I have read Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins in a gradual way. I regularly stopped reading for a while because I wanted time and mental room to absorb, practice and reflect about what I was reading before continuing down the fascinating path of insights offered by this book. Although I require from every professional book to give me something I can immediately apply, in this case the richness was so huge that the need to stop-start seemed a lot bigger. I also regularly stopped reading to take my newest gained words and insights to the team; test and try them, plant some seeds, watch out for sparks that might turn into a fire.
Lyssa Adkins has written a very comprehensive book that covers a great, all-round collection of topics concerning agile, professional coaching and… agile coaching. She uses her past of traditional project manager to describe how she discovered the beauty, the power and the value of agile via Scrum and self-organization. But Lyssa is also a co-active coach, doing coaching from a peer perspective with an emphasis on active collaboration between coach and coachée. The book blends the aspects of agile (via Scrum) and (co-active) coaching in a fantastic and enlightening way. But I highly appreciate Lyssa’s strong emphasis that our journey as Scrum coaches is not only about coaching in general, nor about life, personal or love coaching but that it’s about agile coaching. It’s about helping, mentoring, facilitating people, teams and organizations to become great in agile, to achieve high performance through agility. And that is a lot more than producing still mediocre products, just faster.
On its cover the book says to address a rather broad audience (‘A companion for Scrum Masters, Agile coaches, and project managers in transition‘). But I see Scrum Masters as an important target audience:
- Because the book has its origins in Scrum, the most applied agile framework, and Scrum foresees the roles of Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team.
- Because this companion holds extremely useful material on behavioral aspects in facilitating Scrum and from my practical experience and as a Professional Scrum trainer for Scrum.org I see much room for improvement there for many Scrum Masters.
- Because Scrum Masters are expected to be coaches too, doing much more than just managing the process of Scrum.
- Because too many people think ‘coach’ is a title to achieve, and not a level of mastery to grow into.
Lyssa clearly depicts what it might take to ‘be’ a Scrum Master (or agile coach as you wish), not just ‘do’ it. Remember that, as servant-leaders, Scrum Masters help the other roles within the Scrum Team to play their part (like a conductor would do, one of Lyssa’s metaphors). They help Development Teams achieve great team dynamics. They help Product Owners interact with stakeholders and discover better product ideas. They inform the organization about the Scrum process. They promote agility, agile behavior and the agile principles. They make sure that the wider organization gets the absolute maximum out of Scrum, as part of the continuous search for the art of the possible. And Scrum Masters know how to adapt their communication and working style according to place, time and audience.
Coaching Agile Teams starts by helping the reader to introspect on behavior, habits and attitude in “Part I: it starts with you”.
Part II (“Helping the team get more for themselves”) obviously is the main part as it shifts the focus to the role of a facilitating coach towards the team. It does so by highlighting the various appearances a team facilitator might want to learn to master, the natural fluency with which appearances can be switched, the honesty and openness it takes to learn and admit failures while learning. Some important coach appearances include the teacher, the mentor and the conflict navigator. Throughout Lyssa offers advice, techniques and insights all based on practical experience.
In Part III (“Getting more for yourself”) Lyssa reverts back to the reader with a chapter that describes failure and success modes, skills and abilities that might help and war stories of some world class coaches. It makes most sense for experienced and seasoned practitioners. The danger of reading this chapter too soon is that people will turn some of the topics into incentives, objectives and goals to strive for, rather than real life findings one wants to match his/her personal experiences against.
At a personal level
Lyssa’s book has helped me in many ways. It gave explicit words, a vocabulary, to some of my existing -often unspoken- observations, practices and behavior. It enriched my existing ways of working with additional insights, evidence and perspectives. It offered many new ideas, insights, practices, papers and backgrounds. It helped me further transcend the technical views on agile and Scrum with the book’s strong focus on human behavior, psychology, people and professional coaching. And I can share this transcendent perspective better with others now.
Many great books on agile have I read, but Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins is one of the few agile books that truly changed my life. And it’s been a while since I had that feeling over an agile book again.