Explaining an Agile Coach to Mother

By Joe in Agile Other on January 18, 2013

Image 0864 full 2x

I’ve had a handful of strange jobs in my life and they have always been fun to try and explain them to my mother. When I was in the Yachting Industry it took a while before she understood the difference between working on a cruise ship and a super yacht. When I tried to explain to her what Drupal was, we just left the job description at “I build websites for small businesses”.

Now that I have decided to walk the road of the Agile Coach, I’ve found that the job is so different in nature to what most people think of as a job, that an accurate one line definition doesn’t easily exist. Often, when asked at BBQs or other non-work gatherings what an Agile Coach is, I default to the old “It’s like a project manager or team leader.” Which is definitely not a great way to describe it, but kept me from having to go into a long winded discussion on my day off.

Recently in a conversation with my mother, she gave me the answer that I now use regularly.

Mother: I know you explained it to us before, but your father and I still don’t understand what an Agile Coach does.
Me: I coach the team to help them work better together.
Mother: So you are in charge?
Me: Yes and no.. but mostly no.
Mother: So how do you get them to cooperate?
Me: The team has agreed that they want to work under a set of ideals defined as Agile.
Mother: A set of ideals?
Me: Yeah, like thou shalt not kill and such.
Mother: Oh, like commandments.
Me: No, more like principles. Maybe “thou shalt not kill” is wrong. I guess it’s more like “a penny saved is a penny earned”
Mother: Ok. So they all want to work under these principles and you are the enforcer?
Me: There isn’t really any forcing at all. I’m there to help remind them that they want to work under these principles. I’m there to encourage collaboration.
Mother: So you remind them of something they want to do? Is that really a job?
Me: Okay, try this; You know the classic trope of the coach giving his or her team a pep talk right before a big meet right?
Mother: Of course.
Me: Well why do you suppose the coach does that?
Mother: To get them excited about the game. To get them all to share the same goal?
Me: Would you say it’s to create a type of collaboration?
Mother: Sure.
Me: And why do you suppose a coach would need to do that? The team will have trained together for some time, they all know what the goal is, why they are there.
Mother: I don’t know. I’d imagine because even though they are all there for the same reasons, they have a life outside of the game, they could be thinking about anything before getting on that field. Or maybe they have doubts.
Me: So the coach synchronizes them?
Mother: Exactly!.. So is that what you do? You help synchronize the team?
Me: That’s part of it, but there is one more element that makes the biggest difference.
Mother: and that is?
Me: While a sports coach is always in charge of their team an Agile Coach is only responsible for it’s growth. You have to be aware of the elements in the project the team is working on. You need to be intimate with the details and the pressures surrounding it, but instead of making choices for the team, you empower them to make their own choices collectively.
Mother: Wait, the team makes choices for themselves on how they work?
Me: Pretty much. I’m there to help them make those choices in an Agile way.

My mother considered this for a bit and then said:

Mother: So what happens when they begin thinking in an Agile way by themselves and then don’t need you?
Me: That turns into a job well done!
Mother: That doesn’t sound like a very good career.
Me: Even the best teams can benefit from the occasional visit from a coach. There are always ways to improve. Plus life changes people and as they change the group dynamic will change as well. An Agile Coach can help the team find its way through the changes.
Mother: But your goal is still to put yourself out of a job?

I laughed, shrugged and nodded. That was about as close as I would get at that point.

Hello my name is Joe and I’m in the business of putting myself out of work.