Being an agile coach is a tricky business. There are so many skills at play at once, that it can feel daunting and nigh on impossible. Here are ten things I’ve learned to help you along!

#1: Know the boundaries of your role

Because you’re by and large a self-managing entity in the organisation, it’s vital that you know what is expected of you. Agile coach is not always a well defined title, so different people may have different expectations on what you do. This makes it just as important to define what is not your job, to make it easier for you to say no and shield yourself from being overloaded with work.

#2: The group dynamics have changed

Depending on your background, this may not apply to you. But my background was as a developer, and with my new role the group dynamics changed. I was no longer a natural and self-evident peer among the developers, though I worked closely with them. I wasn’t part of the formal management of the organisation either, though I worked closely with them as well. I was a little of both, yet not really either.

This loneliness – for lack of a better word – was something I had not anticipated or prepared for.

#3: Study, study, study

I’ve consumed tonnes of blog posts, podcasts and books. You need knowledge, ideas and tools to know how to handle various situations in a constructive way. You never have enough experience to stop taking in new ideas and perspectives. There are an infinite number of books and blogs to read and I won’t attempt to define a canon, but these are some I keep returning to:

Books
Lyssa AdkinsCoaching Agile Teams
Mary and Tom PoppendieckImplementing Lean Software Development
Patrick Lencioni – 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

Blogs
Crisp’s Blog
Viktor CessanThe Agile Coach’s Guide to the Galaxy

#4: You don’t exist in a vacuum
For your team to truly succeed in becoming self-organised, the product owner(s) needs to be on board as well. The infrastructure and processes need to be in place to serve the team with what they need. This means that sometimes you will need to coach the whole organisation, including stakeholders and managers. If you’re not provided what the team needs in specs, time, data and necessary resources, your chances of success is greatly hampered.

#5: Know your stress
Being alone with a responsibility is stressful. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes you’ll feel very alone and overwhelmed – when your work gets called into question, when or if results fail to materialise or goals are unmet.

Learn your stress, and make sure to plan time for wind down and thought processing – yes, wind down should be part of your work day. Knowing your own stress also helps you spot stress in others.

#6: Learn patience
Like Luke Skywalker you must learn patience. The work that you do sometimes take a long time to take effect. Things are never as easy as the agile evangelists will have you believe. Nothing is ever as simple as just going Scrum and things will be all peachy.

The reason your job exists is because going (and staying) agile is not easy.

#7: Always set goals – both public and private goals
As with everything, you need to set goals in order to know what you’re striving for and evaluate whether you’re on the right path or not.

It’s also vital with goals to know how and what to prioritise.

#8: Nurture your inner Stoic
It’s a misconception that Stoicism means to act with emotionless indifference. Stoicism is in its essence a strive for inner calm and clear judgement. In part through self-control and emotional awareness, but also through attitudes and outlooks. We could all do with a portion of Stoicism in our lives, especially as leaders.

A lot of current concepts for a healthy mind, such as mindfulness, positive outlooks, minimalist living etc., can be found in Stoicism.

#9: Bring the Positive

It’s your job to bring the positive, not the negative. Meaning it’s not your job to complain, it’s your job to make note of the complaints, then either address or disprove them. Don’t resort to cynicism, because the cynic rarely gets the right thing done.

#10: Don’t Be the Solution

If something isn’t working, don’t be the solution. Address it, but don’t be the solution. If your team isn’t doing enough testing before deploying software, don’t do the testing for them. At least not in the capacity as coach. If you’re a coach and tester, by all means.

Bonus Tip: Know your MBTI type
This should be mandatory for anyone working with people. There are a number of free tests online. My favourite resources being:
16 Personalities
Personality Junkie