As a current Executive Coaching program student, and as a business owner, project management office leader and project management professional, I struggle with how to make it all fit. I’ve cultivated over 30 years experience in the industry, and obtained pertinent certifications to back that up. On the one hand, there is the experience and knowledge, yet, executive coaches don’t advise! I found my muse, Yoda. Yes, that Yoda. Let me explain…

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Luke to Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back: “I can’t believe it”…Yoda to Luke: “That is why you fail.” or Yoda to Luke “Do. or do not. There is no try.” Having buy-in or commitment to a purpose, goal, or team, often leads to success. Without it, it’s nearly an idea unrealized. Yoda’s response to Luke’s initial lack of belief, helped Luke to see a different perspective. Once he committed, he was able to focus and achieve. In Agile, teams are self-directed, and self-managed, but the Agile coach is there to help serve three purposes; train, coach and teach. In the first example, “that is why you fail”, represents “Yoda as teacher”, and mentor. He has the knowledge and is trying to spark change in his young apprentice. In the second example, “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. The response here is non-directive. Leaves it out there for his student to decide.

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Agile coaches provide initial training on the process, helps the team understand how to help themselves -in a non-directive way, and finally, to provide expert advice and direction as a last resort. The primary role of the coach, post training is to listen and ask the right questions. When in the non-directive coaching model, the Agile Coach is more like an Executive Coach. Keeping the knowledge in their back pocket, and utilizing questioning techniques to help the team discover and reveal their own answers. The art is knowing when the team needs the non-directive approach versus the directive, or teaching approach. “Do. Or Not Do, there is no try” leaves it up to ones own interruption, and ultimately, accountability. Whereas, “that is why you fail” – is a judgment and statement to an individual or team to make adjustments.

The International Coaching Foundation (ICF) provides a repeatable model for executive coaching, which can be applied in these non-directive coaching opportunities within Agile teams. From an executive coaching purist’s perspective, executive coaches do not give advice. Therefore, an agile coach, isn’t purely an executive coach. However, they would, shift between the teaching/mentoring model, coming from a place of knowledge and experience to a helping model, of encouraging self-reflection and self-awareness at the individual and team level.

Another useful quote from Yoda, and The Empire Strikes Back is “you must unlearn what you’ve learned”. Another role of the Agile Coach is to help organizational leaders understand how best to support these emerging teams, and become agile coaches in the process. When moving or flexing from traditional project management methodologies to agile, the approach to working on projects require some adjustment. Having a supportive structure is important to the success of any project. Agile Coaches work at two levels in the project organization to ensure that business continuity exists and support is there for project teams.

Agile Coach as Teacher and Mentor, and Executive Coach

From this, I’ve learned that the two can coexist; Agile Coach as mentor, and Agile Coach as Executive Coach. The best way for adults to learn is through doing. Agile Coaches and other IT experts, don’t have to always feel like every situation requires an immediate resolution, nor do they have to feel boxed into one way of coaching – direct or indirect, teaching or coaching. However, it is best to provide others with tools for success which allow them to find the answers within themselves, within their group, or team. Be directive as a last resort. This will empower others and produce greater results and team efforts, that they can carry with them to the next project and team. How do you balance teaching with creating a self-managing mindset?

Links to more information on Executive Coaching and Agile Coaching

Agile Coaching Institute – Competency Framework
International Coaching Federation (ICF) – Coaching accreditation site for ACC, PCC, and MCC levels – link to home page
Agile Coaching Institute – Combines Agile Coaching and Executive Coaching concepts – link to home page
Scrum Alliance – Membership, articles, training, events, and certification information – link to home page