What is an agile coach? Definition, duties and benefits

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Agile is a set of management principles that aim to simplify, streamline and optimise the process of seeing a project to completion. Since adopting the agile methodology requires a change of mindset for company leaders, employees, customers and stakeholders, many companies now employ agile coaches to help them make the transition. If you work in project management, product management, IT or software development, it can be useful to understand what they do. In this article, we'll define the term, explain the benefits of agile, and provide a step-by-step guide to becoming a coach.

What is agile?

The agile approach to project management is a set of values, goals and principles designed to help teams better meet the changing needs of customers and ultimately deliver better products and services. The general principle is that large projects are broken up into small, achievable iterations, or incremental steps towards the overall goal. Teams using this approach can continuously adapt the parameters of the project as it progresses, instead of simply setting a target at the beginning of the process without leaving room for adjustments or adaptation as the customers' needs change.

In the agile methodology, individuals and interactions are valued more than tools, software and processes. The method also focuses on collaborative working, including collaboration with the customer. All of this allows organisations that use this approach to react to changing requirements in real-time, delivering a project or product that fully meets the customers' demands. This is in contrast to the traditional method of managing projects, which is sometimes known as Waterfall. Waterfall methodology involves a linear process from the beginning to the end of a project and relies on careful planning and detailed documentation.

Related: What is waterfall project management and why is it useful?

What is an agile coach?

Many companies hire agile coaches to help them create and improve agile processes within the organisation, and to educate employees and managers on agile best practices. A coach may be a full-time hire or a contractor that is brought in on a temporary basis. This is common when a company is transitioning from their current working practices to agile methodology principles.

Coaches often have backgrounds in IT, project management, product management or software development, and are very knowledgeable about agile principles. Since a large part of the role involves helping company employees and managers to understand and get accustomed to new working practices, they often also have experience in coaching or mentoring.

Related: The 6 agile methodology steps for project management

Different types of agile coach

There are many different job titles that refer to coaches of various types. For example, they may be known as agile facilitators, scrum masters, scrum coaches, iteration managers, kanban coaches or enterprise agile coaches. Generally, agile coaches can be split into the following three categories depending on their experience and the size and needs of the company:

  • Agile team facilitator: These professionals work within a single team to help them to implement and improve agile practices and ultimately become more productive. An agile team facilitator might be someone in an existing role in the team, such as a software developer who takes on the role in addition to their normal duties.

  • Agile coach: At a higher level, companies might also employ agile coaches who work to spread the approach across multiple teams or departments. This role might include a greater degree of mentorship and coaching of managers and team leaders to help them implement agile best practices.

  • Enterprise agile coach: Enterprise agile coaches work to implement and promote agile practices at an organisational level. They generally work for large companies who want to employ the agile methodology across all of their workflows, and part of their role might include demonstrating the benefits of the approach to senior leaders or other stakeholders.

Related: Different types of project management methodologies

What do agile coaches do?

The exact role and responsibilities of a coach may vary depending on the size of the organisation they work for, the type of agile methodology they practice, and where the company stands in its journey towards implementing agile workflows. Naturally, the duties of an agile team facilitator also differ from those of a higher level or enterprise agile coach. Some common responsibilities of coaches include:

  • Facilitating agile meetings and discussions

  • Explaining and reinforcing the value of agile to the whole team

  • Encouraging teams to follow agile best practices

  • Developing and improving agile processes

Higher-level or enterprise agile coaches might also have the following duties:

  • Integrating agile teams or departments into largely non-agile companies

  • Helping company leaders to understand the benefits of the agile model

  • Measuring the results of the transition to agile and reporting these to leadership

  • Mentoring and coaching managers and leaders of agile teams and departments

What are the benefits of hiring an agile coach for companies?

There are many benefits associated with transitioning to agile methodology, and companies can see great results from hiring an agile coach to help teams get on board with this way of working. The agile approach:

  • Makes for a better-quality end product: Testing is automatically included in agile processes, which means that companies can work out any problems long before they reach the customer. The fact that the customer is involved throughout the process also means that they are more likely to end up with a product that fully meets their needs.

  • Gives team leaders better control over projects: Agile's in-built testing, quality control and feedback means that managers can have greater control over the project as it develops than with other project management models. Features such as regular progress reports allow team leaders to have full transparency on how the project is progressing.

  • Builds client and user engagement: In the agile method, the customer is involved throughout the process, instead of just in the planning phase. This allows companies to deliver value to customers by making changes according to their feedback and ultimately results in better customer retention.

  • Reduces risks: Agile works in short sprints with a focus on continuous delivery. Since a project's direction can be adjusted as it progresses, there is a far smaller risk of wasting resources due to a project going wrong.

  • Improves team morale: Agile teams are self-managed and have authority over decision-making. This can make for a happier workplace where everyone feels valued.

  • Allows for continuous improvement: Striving for improvement is one of the core tenets of the agile methodology. Since projects work in short sprints, teams can ensure each sprint is better than the last one, and deploy various measures to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

How to become an agile coach

While coaches come from many different backgrounds, they often have a background in either product development, software development, IT or project management. If you're a professional working in one of these fields and would like to become an agile coach, you can follow the steps below:

1. Apply for projects that already use agile principles

If you haven't worked on agile projects before, it's a good idea to start looking for opportunities to get hands-on experience with the methodology. You might want to ask your manager if there are any projects you could get involved with within your organisation that are using agile principles. Otherwise, you could search for jobs in your field that include an element of agile project management to begin building your experience.

Related: How to become an IT project manager (with salary info)

2. Consider obtaining an agile coach certificate

It might also be a good idea to consider getting an agile coach certificate. There are various programmes available that can teach you the structured theoretical knowledge you need to understand agile methodology and help you apply the principles to real-life scenarios. Having this certification could be a valuable addition to your CV, as it shows potential employers that you're knowledgeable about agile and how it applies to the workplace.

Related: How to get scrum master certifications (plus career info)

3. Learn from other agile coaches or facilitators

If your company already employs an agile coach or facilitator, either as a full-time employee or a contractor, see if you can talk to them about their work. If you have the opportunity to work with them on a project, you may be able to learn from them about agile practices and principles as you see them in action. If your company doesn't currently work with these professionals, you could ask around in your network to see if someone knows a coach who would be willing to talk to you.

4. Seek out opportunities to become an agile team facilitator

The first major career step towards becoming an agile coach is to act as an agile team facilitator. Remember that this isn't necessarily a full-time role, and there may be opportunities to take on these duties in addition to your normal work. Once you have gained some experience as an agile team facilitator and feel that you are knowledgeable enough about the principles of the approach, you can start looking for opportunities to work in this role full time.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related:

  • How to answer agile coaching interview questions (with tips)

  • Agile framework: types, methodology and how to choose one

  • Agile project management certifications (with details)

  • What is the difference between agile vs Scrum? (With tips)

  • Agile project planning (with characteristics and benefits)


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