The Agile Enterprise Coach

ART02x - edited feature imageWhen your organization chooses to transition into more agile and leaner ways of working, you quickly discover that this effort needs to address all aspects of your organization and not just your solution delivery teams.

Many transformation efforts invest in agile team coaches, which is a very good thing to do, but will often shortchange other areas of coaching in the belief that they’ll figure it out on their own.  It may work out that way, but even when it does, this is an expensive, slow, and error-prone approach.  In our experience it’s far better to get help from an experienced Enterprise Coach.

An Enterprise Coach coaches “beyond the team” to help senior managers and leaders understand and adopt an agile and lean mindset.  As you will soon see, this requires a similar, yet different skill set than what is required for team coaching. In this blog we will work through three key concepts:

  1. The Types of Agile Coaches
  2. Skills of an Enterprise Coach
  3. Supporting Other Coaches

Types of Agile Coaches

As you see in the following diagram we like to distinguish between several types of coaches:

  1. Team Coach. As the name suggests, a Team Coach coaches solution delivery teams through improvement efforts. The focus is usually on improving the performance of individual teams. This is the most common type of coach, and our guess is that 95% or more of agile coaches fall into this category.
  2. Specialized Coach. A “Specialized Coach” is someone who focuses on non-solution delivery aspects of your organization.  They are typically senior team coaches who have a deep background in one or more process blades.  For example, you may have a specialized coach focused on Enterprise Architecture and Reuse Engineering, or one that is focused on FinancePortfolio Management, and Control, or one that is focused on Enterprise Architecture and Data Management.  The people who are working in non-solution delivery areas need coaching just like people on solution delivery teams do.  More on this in a future blog posting.
  3. Enterprise Coach.  Sometimes called Transformation Coaches or Executive Coaches, these coaches work with senior and executive management to help them to understand new ways of working and organizing themselves.  Enterprise Coaches will often focus on executive coaching, of which there are three types: IT executive coaching, business executive coaching, and manager coaching.  All are equally vital to your agile transformation and continuous improvement efforts.  An area often ignored in coaching is the role of managers as agile leaders and coaches of your agile teams.  Executive Coaches can help guide managers from a style of “managing” to leadership.  Enterprise Coaches often find that they also need to take on the role of a Specialized Coach too. A key responsibility of an Enterprise Coach is to support the other coaches when they need help. The focus of this blog is on Enterprise Coaches.

Skills of an Enterprise Coach

The skills of an Enterprise Coach include:

  1. Coaching skills. First and foremost, enterprise coaches are coaches.  They require all of the people, collaboration, and mentoring skills of other agile coaches.  They should have many years of hands-on coaching of individual agile and lean teams in many types of situations, from the simple to very complex.
  2. Domain knowledge. An enterprise coach must have knowledge of the domain that they are working in.  There are unique challenges in financial organizations that you don’t see in automotive companies. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies are different from retailers, and so on.  Yes, it is possible for Enterprise Coaches to quickly learn the fundamentals of a new domain, but you’ll find that in the beginning that the executives that the Enterprise Coach are helping to learn agile will have to help them learn how the business runs.
  3. Understanding of how IT works. Enterprise Coaches need to understand how a Disciplined Agile IT (DAIT) department works so that they can coach IT executives effectively.  Enterprise Coaches help IT groups such as Enterprise Architecture or PMOs to understand how they need to adapt to effectively support Agile teams.
  4. Understanding of how to apply agility at the enterprise level.  Similarly, Enterprise Coaches should understand how a Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) works.  Enterprise Coaches should be experiences with modern agile practices related to non-IT functions such as human resources (also called People Management or People Operations), finance, and control.  Coaches bring expertise on practices in these areas such as modern compensation and reward systems, agile budgeting, rolling wave planning, agile procurement, and agile marketing.
  5. Experience and knowledge of the various IT domains. A broad understanding of IT is critical, and better yet having a deeper knowledge of several of the IT process blades can assist the Enterprise Coach role in guiding any specialized coaches or even stepping into that role themselves.  This is important because people working in areas such as Data ManagementRelease Management, or IT Governance often believe that they are “special” and agile can’t possibly apply to them (it’s only for programmers after all).  Without a good understanding of these areas, an Enterprise Coach will struggle to help the IT leaders that they are coaching to counteract these arguments.
  6. Transformation and improvement coaching.  Enterprise Coaches should understand, and be experienced with lean approaches to organizational transformation and improvement, often referred to as Organizational Change Management (OCM). Traditional approaches to OCM will not work.
  7. Ability to support team and specialized coaches.  See below.

Supporting Other Coaches

Enterprise Coaches support other coaches in several important ways:

  1. Transformation/improvement visioning.  Enterprise Coaches help executives to understand modern agile and lean practices used by successful agile organizations and help to create a roadmap for moving from their current to target state.
  2. Organizational structural change.  Experienced coaches can help organizations to create organizational structure to be conducive to the evolution of high performance teams.  This would include design of cross-functional, stable teams aligned to value streams or lines of business (LOBs).  They can also help design workspaces for effective collaboration between team members and help reduce the need for separate meeting rooms.
  3. Organizational coordination.  One of the most important things that an Enterprise Coach does is help team coaches to overcome challenges collaborating with other, not-so-agile teams.  The reality is that 96% of agile teams must collaborate with one or more teams or groups within their organization at some point. 96%!  Some of those teams may very well be struggling with working in an agile manner and may even be opposed to it.  These sorts of challenges are often beyond the remit of a team coach to address, so when they occur, the team coach will often ask for help from an Enterprise Coach who does have the relationships with the right people to smooth over such problems.  Enterprise Coaches can also provide advice for effective collaboration strategies with vendors and offshore teams.
  4. Resources. Enterprise Coaches will sometimes help other coaches to obtain the resources – typically time and money – required to coach the teams that they’re working with.
  5. Communication.  The Enterprise Coach will actively share the overall vision of your improvement efforts, the current status, and any organizational challenges that you’re running into with the other members of the CoE.  They will of course be actively working with the people responsible for communicating this information to the rest of the organization as well.
  6. Coordination. Enterprise Coaches will often coordinate the efforts of the various team coaches in your organization to ensure that they’re working together effectively.
  7. Mentoring.  Enterprise Coaches, having seniority, will often be coaching the team and specialist coaches (all the while learning themselves).

There is of course a lot more to agile coaching that what is covered in this short blog.  Our goal with this writing was to overview the role of Enterprise Coach and show how it fits into the overall scheme of things.

This article is being shared with permission of the author, Scott W. Ambler –


submit to reddit

About Scott Ambler

Scott W. Ambler is the Senior Consulting Partner of Scott Ambler + Associates, working with organizations around the world to help them improve their software processes. He provides training, coaching, and mentoring in disciplined agile and lean strategies at both the project and organization level. Scott is the founder of the Agile Modeling (AM), Agile Data (AD), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), and Enterprise Unified Process (EUP) methodologies. He is the (co-)author of several books, including The Executive Guide to Disciplined Agile, Disciplined Agile Delivery, Refactoring Databases, Agile Modeling, Agile Database Techniques, The Object Primer 3rd Edition, and The Enterprise Unified Process. Scott blogs about Disciplined Agile at Scott is also a Founding Member of the Disciplined Agile Consortium (DAC), the certification body for disciplined agile.