Agile Coach

  • Bulldozer: Helps the team bulldoze impediments to get them out of the way (Cohn 2005)
  • Shepherd: Guides the team back to agile practices and principles when they stray (adapted from Schwaber 2004)
  • Servant leader: Serves the team rather than the team serving you (Cohn and Schwaber 2003)
  • Guardian of quality and performance: Examines both what the team produces and how they produce it to offer observations that help them tune the human system they are (Douglas 2007)


  • Powerful team start-ups are jet fuel to an agile team. Get good at conducting them.
  • Teach agile during the team start-up, and bring all team members back to the core of agile.
  • Focus the team on the work ahead, and help them better relate as human beings so they can determine how to best self-organize.
  • Teach agile when new people join the team and when teachable moments arise, but do so lightly.
  • Teach everyone about agile roles, and ask them to expect that the people around them will completely fulfill their role. Anything less is an impediment.
  • Expect the agile coach, product owner, and agile manager roles to interlock with both harmony and discord.
  • Constantly seek role clarity for yourself, and train others to do the same.

Problem Solving

  • A problem is brought to your attention, or you detect a problem.
  • Pause (really, take a pause), and reflect on the problem to see it clearly
  • Take the problem to the team
    • Address it directly
    • Reaffirm agile
    • Reveal the system to itself
    • Use the retrospective
    • Add a revealer (pain snake)
  • Allow the team to act (or not).

Some strategies for reflection are

  • sleep on it,
  • question yourself (If I could do anything in the world, what would it be? What’s at stake here? If the situation were already perfectly solved, what would it be like?)
  • pair with another coach, and
  • go to the source (what’s not working from agile manifesto, performance tree)

Attend to multiple perspectives to detect symptoms:

  • The process level: How are we doing with agile?
  • The quality and performance angle: How can the team produce better?
  • The team dynamics dimension: How can the team become a better team?
  • Where are we weak?

Conflict Navigator

While observing, pay attention to these three things that help assess the level of conflict:

  • Hear complaints,
  • feel the energy, and
  • focus on language.


  • What is the level of conflict?
  • What are the issues?
  • How would I respond as side A?
  • How would I respond as side B?
  • What resolution options are open?
  • What should I do (if anything)?


Carrying Complaints

  1. “Have you shared your concerns and feelings about this with _____?” If the complainer has not, encourage them to do so. Perhaps a dry run with you would help get them over the jitters. If they are reluctant or unwilling to do so, move to intervention 2.
  2. “_____ should know of your concerns. Would it help if I go with you? If so, plan when and where. Let the complainer know you will be there for moral support, not to be the bearer of the news. If they still seem nervous, offer a dry run with you. If they remain unwilling to express their concern directly, move on to intervention
  3. “May I tell _________ that you have these concerns?”

“Are you ready to resolve this without blaming?”
For marriages, the “magic” ratio is about five positive interactions to one negative interaction (Gottman 1994) For teams, it’s three to one for high performance and five to one for the most high-performing.

Consensus check

  • Five fingers: I love this idea. I wish I had thought of it myself.
  • Four fingers: I’m happy with this idea and am glad we came up with it.
  • Three fingers: I can live with and support this idea. (This is the definition of consensus.)
  • Two fingers: I have reservations about this and would have trouble supporting it.
  • One finger: I have grave misgivings. I can neither support it nor live with it.


  • Resolving their conflict is not your job. Helping them see it and choose what to do about it is.
  • Pay close attention to the team when in conflict, and consciously decide whether to intervene.
  • Use the five levels of conflict to more objectively see what’s going on. When ready, reveal the five levels so the team can use them, too.
  • Given that much of the conflict that arises on agile teams is unresolvable, offer the team ways to live with it.

Collaboration Conductor


  • Agreeing to “response-ability,” which means choosing to respond intentionally to whatever happens in life rather than denying or blaming
  • Noticing when your silence has conveyed implicit consent because real “team players” never “go along”
  • Using your veto power while also accepting responsibility for moving the group toward an acceptable solution
  • Reflecting on your actions to recognize the interplay of your conscious and unconscious intentions
  • Telling your truth with compassion instead of delivering “constructive” criticis

  • Speak the unspeakable
  • Build up instead of breaking down
  • Hear all voices
  • Nurture collaboration intimacy
  • Gain faith in emergence
  • Get unstuck
  • Play (seriously) together.

The intimate state is reached when both parties signal willingness to work in a “zone” or “field” of trust, vulnerability, openness, mutual accommodation, and respect....


  • Going from high-school garage band to symphony to string quartet takes practice. Give the team room to do so (and to produce some wrong notes along the way).
  • Make a conscious decision with the team about whether they need collaboration to get their work done. If not, stick with cooperation and focus on getting that working well.
  • Focus on individuals first when you start to build cooperation and, if needed, collaboration.
  • For teams in collaboration conversations, intervene to offer a new skill or to help them practice.
  • “Call it” when teams slide back into noncollaborative behaviors.
  • As soon as possible, step out of the center, and let the team collaborate on their own.
  • To an accomplished team of collaborators, reveal the heart of collaboration, and encourage them to discover their meaning behind each collaboration maxim.


Trust + attention = good coaching (or, at least the foundation that makes good coaching possible)

  • Cultivate mindfulness,
  • get curious,
  • get a broader view,
  • pair, and
  • practice success.




Instilled agile practices
Started up agile teams
Coached team members one-on-one
Coached the whole team
Coached product owners
Coached outsiders
Coached the team through change
Instigated paths to high performance
Accepted their ideas above your own
Mastered yourself
Modeled agile values and principles
Navigated conflict
Set yourself on a path of learning and growing
Started giving back