RESOURCES

How I made my role as an Agile Coach obsolete in 5 steps

About this Publication

Agile transformations are complicated and time-consuming. Many organizations ask Agile coaches for help and guidance. During this transformation, the Agile coaches take the lead and implement an Agile structure to support business agility. However, when the Agile Coaches leave, the organization tends to fall back to old habits. In this paper, I will share the steps I have taken to cultivate an Agile transformation by empowering Scrum Masters and making Agile Coaches obsolete. This approach is based on a real-life experience, in which I was the Agile Coach and made myself obsolete. In one and a half year, the Scrum Masters went through a process in which they were able to take over the work of an Agile Coach

1.     INTRODUCTION

We all tend to believe our jobs matter and that we are contributing to the organizational goals. This belief leads to better employee engagement. That is why not only I but also my fellow Agile Coaches and the management team were surprised when I made the following statement just two weeks after I was hired at KPN iTV; “The transformation is successful when I don’t have to work here anymore.” I believed that Agile Coaches would add value to the initial set-up of the Agile transformation. After that, it would be up to the organization to carry the change on its own. If the Agile coaches did not empower this, the organization would then easily fall back to old habits once they would leave. Therefore, it made sense for the Agile Coaches to enable others in the organization and to foster continuous improvement, far after they were gone. Having said that out loud was very helpful to both me as the organization, it had laid a fundament into my contribution to the organization. We then decided that the Scrum Master was the most appropriate role for this change agent role. In this experience report, I have shared the five significant steps that were taken to accomplish the empowerment of the Scrum Masters and becoming obsolete. Additionally, my learnings in this process are discussed as well.

This process of empowering Scrum Masters was a process, which took place in a one-and-a-half-year time. In this period, five significant steps were taken, which are individually explored in this experience report.

The process of making Agile Coaches obsolete are summarized in the following steps:

  1. Reaching Scrum Masters level 1 maturity
  • Goal: Help appointed Scrum Masters to get to know their new role.
  1. Checking sparks in the eye
  • Goal: Invest in only motivated Scrum Masters.
  • Creating awareness of full Scrum Mastership
  • Goal: Helping the organization understand the role of Scrum Master.
  1. Scrum Masters step-up / Agile Coaches Step-In/Out
  • Goal: Clear the path to take on the role of full Scrum Master.
  1. Facilitate growth
  • Goal: Increase the Scrum Master knowledge with the help of Professional Scrum Trainers.

 

After reading this experience report, you will have some practical tips and steps to undertake to unleash organizational power by developing the potential of the Scrum Masters.

2.     BACKGROUND

The TV department of KPN, Dutch Telco, started their Agile transformation in November of 2015 with the awareness within the management team that something had to change to get better results again. They decided that the organization needed to deliver more value to their customers at a faster pace. The Agile transformation was inspired by Spotify engineering culture (Kniberg & Ivarsson, 2012), in which it was a focus on the belief of autonomous teams being center of the universe, rather than copying the “Spotify model” based on the original whitepaper introduced in 2012.

During the Agile transformation of KPN iTV, 24 squads were formed by management, in which both the Scrum Masters as Product owners were appointed. During this transformation, each squad received a two-day kick-off to start things in the right direction. External Agile Coaches were contracted to do these squad kickoffs. After the squad kick-offs, internal Agile Coaches got hired to internalize the Agile transformation and to replace the Xebia Agile Coaches. I was one of the two internal Agile Coaches who got hired. I started my journey at KPN iTV in January 2017, in which all squads had already finished their kick-offs and were busy with their first sprints. In total, there were 24 Scrum Masters active for KPN iTV. In this period, I worked closely with 8 Scrum Masters and coached the other Scrum Masters as needed.

3.     THE APPROACH

We had 24 squads with 24 Scrum Masters. All Scrum masters were new and were either former Project managers, Business analyst, Implementation manager or developer. The primary challenge was to get these Scrum Masters up to speed so that they could help the squads, the Product Owners and to lead the transformation by themselves. This would ensure that 24 extra change agents could help in the transformation.

Although we had the objective to make the role of Agile Coaches obsolete and creating great Scrum Masters, we did not have a clear path we wanted to undertake. In retrospect, the process of making Agile Coaches obsolete are summarized in the following steps:

  1. Reaching Scrum Masters level 1 maturity;
  2. Checking sparks in the eye;

III. Creating awareness of full Scrum Mastership;

  1. Scrum Masters step-up / Agile Coaches Step-In/Out;
  2. Facilitate growth.

3.1        Reaching Scrum Masters level 1 maturity

At the start of Agile transformation, all Scrum Masters were either asked or appointed to take on the new role. Nobody had any clear idea about the expectations of the role. In this step, we focussed on full-time coaching of the Scrum Masters to help them understand Scrum better. The biggest challenge in this period was for the Scrum Masters to let go years of old habits and practices (like project management, ITIL, Team lead, manager, etc…) and entirely focus on what Scrum is all about.

3.1.1          Feedback and help

As Agile Coaches, we each had eight squads to focus on and help them to understand the Scrum ceremonies and understand Scrum. After three months we realized that most teams and Scrum Masters were still very reliant on the knowledge of the Agile Coaches. As an experiment, I decided not to participate in scrum events and only coach the Scrum Masters so that they can fulfill the role of Scrum Master themselves. This Experiment was successful; the Scrum Masters came to me with more direct questions in which I could help them. This experiment resulted in a first step of doing their job more independently.

3.1.2          Scrum Master maturity level

As we focused more on coaching the Scrum Masters, we as Agile Coaches facilitated setting up a wall for introspection for the Scrum Master maturity level per Scrum Master and per squad, as presented in Figure 1. After some iterations we found the following set-up: the vertical axes consist of topics which can belong to the Scrum framework as described in the scrum guide. On the horizontal axes, we put the squads within the tribe. Together with the Scrum Masters, we evaluated the matrix and encouraged the Scrum Masters to fill in the SIM-Wall. We used the following structure:

Figure 1- Example of as SIM-Wall (Scrum Introspective Maturity Wall)

 

The SIM-Wall not only helped me as an Agile Coach to focus on which Scrum Master needed coaching but was also a useful tool for the Scrum Masters to improve step by step. Because of the visualization on a wall, Scrum Masters also reached out to each other for help. On the yellow post-it, the Scrum masters could write down the specific support needed. For example: “Only DoD needed”, “Story-points for refinement” etc.

3.2        Checking sparks in the eye

We noticed that some of the Scrum Masters were really engaged in their new role and that some Scrum Masters were still holding on to their old roles. Instead of trying to convince them as a coach, we decided to connect them with fellow Scrum Masters. If other Scrum Masters could still not reach them, we would have one-on-one conversations to check whether Scrum Master is a correct fit for them.

3.2.1          Scrum Master Craftmanship

As part of focusing on strengthening craftmanship, we started forming chapters. Chapters are a group of individuals who spend time and help each other on one's craft. For the Scrum Master family, there were three chapters, all between 5 and nine members. In these chapters, the Scrum Masters helped each other to become a better Scrum Masters. Each Chapter had a Chapter Coach, which was a captain and did not have any hierarchical or HR responsibilities. The chapter coaches were the most eager ones to become a better Scrum Masters. Both the chapter members as the chapter coach were selected via self-selection.

3.2.2          Need Help?

Halfway 2017 we noticed that there were still a few Scrum Masters who did not ask other Scrum Masters, their Chapter members, or Agile Coaches for help. Not asking for help would have been a good sign if we had seen improvements on the teams towards becoming high performing teams or towards being a more agile organization. Unfortunately, this was not the case. We decided then to focus more on those teams and Scrum Masters. We noticed that some Scrum Masters did not see any problem on how the teams were performing and did not act on any improvement areas that we suggested.

 

3.2.3          Check the spark in the eyes

Together with Edgar Stormbroek (manager of the Scrum Masters), chapter coaches and Agile Coaches, we decided to have coaching sessions. In these coaching sessions, we tried to understand how they feel about the role of a Scrum Master. In these conversations, some of them realized that they did not get any energy from being a Scrum Master and decided to do something else in the organization or even do something outside the organization.

3.3        Creating Awareness of Full Scrum Mastership

Although we had only Scrum Masters who were engaged in the role of Scrum Master, we noticed that they were still only interested in and focused on their teams. Missing role models, it was difficult to get them out of this mindset. Furthermore, we noticed that the rest of the tribe also had different expectations from what are the Scrum Master’s responsibilities. To overcome this challenge, we decided to create more awareness about the Scrum Master role and hire two new Scrum Masters to increase the experience within the Scrum Master population.

3.3.1          Hire new Scrum Masters

We had found ourselves in a dilemma because we then knew that we had Scrum Masters who were not happy in their role and we had no replacements. Therefore, we decided to hire two new Scrum Masters. For these new Scrum Masters, we had higher expectations and wanted to hire more experienced Scrum Masters. New Scrum Masters would also help the Scrum Master Chapters to get help from more experienced colleagues. In this hiring process, we held a selection day in which every candidate was invited to be present at the same moment. Eight colleagues were involved in the selection process at that moment. After discussions, all eight of us then chose the best candidates.

3.3.2          What is a Scrum Master?

I have the belief that a Scrum Master is one of the most critical roles within an organization to support agility. I also noticed that the Scrum Masters also agreed, but they were struggling with how they should fulfill their role outside the teams. I knew I could not change this view on Scrum Master from within the organization. That was the main reason for me to invite Barry Overeem, a Professional Scrum Trainer, to organize a workshop for all our Scrum Masters. Asking Barry Overeem as a high profile person outside the organization is also in line with one of the fearless change patterns which is covered by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising in their book “Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas” (Manns & Rising, 2005). Because of some leadership team members also did not have a clear idea about what to expect from Scrum Masters outside the teams, we decided to invite them as well. Together with Barry Overeem, we agreed that a workshop based on his whitepaper about “The 8 stances of a Scrum Master” would be an excellent fit to understand the role of Scrum Master. This workshop had opened the eyes of the Scrum Masters and leadership team members. They knew there was more to this role than most had expected. This new knowledge was the start of the journey to the next level of Scrum Mastery (see paragraph 3.5 Facilitate growth).

3.4        Scrum Masters step-up / Agile Coaches Step-In/Out

Once the role of the Scrum Master was clear and maturity of Scrum Masters had grown, we noticed that there were uncertainties about the responsibilities of Agile coached and Scrum Masters. This resulted in frustration and Scrum Masters wanting to improve towards the Agile Coach role. We had a significant challenge to create clarity about the roles and to align the responsibilities.

3.4.1          Scrum Master growth model

After the Scrum Masters and the rest of the organization had a better understanding of the role of the Scrum Master, we had to think about facilitating the growth of these Scrum Masters. For most, the growth of a Scrum Master was to become an Agile Coach. I did not agree with that. I believed that the growth of a Scrum Master was to become an awesome Scrum Master! However, we noticed that there were some levels of experience that had to be taken into consideration. Figure 2 provides a visual of the 4 degrees of Scrum Master concerning the team and organization. We used this overview to explain how the Scrum Masters could grow in their role.

Figure 2 - Scrum Master maturity level

  • Level 1 – Explore

Starting Scrum Masters are exploring the possibilities and take the time to learn more about Scrum and team dynamics. In this stage, the Scrum Master is struggling with what the theory is all about and how to connect this to the team.

  • Level 2 – Understand

Once the theory is known, the Scrum Master then feels comfortable and has more feeling about the interactions within the team. Slowly, the Scrum Master is also aware of the behavior outside the scrum team and the interactions with other teams and Product Owners. Scrum Masters now not only serves the development team but also focusses more on supporting the Product Owner.

  • Level 3 – Expand

The Scrum Master now has enough experience to face a single team and support the Product Owner as well. In this situation, the Scrum Master can either take a second team or coach on the organizational level while having one team. In the latter case, the Scrum Master removes organizational impediments that the team faces becoming more agile. This is the moment that the Scrum Masters focusses more on serving the organization as well.

  • Level 4 – Grow

At this stage, the Scrum Master has gained enough experience to tackle multiple teams, business, and organizational situations. This is also the stage in which the Scrum Master acts as a coach and mentor towards Scrum Masters of other teams. In all cases, the Scrum Master holds one team as a base team.

3.4.2          Agile Coaches Step-in/Out

To encourage learning, the Scrum Masters had to facilitate a lot more and also be less reliant on the Agile Coaches. To facilitate this, Agile Coaches had to say “No” more often and connect Scrum Masters. This way, an ecosystem would be in a place where they would be less dependent on Agile Coaches. For the Agile Coach, it meant that they needed to step in and take a team to coach as well. This was to make space and also to act more as a role model to the other Scrum Masters. During this stage, I also found out, that the most important thing was that the Scrum Masters would fill in the gap that would appear when Agile Coaches had to say “No”. This would also lead to Agile Coaches stepping out to create the room that can be filled by Scrum Masters. Stepping out, in this case, would mean that they had to leave the department to make room for Scrum Masters. Two out of three Agile coaches chose to step out to create more space for the Scrum Masters to step-up.

3.5        Facilitate growth

Our biggest challenge after the Scrum Master role and the growth of the Scrum Master was clear was the fact that there were no clear timelines and objectives on how and when to grow in the role. We believed that the Scrum Masters would need more help to focus on their growth. Especially when we noticed that two out of three Agile Coaches decided to step out. That was the queue for us to seek help outside the organization. We knew that they were in good hands and they could still grow in their role, even when we would not be there anymore.

3.5.1          Scrum Master Journey

Having the awareness, knowing the growth possibilities and having more responsibilities does not mean that the Scrum Masters would grow as well. To facilitate this growth, I had asked the help of Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs to create a six-months learning path to become awesome Scrum Masters and prepare them for the PSM II exam. I preferred this journey more than taking individual PSM II classes individually. The benefit here would be that the Scrum Masters would take the information gradually and had to take their learnings into practice. Moreover, The Scrum Masters could share their experiences and help each other reflect on their approaches.

A group of 15 Scrum Masters had started this journey and took their PSM II exam in February and March of 2019. This exam was a result of an accomplishment for knowing more about Scrum and the Scrum Master role. I had chosen to use a learning course over individual Scrum classes to create more synergy and companionship between the Scrum Masters. This course existed out of 6 workshops in which they dug deeper into the 8 stances of a Scrum Master and PSM II material monthly and reflected on their learnings between the courses. Once they had found each other in the course, it would increase the likelihood of them reaching out to each other after the course as well. Additionally, the Scrum Masters who participate in the Scrum Master Journey had to share their newly gained knowledge with the chapter members of their Chapter.

4.     PERSONAL LEARNINGS

I have learned a lot about the organization, the Scrum Masters and my self during this journey. I have described the most important ones below.

  1. One cannot be blamed for what one does not know. I used to spend a lot of time wondering why Scrum Masters did not focus on their growth, why the Product Owner and the rest of the organization pushed our Scrum Masters towards team leader roles etc. I now have figured out that they probably do not do it on purpose. It was my job to teach them the meaning behind the roles, then managing their expectations, and challenging them to grow.
  2. Helping people by saying no. I have learned that filling in gaps is only beneficial in the short term. I used to make presentations and educate Scrum Masters and Product Owners on specific topics when they asked me for help. By saying “No” more often, Scrum Masters and Product Owners had to find a solution by themselves. This resulted in them having to dig deeper into the theory themselves, which in turn lead to them having more knowledge about it. And eventually, using this knowledge to become less dependent on me. When a Scrum Master asked me if I could help the team explain how story points worked, I said “NO”. Instead, I asked the scrum master to find information online, and I would then be in the room as a back-up when she tried to explain the concept of Story Points to the team.
  3. We needed external expertise. I used to have several group sessions with Scrum Masters as well as individual coaching sessions. However, I did not always reach my goal in having them focus more on their roles. I have learned that outside help, or an authority on the subject, would accomplish more in one day than I could achieve in one month. It is still essential though to reflect on the learnings with the Scrum Masters after the authority has left.
  4. No help. During this process, I have also had the chance to get to know myself better. I was very helpful and took on any scream for help. This was because I cared about the colleague as a person, the team members, the organization and our customers. Although being there for them all the time was good for my ego, it was not good for the learning process of the Scrum Masters in the long term. I had to say “No” more often so that the Scrum Masters could face their struggles and create their learning path.
  5. Putting my own needs first. Initially, the idea for Scrum Master growth was “Scrum Masters step-up and Agile Coaches Step-in.” Although I had a full commitment to step in, I realized that I would not be happy to step in. This was a tough time for me because I wanted to contribute to reaching our goals. However, after several talks, I concluded that stepping out would also contribute to achieving the goal of Scrum Masters stepping up.

 

Looking back at the path taken to make the role of Agile coaches obsolete, I believe it was a successful journey. Knowing what I know now, I would, however, do a few things differently. I would, for example, hire new and more senior Scrum Masters sooner in the process. It took a lot of effort to coach multiple Scrum Masters in the beginning. Senior Scrum Masters could have helped in coaching and being a role model on being a good Scrum Master.

5.     ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am very proud of this achievement and team effort. I want to thank the following colleagues:

Edgar Stormbroek, my manager, thank you for your trust in me to make our Scrum Masters Awesome.

Jordann Gross, Agile Coach, you were the brain of this fantastic idea.

Bianca Staargaard, an Agile Coach, thank you for challenging me, the Scrum Masters and the leadership team to get these results.

Scrum Masters, thank you for your trust and for allowing me to share my knowledge and make my role obsolete.

Eduardo Guerra, I also want to thank you as my Shepherd for helping me write down my thoughts for publication.

 

REFERENCES

Kniberg, H., & Ivarsson, A. (2012). Scaling Agile @ Spotify - with Tribes, Squads, Chapters & Guilds. Stockholm: Crisp.se.

Manns, M. L., & Rising, L. (2005). Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas. Addison-Wesley.

About the Author

Ziryan is an experiences Agilist with over 10 years of experience in Agile organizations. He holds an Agile Coaching certificate, PSM-I, and PSM-II and is a PST candidate for Scrum.org. Furthermore, Ziryan holds a Bachelor degree in Business Information Technology, Majoring in Cross-Cultural and virtual teams. He also holds a Master degree in Business Administration on Change in Organizations. He has over 12 years of experience in IT-organizations in which he has fulfilled several roles, such as Business Consultant, Analyst, Tester, Scrum Master, Product Owner en Agile Coach.