Choosing an Agile Service Provider

The move to effective Agile development is among the most pervasive changes your organization will ever experience. If the move isn’t successful, your teams might not be happy to try it again. Getting expert help can significantly reduce the risk; here are some parameters to consider when choosing your Agile transition provider:

It’s all about people. Agile establishes a clear order: people, then product, then process. (That’s why we’re “3P”). Anyone can teach Agile planning; fewer people can instill simplicity; and fewer yet truly guide team behaviour and communication toward high performance. The coach’s style — hands off, hands on, directive, leading, etc. — should fit your expectations and the teams’ needs.

Empathy. The Agile principles and practices may look pretty sensible and easy, but somehow they’re very hard to get right. Savvy Agile coaches must understand human behaviour, and know what causes people to get stuck. Teaching process mechanics is the easy part; the hard part is helping people think beyond mechanics, apply principles, and adapt themselves effectively.

Results. Ask your coach about the results he or she has achieved in tough situations. Role-play situations that occur in your culture. If they tout certifications, ask how they earned them and how they’ve mattered. If they offer testimonials from a manager who engaged them, ask for references also from the team they coached.

The roadmap. Rather than fit you into their preferred mold (e.g. Scrum, Kanban, SAFe), your Agile guide would help you and the team figure out an appropriate framework and a strategy for the journey. Your coach will maximize the value of your investment by introducing the most comprehensive set of practices that suits your goals, needs, culture and tolerance for change — and these may have little to do with documented processes or “best practices.”

Self-sufficiency. Excellent coaches make themselves quickly redundant. What will the coach do to eliminate the teams' dependence on him/her? How long will you need to keep your coach around? What will happen when they're gone? Have that conversation early.

Be extra cautious about hiring a coach through a recruiter or an agency. A great coach is not a buzzword-compliant resource, and the skills that make great coaches don't come across easily in a LinkedIn profile. You and your team will be much better off assessing the candidates yourselves.