm going to implement a performance management framework for your work" sounds heavy, but trust me, its all about enabling the coach to learn and grow; so take this post in that spirit. Also, many aspiring agile coaches ask me about performance. I can recall at least three occasions at either a conference, on an expert panel or at a community Meet up where I've been asked the question
What exactly is high performance for an agile coach?
This post is my answer to that question; I'm aiming to help you be more awesome NOT make you feel inadequate, so hang in there and please read on :-)
Do you worry that your bias stops you from knowing if you're really doing a good job (we all think we're better than we actually are), do you have a sneaking suspicion that you're not performing at a level that meets the expectations of your clients, do you sometimes feel like an imposter agile coach? If yes, then this post is for you. Also if you are curious about how to systemically and consistently measure your agile coaching performance then I'll give you some tips, tricks and even a template to fill in so that you can have objective conversations around whether or not you are performing well as you deliver agile coaching. I've summed up all my ideas into four performance metrics.
Four lessons I learned through trial and (lots of) errors
The four metrics I'm going to share with you are really a summary of all of the insights I've collected over the years as I have brought together teams of agile coaches to deliver client outcomes and get the job done. And this is where I'm going to start; what job is the agile coach there to get done.
Metric #1: jobs that get done
If you're not familiar with the body of knowledge around jobs-to-be-done then I suggest you get acquainted with it as it is a neat way of getting to the why of an agile coaching engagement. In other words, the sponsor of the agile coaching engagement has a job that they expect the agile coaches are going to get done. Quite often agile coaches become so absorbed in the altruistic ideals of agile that they miss the key to success from the perspective of their client. Let me give you an example to help explain this idea of jobs to be done and how it applies to agile coaching.
If we look at delivering valuable outcomes in large complex organisations; this is a job that is and always has been needed to be done as part of how organisations adapt and respond to the needs of their customers, clients or market forces.
This job used to be done by project management and roles such as the PM. A more detailed description of the job that needs doing could be described as
How do I get outcome A confidently delivered in the shortest possible time for the lowest possible cost with the highest level of quality with minimum disruption to my business?
Often agile coaches are brought in to implement a new way to do the above mentioned job. Sometimes evangelical agile coaches fail to see that the job they are doing is to enable the delivery of an outcome; it is just getting done by agile means rather than traditional project management. But the job to be done is exactly the same hence the primary need to deliver outcomes with some level of predictability and efficiency cannot be lost in the move to agile ways of working. To be clear; sponsors, executives and anyone funding delivery DOES NOT CARE about agile; they just want their job to be done.
So the first metric I'm going to propose as we put together a performance management framework for agile coaching is an assessment of whether the agile coaching service being delivered is enabling the required jobs to be done. This a binary question; YES or NO?
Now of course agile coaching enables many jobs to be done in addition to the main job of delivery; for example it creates psychological safety and a sustainable system of work, it builds engagement and internal motivation of the workforce through autonomy and empowerment. So I suggest you map them out and get explicit agreement on all the jobs in priority order with your sponsor and other stakeholders.
And of course these are all really important cultural aspects agile coaching enables, but I would argue that there are more pragmatic delivery focused jobs that need to be done first and foremost or at the same time as these related or sub-jobs. Often agile coaches fail to embrace the full spectrum of jobs that their work is expected to support, focussing too much on agile and not enough on what job it gets done.
Metric#2: client experience
The next aspect of performance I'd like to discuss as it relates to agile coaching is customer satisfaction with the service being provided. Often when I'm running large coaching teams I get anecdotal, inconsistent, unstructured, third-hand, hearsay feedback on some of the qualitative aspects of the agile coach and their performance. In retrospect I now see this as a failure on my part as the person leading the centre of expertise providing coaching; it is on me to do a better job at establishing more consistent practices to gather direct feedback from the coaching clients on their experience of the agile coaching service. This qualitative feedback can be then combined with a more binary assessment of whether the agile coach got the job done for the client or not. This then allows us to know if the hard outcome was delivered (job done) for the client together whilst also having a measure of how the coaching service was experienced by the client. I'll give you some examples on how to measure this metric in the template at the end of the post.
The next two metrics of my proposed agile coaching performance framework relate to the practice of agile coaching and how the person who's delivering agile coaching works with and through a community of other coaches to get their jobs done. These would best be self-assessed using a simple Likert scale by the coach and then discussed with those they work with and/or serve.
Metric #3: community contribution
When I'm leading a team of agile coaches my focus is on supporting, enabling and building a sense of community. I'm trying to create a sense of belonging and bring meaning as we work together as a collective to achieve a common purpose. Interestingly there are usually one or maybe two coaches who fail to engage; they refuse to support and work with their colleagues, they go it alone, don't ask for help and don't provide help to the community of coaches that they belong to. To me this is one of the more disappointing patterns. For an agile coach to have a sole focus on their individual success and not attempt to help and support those within their agile coaching community raises a red flag to me. So for me if I was appraising this person's performance I'd be understand where this behaviour is coming from. I'd do this even if they had excellent client outcomes, got all of the job's done and had high customer satisfaction. I would be asking them questions as to what's going on for them and support them to reconsider the benefits of creating and being part of a learning community of coaches. I would not take a punitive approach more an empathetic one to understand what's going on for them and why they defer back to working as an agile loner.
Metric #4: practice application
Lastly, if I was to be appraising an agile coach's performance, there would be an element of the practices that they brought to bear in order to get the job done. Agile coaching is an evolving, growing set of practices that are continuously being improved. The practitioner themselves and the way execute their role should also be continuously worked on; that's what a practice is and indicates a growth mindset. So the last element of my agile coaching performance management framework is the application of practices and experience when getting the jobs done for clients. I would be looking for the agile coach to be using, adapting and if required innovating practices that are up to date, pragmatic and fit-for-purpose. Whether this is the implementation of improvements to some standard frameworks or simple tweaks, I would have an expectation and be wanting to see visible evidence of how the agile coach is up-to-date with better practices and is being smart about how they are implementing them.
I know a lot of what I write in this post could sound judgemental, harsh or that I somehow have the right to judge another agile coach. To a degree this is true but I believe we cannot be afraid of being judged on our performance; how else can we know if we are hitting the mark as we serve out clients. Additionally I hire agile coaches (I'm doing so now) and require a means to ascertain the good from the not so good performers. Lastly I want to de-mystify what good agile coaching looks like and ensure underperforming practitioners have a means to stop hiding behind agile knowledge or language but hold themselves accountable to get jobs done. Below I created what I call an Agile Coaching Job Sheet. It is a variation of a traditional coaching contract used at the start of an engagement. Feel free to use it, edit and experiment with it. There's a download below too.
Below is the PDF for you to download and use