The value of an Agile Coach – or Football coach.

As I sit here today, three days from Super Bowl LIII, I’m thinking of two things.  First, will the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year? And second, why do companies not understand the value of an agile coach?

It made me think about the Patriot’s coach, Bill Belichick, and his job as coach to, arguably, one of the best all-time football teams.  In comparison, an Agile coach for an organization that is shifting its culture.  What are the parallels? What are the differences?   Why do we call both of them a “coach”?

Bill Belichick doesn’t actually play football.  He’s not on the field, catching passes or blocking the opponent.  But, he’s considered the foremost guide on how the team actually should play on the field. Why?  Is it because he used to play football? Well, he actually did play football, during high school and college, but not professionally.  He just “gets it”, and is able to articulate that into guiding principles that the team can use to win games. 

He doesn’t tell the team what to do, he works with them on plays and strategies, and acknowledges that once they’re on the field, they’re going to have to think for themselves when things go sideways.  He helps them remember the goals, strategies and principles of football so that they can use them as needed in those situations.

How difficult would it be to coach that team if he was also a player?  Why can’t the quarterback, who is the leader/coach during the play do both? I bet none of the NFL would ever consider that. 

Let’s consider the agile coach in the same light.  She’s not on the team.  She doesn’t necessarily know how to code but she’s probably pretty familiar with the strategies that agile teams need to adopt to make their job work better.  She “gets it” and is able to articulate that into guiding principles that the team can use to be successful. 

She doesn’t tell the team what to do, she works with them on strategies and acknowledges that once they’re working, they’re going to have to think for themselves when things go sideways.  She helps them remember the goals, strategies and principles so that they can use them as needed in those situations.

How difficult would it be to coach that team if she was also a coder and busy working instead of seeing the whole of the team and how they work together?  Why can’t the scrum master, who is the leader/coach during the day to day operations of the team do both? 

Hmm.  I just realized that I repeated those two paragraphs, just about word for word, except for the type of coach.

I bet if we were to ask the NFL to quantify the value of their coaches in ROI and dollars, they’d be hard pressed to actually say how much BETTER the team is in comparison to if they had no coach at all.  They’d just say it’s impossible to NOT have a coach, let alone employ one just for the beginning of the season.  Early in the season, the Patriots were only winning 50% of the time.  If you were to measure Belichick’s value 4 games into the season, Robert Kraft would certainly be justified in firing him.  Who wants a coach with a 50% win-loss ratio? They would have fired possibly the coach of the next Super Bowl LIII Champions! (Or at least the second best depending on this weekend’s outcome).

All I know is that if Belichick were pulled from the Patriots right now, three days before the Super Bowl, the Patriots would lose.  So why would you stop paying for agile coaches while your teams are working toward achieving the goals of your organization? Do you still expect to win?  I wouldn’t bet on that game.

Wendy Avery – Enterprise Agile Coach

http://www.linkedin.com/in/wendy-avery