As Agile has exploded in popularity, more and more people are interested in learning how to become an Agile coach. In fact, “Agile coach” was named as one of Indeed.com’s best jobs in 2019, with an average base salary of $161,377. Meanwhile, the demand for passionate, experienced Agile coaches is at an all-time high.
If you’re passionate about Agile, enjoy working with teams, and are interested in making a career change, here are some tips and resources to help you get started.
How to Become an Agile Coach
So you want to become an Agile coach? Like with many modern careers, the path to becoming an Agile coach is not clearly defined. If you talk to 50 different Agile coaches about the path they took to become an Agile coach, you might get 50 different answers.
This is because Agile coaching, as a discipline, is relatively new. It has evolved alongside the rise of Agile (and related methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, and Lean) in recent decades, and will continue to evolve as Agile continues to expand into new industries, team types, and work environments.
That said, unlike the first cohort of Agile coaches, those who are interested in learning how to become an Agile coach today have the benefit of formal training programs and certifications (more on those later).
But simply undergoing a training program or getting a certification does not necessarily mean you are ready to become an Agile coach.
Perhaps even more important than having formal training in Agile coaching, is having the right experience working in and with Agile teams. Here are some informal (but in our opinion, necessary) prerequisites for becoming an Agile coach.
Start by Learning Scrum
Although there are plenty of coaches that specialize in eXtreme Programming (XP), Kanban, and other specific Agile methodologies, it’s a good bet that most Agile coaches got their start with the Scrum framework. Why?
Starting with Scrum will give you a solid foundation in understanding the basics of an Agile mindset and the Agile manifesto, as well as Agile principles and values.
If you want to become an Agile coach, you should first gain some experience working as part of a Scrum or Agile team. Ideally, you’ll want to gain experience in each of the three main Scrum roles:
- Scrum Master
- Product Owner
- Development Team Member
If you don’t already have experience working as part of an Agile or Scrum team, start there. Make sure that you are not simply filling these roles as a way to “check boxes” on your path toward becoming an Agile coach. The richer, and more meaningful, your experiences working as part of an Agile team, the more value you’ll be able to add as an Agile coach.
Pursue Scrum Master Certification
Training and certification will boost your credibility and ultimately, set you up for success as an Agile coach.
Like learning the Scrum framework will give you a basic understanding of Agile, getting certified as a Scrum Master helps you learn how to be a leader of Agile teams – regardless of whether you’re coaching a team that’s practicing Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), or another Agile approach.
We recommend looking into one of the entry-level Scrum Master certifications (either Professional Scrum Master from Scrum.org or Certified ScrumMaster from the Scrum Alliance) as a first step toward becoming an Agile coach.
Continue Learning about Agile
If you’re looking at how to become an Agile coach, it’s likely that you already do a fair amount of Agile learning for fun. Keep this up!
In addition to Scrum, a good Agile coach also needs to learn about the Kanban framework.
Useful for implementing Agile at the team level as much as it is essential for scaling Agile across an organization, Kanban is a key element of both Agile Program Management and Lean Portfolio Management. Both of those approaches for scaling Agile leverage Kanban to plan and visualize work at the portfolio level and across Agile teams of teams.
Even if you see yourself working primarily with individual teams, achieving a level of proficiency in scaled Agile frameworks and coaching business units beyond IT (especially with Kanban, which many business teams prefer to help them balance both operational and project work) will help you round out your qualifications as an Agile coach.
Wherever you choose to specialize, there are countless books, blogs, videos, and other resources you can consume to expand your knowledge.
Check out this list of our favorite Agile books for inspiration!
Pursue Other Training Courses and Certifications
Along with your Scrum certification, consider adding a few other relevant certifications to your resume as you work to become an Agile coach. Think of these like tools in your tool belt – although you might not need all of them to get a job done, having more than one gives you options for solving different problems.
Here are some training courses and certifications to consider:
- Lean & Kanban
- Agile Coaching Institute (now part of Accenture)
- IC Agile
- International Coaching Federation
- Leading SAFe®
- SAFe® Agilist
Connect with Other Agile Coaches
One way to expand your horizons as you learn how to become an Agile coach is to connect with other, perhaps more experienced, Agile coaches. If you have a favorite Agile blogger, author, or speaker, reach out to see if they’d be willing to do an informational chat. You can also attend their virtual conferences, participate in their webinars, or sign up for their email newsletter to keep up with them!
Additional Tips for Success as an Agile Coach
Once you have the experience and certifications you need to launch your career as an Agile coach, there are few things you will want to keep in mind.
Think Beyond the Team Level
If you have experience working as a Scrum Master, you’re used to working at the team level. But, as we mentioned earlier, Agile is as important (if not even more so) to organizations as it is to teams.
As an Agile coach, it’s important to be able to affect change not just within individual teams, but within the context of the entire organization.
Most organizations looking to hire an Agile coach are looking for Agile transformation across many teams — so understanding how Agile works at scale, and being able to coach organizations through that, is imperative.
Don’t Strive to Be Indispensable
A common piece of career advice for most professionals is to aim to be indispensable — in other words, be so good, they can’t function without you. As an Agile coach, your goal is actually the opposite. Yes, you want to be invaluable — but if you are indispensable, that means that you have not provided your clients with the tools they need to practice Agile on their own. And isn’t that the whole point?
Agile coaches play an important role in an Agile transformation. It is important to remember the quest to transform is to achieve better business results. You will run into resistance along the way but understand that it is all part of the process.
For more information about the role of the Agile coach and the importance of arming the teams they support with the ability to visualize, plan, coordinate, and deliver their biggest initiatives watch the webinar: “Agile Coaches: Drive better business results.”