It’s about time I got around to reading the whole Agile Coaching book by Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley. I’ve owned it for at least six months now but has sat with a number of other books that demanded my attention. Fortunately long flights (like back to Australia) give you lots of time to pass with books to read. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it as well. The short version: if you’re interested in what agile coaches do, or if you’re working in an agile team, particularly a leadership role, this book is for you.
When you first open the book, it’s obvious it is a Pragmatic Press book. It jumps straight in with lots of helpful hints for those that want or are currently looking to be an agile coach. It’s broken up into four main areas, with smaller sections revolving around specific agile practices. This also means it’s fairly easy to digest it in smaller pieces (something I probably could have tried) doing the daily commute on the train.
I’ve been fortunate to know Rachel and Liz before and during their book writing. This book really captures the way they work, and great advice in the form of very practical tips for people. I hope that any readers, even without knowing the authors, can tell the wealth of experience both of them bring. I think writing a book on agile coaching is pretty tough. There’s a temptation to focus on the coaching elements alone, or to capture the distilled gotchas around introducing and coaching teams on specific agile practices. This book definitely gets the balance right for those new to coaching agile teams – enough background to the practice with helpful hints (it’s not meant to be a definitive guide on a particular practice) yet framed in a way that would definitely help anyone introducing and encouraging an agile way of working.
There are many other people this book wasn’t written for (more on that later) yet in its form is the best collection of wisdom steeped in experience that I see budding agile coaches benefiting from. I wish I had something like this when I first started out explicitly acting as an agile coach.
Like all the pragmatic books, this one is really easy to read. I think it took me about three hours on the first leg of my flight to finish it. Reading through each of the sections, the authors offer advice and helpful techniques. Many I’ve drawn upon over the years and draw upon often, a few I’ve never used and many that I definitely needed a reminder about using them. In other words, this book contain lots of practical advice that can really work depending on your team and circumstance.
There are many things that I like about this book – including the small personalised stories from both authors, named techniques that will help new coaches remember them better, and a very direct try this and see sort of philosophy that is both pragmatic and living by an agile way of working. I particularly approve of this book being, for the most part, methodology-neutral mentioning a broad spread of practices and principles individual methodologies espouse followed up with many other links to resources, books and references for agile coaches to then follow. I also like the hurdles section (there’s often much more than those listed!) as it hopefully prepares agile coaches for what happens when things don’t go to plan (almost always).
This book definitely fills a need – helping new agile coaches work out where to start with lots of advice that can be applied almost immediately. This book is also a useful reminder of tehcniques and a way of filling in some gaps for agile coaches who might have only experienced some of the agile practices and ways of working.
Like all well focused, practical books, part of what makes it so well focused and good are the areas that it leaves out (something I’m sure will be filled by other books to come). Some of these topics include:
- Setting up an agile coaching gig right (when they perhaps need something broader than agile coaching) – it’s no panacea for all organisational problems and coaching isn’t guaranteed to turn every situation in short timeframes
- Coaching larger teams or large organisations
- Coaching distributed teams
- Helping organisations “go agile”
- Different types of coaching engagements (full time – to part time)
- Working with other agile coaches as a team
I’m glad someone got around to putting this book together – and I’m happier knowing that it’s also written by practitioners grounded in plenty of real world experience and a variety of different contexts. To new coaches, many of these apporaches may seem optimisitc or impossible but I know that they’re all tested and can work in the right circumstances. Read this book as a way of starting off and refining your own agile coaching style – don’t view this as a definititve book to agile coaching, and as the authors put it so well at the end of the book – develop yourself continually.