Book Review: Agile Coaching

Authors:      Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley
Published:   2009
Publisher:   The Pragmatic Bookshelf
Paperback: 240 pages

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”,  says a Chinese proverb. Coaching is all about how to teach someone to fish.  An ideal coach is  a dispensable
(Yes you read it right ! It is “a dispensable” not “an indispensable”)  asset for an organization transitioning to agile or for an agile team having an urge to realize its full potential.

The coach who has become indispensable and keeps the team dependent on him has not done his job well.The ultimate yardstick of whether a coach has delivered results is whether the teams coached by her have progressed from “looking up to the coach” to “becoming a self-reliant team no longer dependent on the coach”.

In this book the authors have laid out a clear-cut road map for achieving this goal. Drawing from their own experiences as Agile coaches they provide practical advice, tips and techniques on how to coach the team on their journey towards self-reliance.

The book consists of four parts.
Part I Coaching Basics: The “whats and hows” of agile coaching; skills that help in working with people viz; listening , giving feedback, resolving issues/conflicts; leading change through effectively introducing and facilitating it; establishing conditions for teamwork to make the team jell.
Part II Planning as a Team: Taking the team beyond the standard format of daily standup meeting and helping them customize the meeting to suit their needs; how to introduce user stories to the team and avoid common pitfalls;helping the team strike the right balance between high-level and detailed planning; coaching the team to keep maintaining the visibility of items like iteration plans, retrospective actions, the state of the software etc.
Part III Caring About Quality: Helping the team to understand clearly exactly what “being done” means and how they can collaborate to make it happen; getting the team started on Test-driven development (TDD) and overcoming the barriers to implementing it; helping the team make the shift to Continuous Integration; making “clean code” a focus for the team and getting them started with Agile practices such as incremental design, collective code ownership, and pair programming.
Part IV Listening to Feedback: Helping the team run effective demos that feel useful and productive;the mechanics of retrospective design and techniques for running successful retrospectives; enhancing the coaching abilities.

At the end of every chapter  there is a list of possible hurdles which an agile coach may face and the tips to handle them. This in my opinion is one of the USPs of this book.

I liked the way the authors go beyond the cookie cutter approach of implementing agile practices (for e.g. daily standup meeting). They are also humble enough not to make tall claims about the effectiveness of their approach. They clearly say in the introduction that “Every person, project, team, and organization is different, so we can’t prescribe exactly what you should do in your situation. Instead, we give general guidelines to follow and ideas on different options you can apply. We can’t give you formulas to follow that will always work, because no two situations are alike. Throughout the book, We share stories about what we did in different circumstances, along with some more specific tips that you can use if your situation happens to match the one we describe. You’ll need to decide whether to apply our advice to your teams.”

This book is a must-have tool of an Agile Coach ! Highly recommended reading for every one in the agile team as well!

Contents and Extracts from the book : Visit this link to the publisher’s site and  read the full table of contents;  the foreword by Ron Jeffries, one of the founders of XP;
Chapter 1 Introduction (complete); Chapter 2 Working with People (extract); and
Chapter 5 Daily Standup (extract).

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One Response to Book Review: Agile Coaching

  1. Pingback: Coaching Agile Teams | Delivering Value through Process Solutions

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