This article is the first of a three-part series that provides insight into what it’s like to walk a mile in an agile coach’s shoes. Susan’s journey starts as an internal coach and then evolves to her current role as an external consultant.

I was a rockstar for the first nine months to a year as an internal agile coach helping to improve various areas in application lifecycle management (ALM). Once the easy issues were resolved and we were left with the hard executive and cultural changes, then my returns were diminished and it became harder to see how I was making a difference as an agile coach. Even when change was happening all around us (team assignment, desk location, code build tool, projects/product owners, deployment process, agile process, ALM software, etc.), it was still very time consuming to see the results of my influence. With every issue we were able to check off the list, it felt like there were 99 more problems to address.

I started documenting all of my ‘Proud Mommy Moments’ where we were successful so I could see the progress we were making. I read Lyssa Adkins’ book “Coaching Agile Teams” for new ideas and reassurance that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. But most importantly, I stopped blaming myself for the failures. As an agile coach, ‘keeper of project management,’ with a growing list of issues to address, you feel like you have the weight of the world (well the company) on your shoulders and it is up to you to champion improvements in the ‘broken’ process.

But you can’t do it alone.

I was able to get the right people together to talk through the issue and determine a solution. We even communicated the change to all involved. However, many of the decision makers and key leaders never changed their way to follow the new process. I took this very personally, thinking that they did not respect me and I felt like a failure. It took several conversations over beers with my boss and my agile mentors, Scott Brown, John Miller and Luanne Willimon, to realize that, while it was my responsibility to set and communicate the process, it was not my responsibility to enforce individuals to follow it. I had neither authority over them nor the ability to influence them. I can provide guidance, therapy sessions, suggestions, and pros and cons around decisions, but I couldn’t make them do anything.

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Up next in this series – Part 2:  “My Time to Evolve as an Agile Coach”.

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Join the Discussion

    • Brian Irwin

      Hey Susan – Thanks for writing this post. It’s interesting to hear your story and see how closely it parallels mine. I found my time as an internal agile coach to be one of the most difficult, frustrating, exciting, and rewarding times of my career. It’s awesome to read about your passion to change how organizations work and also help teams and individuals improve. The customers and teams with whom you interact are truly getting one of the best!
      -Brian

    • Katia Sullivan

      Hi Susan;
      Thanks for sharing. One of the most frustrating things for me as a coach is dealing with a culture that nods their heads in response to change, however still are afraid to REALLY make differences. We can teach and coach all day long, but if leadership is not willing to actually show change instead of just talk about it, the day we leave, all goes back to status quo.
      I think that, as Agile coaches, we need to communicate and obtain buy-in not just for the process change, but try to define and commit to cultural change deliverables.

      ~katia

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