Becoming an Extraordinary Agile Coach | Bob Galen

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In this conversation, Bob Galen discusses his journey into agile coaching, the motivation behind his latest book called “Extraordinary Badass Agile Coach”, and the agile coaching profession.

Bob is an agile leader, coach, author, and community builder with nearly 20 years of experience in turning around struggling organizations and teams. As a Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), he specializes in agile leadership, scaling agile enterprises, agile testing, and DevOps. Bob is dedicated to leveraging Scrum+XP, Lean, and Kanban practices to deliver software value effectively.


  • Continuous learning and self-mastery are essential for agile coaches.
  • The Agile Coaching Growth Wheel provides a framework for developing coaching skills and identifying areas for growth.
  • Coaches should focus on developing expertise in technical, product, or organizational domains.
  • Effective communication, storytelling, and adaptability are key skills for coaches.
  • Coaches should avoid complacency, be patient, and take a holistic approach to coaching.
  • Addressing systemic issues and looking beyond team-level coaching is crucial for success.
  • Finding meaningful metrics is important for tracking progress and improvement. Metrics can create dysfunction in organizations, so coaches should be cautious and use data carefully.
  • Coaches need to understand leaders’ goals and speak their language, rather than immediately translating everything into agile terms.
  • Building empathy and relationships with leaders is crucial before diving into coaching.
  • Balancing confidentiality and transparency when accessing sensitive information is an ethical dilemma that coaches must navigate.
  • The coaching industry is undergoing a shift, with a focus on excellence and the rise of highly skilled coaches.
  • Aspiring coaches should read key books, find mentors, engage in the agile community, and focus on self-mastery.

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(00:00) Intro

(05:45) Extraordinary Badass Agile Coach Book

(09:30) The Agile Coaching Growth Wheel: A Framework for Development

(13:22) Developing Competencies for Coaches

(19:06) Mistakes that Coaches Make

(24:15) Advice to Coaches to Enhance Their Technical Skills

(28:20) Challenges of Metrics in Agile Coaching

(33:49) Building Empathy and Relationships with Leaders

(41:15) Balancing Confidentiality and Transparency in Accessing Sensitive Information

(43:23) Agile Coaching Trends

(49:05) Advice from Bob Galen

Transcript (Edited by Vit Lyoshin for better readability)

Vit Lyoshin (00:03.003)

Hello everyone, welcome back to the Vit Lyoshin Podcast. Today’s guest is Bob Gallen, an agile coach, speaker, author, and community builder. Welcome Bob, It’s nice to have you here.

Bob Galen (00:17.923)

Thank you, Vit. Thank you for inviting me. I’ve been looking forward to it. So, I appreciate the invitation and I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Vit Lyoshin (00:26.267)

Sure, thank you. I’d like to talk to you about agile coaching and leadership and also about your book, your latest book, which is called Extraordinary Badass Agile Coach. And before we jump in, maybe if you’d like to say a couple of words, about what motivated you to become an agile coach, and have been doing this for so long.

Bob Galen (00:51.971)

Sure. I wrote a blog not recently, not that long ago. And that’s my answer to everything. So I do a lot of writing. But I reflected back on my direction. So my direction into coaching was not to, I didn’t want to be a coach. I was trained in university as a software developer. I started out many years ago with developing software. And then I started leading teams. And I got promoted and I acquired senior leadership roles. In the mid-90s to the late 90s, I discovered Agile, Scrum, early Agile practices, and Crystal. There were a bunch of early methodologies, pre Agile Manifesto in 2001. So I started, I was a director then or CTO director.

So I was using Agile practices with my teams. And then along the way, I guess I was influencing. So as a leader of people in teams, I would coach their performance. And then I was coaching Agile, but I didn’t think of it as a coach. I thought of it as a leadership. And then somewhere maybe 10, 15 years ago, Agile coaching became a thing. And I sort of joined that bandwagon.

So I came at it from the direction of software development, leadership, and cross-product domain. I have a strong product management background, a strong testing background, et cetera. So I came at it from that point of view.

I think other people nowadays, they come at it from outside the domain. Some people are coming into agile coaching because it sounds good or it’s a way of making money, et cetera. I’m not saying they’re malicious, but they don’t have the strong domain experience or the strong practice experience that I had. So I think coaches are coming at it. A lot of them either have one direction or the other. And so my direction was more technical chops related. And I just naturally started using Agile and then influencing Agile, writing about it.

I wrote a few books not just the coaching, I wrote a product owner book. I wrote a book about agile testing. So that was my passion. And that’s how I entered the space. So maybe I’m the accidental agile coach.

Vit Lyoshin (03:27.195)

Yeah, well, it sounds like it’s about maybe half and half split when people come from the technical world and become coaches eventually. And sometimes it’s opposite people from the business side or a soft skill side, I should say, come and they become coaches as well. So it’s both sides. There is a lot of psychology and humanity in this profession. So there are soft skills need to be there too.

Bob Galen (03:55.267)

I mean, I think there’s, I’m opinionated, I think there’s a better direction. So I think it’s harder to come at it from the soft skills side of things because you have to learn a lot. You have to be humble and you have to realize that you have to build up your domain. What I think of as domain chops, either in product or technology or leadership. Or you naturally have them. So I think it’s a little bit easier to become a coach if you have that strong domain foundation as opposed to coming in from a different direction. But both directions can work, I think.

Vit Lyoshin (04:31.963)

Let’s talk about your book. Can you tell me what actually motivated you to write your latest book? Were there any gaps that you were trying to close in the industry with your book?

Bob Galen (04:50.403)

I think so. For me, writing is not natural for me, even though I do a lot of it and I like it. I need to be motivated. I need to be fired up about something. When I wrote the product owner book, I was fired up because there wasn’t a lot of guidance. So the first edition of that book came out in 2009. And if you were practicing Agile around 2007, 8, 9, the product owner role was very ill defined.

And there were a lot of product owners that were struggling. So I was fired up about trying to provide guidance there. Fast forward to the coaching book. I was fired up about mediocrity basically in agile coaching. My view was there’s a lot of mediocre agile coaches. I don’t think they were ill-intentioned, but I don’t think there was a strong lineage towards a professional coaching stance.

A lot of agile coaches had one stance that they were really leaning into. And there was a lot of mediocrity. And I wanted to sort of raise the bar. Maybe think of it as the professionalism of agile coaching, the craft of agile coaching. And I wanted to do something about trying to raise the bar. Now that being said, I don’t know if the book has done that. But I think it’s done that in pockets.

Right now, the economics of agile coaches, agile coaching is getting disrupted. And I think part of that is because of skill. And I think part of that disruption is value and the economy and the dilution of agile coaches. I think there’s a few excellent agile coaches and there’s a large majority still of sort of average or mediocre agile coaches. And I was trying to disrupt that.

Vit Lyoshin (06:47.963)

I see. I had a conversation not long ago with one of the coaches and he was saying that having agile coaches lately has been a luxury for companies. So maybe it’s because of some bad economic times and some other things that are going on in the industries with disruptions of AI and things like that. It’s been causing this. So I think having some guidance such as your book, and having some techniques and steps how to elevate your skills. I think that’s great.

And I think that’s where the word badass comes from. You have a little explanation in your book with a lot of synonyms and words about what it means. I think people should understand what it means. It really means an exceptionally good person who’s doing this job right.

Bob Galen (07:41.443)

I think so, or someone who’s actually relentlessly trying to get better. So when I say mediocre coaching, I think many coaches are complacent. Like they’ll attend a coaching class or a certification class, or they’re a scrum master, and then they get the label that I’m a coach, and then they get complacent and they stop walking their talk. So badassery to me is like you said, to me part of it is that relentless pursuit of growth, of learning, of curiosity and growth, and never getting complacent.

Vit Lyoshin (08:17.531)

Yeah, a lifetime of learning, that’s great. That’s what many professions require. And also you introduced the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel, which is kind of like a guide or a framework for different skills and to double check with yourself, like a checklist, basically, or verification of what you have and where you can elevate your skills.

Anything you want to mention about that and how maybe coaches can use it to grow their skills?

Bob Galen (08:53.635)

Sure. I mean, when I was writing the book, so there’s the predecessor to the Agile coaching growth wheel was something Lisa Adkins and Michael Spade talked about called the Agile coaching competency framework or ACCF, or sometimes people call it the X-wing model. And that was the predecessor model for what a well-rounded Agile coach is.

And there were stances in there, competencies. There was a bunch of them. Agile Lean. So your Agile Lean experience was a foundational experience. Servant Leadership was, you know, a foundational experience. Then they talked about four primary competencies of facilitating, professional coaching, teaching, and mentoring. And so you think of that as a coach as that role. So I’m an Agile Coach facilitating, or I’m an Agile Coach mentoring.

A Scrum Master does a lot of that. A Scrum Master would be facilitating. So I’m not stuck on the title coach. I think a Scrum Master, to me personally, is a coach. One of the things, when I was writing the book, I wanted to anchor on something, but the ACCF is dated. It was introduced in 2010. And I’ve always felt that it missed a couple of competencies. One was leadership, and the other was advising or consulting. In order to give the coach permission to provide advice.

So if you meet a lot of agile coaches nowadays, they think that providing advice is bad. And they look at that from the point of view of the professional coaching stance, like professional coaching stance is asking questions so that the client solves their own problems. But what if the client can’t or whoever you’re coaching can’t, what if the team can’t solve their own problems? Can you provide advice?

So, the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel surfaced. It’s not mine, it surfaced from the community about 2017. 2016, 17, 18, it surfaced from some coaching retreats and it added those competencies and that really aligned with my view of Agile Coaching. And also I like the metaphor, the wheel, like becoming a well-rounded coach. I like the physics of the wheel as well.

So I anchored the book on that. I used it to talk about dancing and stances, an agile coach being nimble and being able to or should be skilled at navigating many stances depending on what the client needs from us, and adding those stances as well.

Vit Lyoshin (11:44.123)

Yeah, I think this is a really good model because the coaches should be able to adapt to the situation and wear multiple hats and either just ask questions or make advice or actually step up and do a job a little bit, helping Scrum Master, helping product owner. They should be able to do this all in my view. And I think that model covers that pretty well.

Another thing, you covered a lot of different coaching techniques in your book with some examples. Can you please highlight maybe a couple that you find personally very useful in real life?

Bob Galen (12:24.931)

So I think the wheel serves as a technique backdrop. If you think of, for example, I would rather not talk about specific techniques, I would rather talk about developing your competencies.

So facilitation, for example. Facilitation, you wanna acquire skills there, you wanna be able to facilitate meetings and decision-making. You wanna have tactics like liberating structures. So. Under the competency of facilitation, there are a lot of tactics, books, et cetera, that you can tackle. I don’t want to list them all. I think it’s important to say, that if I’m in a role and facilitation is something I need to be able to do, I need to be able to grow in those areas.

Leadership coaching. I think one of the effective tools there is empathy, for example, listening, empathy for the leader, listening to the leader, adjusting your language. I think a lot of Agile coaches, use Agile, what I call Agile gobbledygook, we use Agile terminology, and we expect everyone to understand that and resonate with that. And I think that’s a huge mistake. I think we should be talking in terms of the business, trying to ask our teams or leaders or organizations or product organizations. What problems are they trying to solve? And then bringing agile techniques to that without the overuse of language.

So that would be something else of becoming adept at coaching up or coaching leaders. So to me, that would be an advising stance and learning how to give advice. How do you give advice? One of the things I talked about in the book was storytelling. And what I mean by that is not becoming a storyteller, but using it as a, I think coaches need to communicate incredibly effectively, at a team level, at an organizational level, at a leadership level. And a lot of, you know, we talk about it being soft skills, which sort of is soft and squishy.

But I would say part of that is, you know, really sharp communication ability, the ability to change your communication style based on your audience. If you’re talking to a team versus talking to a senior leader like a CEO, you need to be able to adjust that. So practice.

I think one of the things is keeping the wheel in the back of your mind and trying to become well-rounded. And then the idea is deciding where you are going to grow. I think it’s a mistake to try to grow everywhere around the wheel. So look at your job and say, what competencies do I need to grow to the excellent in my job, and then where am I? So use it as an assessment. And then whatever the gap is, then grow in those areas. And that would be classes and reading.

But I think another thing though is just practice. I don’t know if that came through in the book, but I was trying to emphasize coaching is not a reading thing, it’s a doing thing. And you have to practice having coaching conversations, like a lot.

So practice facilitation a lot. Find a mentor. So how do you become a good facilitator? Well, pair facilitate with someone who’s stronger than you are and be humble enough to learn from them and watch them and then grow that way.

Vit Lyoshin (16:04.539)

And I guess that’s where you mentioned the dojos, that people can participate in those communities or meetups or whatever they are, and just practice, practice because that’s the best way to do it. Yeah, that makes sense.

Bob Galen (16:22.627)

Well, you said something critical, I think earlier, you said it was situational. And so a lot of people want to have this script, tell me how to coach. So a lot of those mediocre coaches, they want a checklist, tell me how to coach. And how do I coach leaders? What’s the checklist? And, there’s no checklist, every leader is different.

You could have a really kind leader and you can have a leader who’s grumpy. And a leader who has time and a leader who has no time for you or doesn’t respect you and anything in between. So you have to be very situational and very sense and respond and very nimble in your thinking. And how do you get that? How do you gain that? I think it’s one of the keys is practice in different situations. So scenario-based practice can help you to be able to think on your feet and to respond in those ways.

Vit Lyoshin (17:21.723)

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s where the stances come with the wheel, right? Because they correlate with each other basically. And instead of focusing on specific techniques, just figure out the roadmap of your own development, which stances you want to be expert in, and which ones are kind of like okay for you for right now, and grow from there.

Are there any major pitfalls or mistakes that coaches usually, especially in the early days that they make, that maybe this can help them stay away or maybe just from your experience they should avoid?

Bob Galen (18:11.491)

I think one thing that we didn’t mention is in the, in the middle of the wheel is a hub called self-mastery. And I think one of the problems when I was talking, when I was complaining about mediocre coaches, I see a lot of agile coaches who tell people what to do, but they don’t do it themselves as much. So they’re coaching by telling, but they’re not coaching by doing.

And self-mastery is the anchor of the wheel for all of the competencies. There are things in there like continuous learning, walk your talk. Ethics are in there. There’s a bunch of characteristics in there. Self-awareness is a part of self-mastery, emotional intelligence, coaching presence, and being present with your client, whoever you’re coaching, are attributes of self-mastery.

Assessing yourself on the wheel and then having a growth plan is part of that. And I think a lot of coaches, they look at coaching as an outward activity first, and they miss the fact that it’s an inside-out job.

I teach Agile leadership, and I think it’s the same thing for Agile leaders. A lot of Agile leaders lead outward, but they’re not leading inward. They’re not walking their talk and it’s incredibly important for us to walk our talk as coaches and as leaders in an agile context. So I’d say as a beginning coach, look inside, and develop yourself.

Another thing is I think folks are very impatient. They look at coaching as being this hierarchical thing. I need to get more money. They look at it as Scrum Master. And every Scrum Master wants to be a coach. So it’s hierarchical, I’ll get more money, right? I’ll get more prestige. And that could be true, but I think it’s to be patient and realize that it’s a learning journey. And I see so many that want to rush it.

A third mistake, and I’ll stop here, is I think this is probably applicable to Scrum Masters and team coaches. Everyone looks at it, a lot of those folks look at their job as coaching the team. And I would argue that the team is easy. It’s easier to coach teams. And when you coach the team, you’re assuming that every problem is under the purview, under the control of the team. So you say, I’m coaching the team to get better. Well, what if it’s not a team problem? What if it’s an organizational problem? What if the challenge has nothing to do with the team and you’re coaching your butt off at a team level and you’re like, wow, it’s not changing anything. Well, you might want to scratch your head and say it’s a system problem. It’s an organizational problem.

So I think a lot of coaches have to realize that to be unidirectional, to not be unidirectional, but to be 360, you can coach the team, but you sometimes have to be adept at looking at the system and realize that it may be something else. I actually think if you’ve ever heard of Pareto, the Pareto Principle, the 80-20 rule, I actually think that probably 80% of what people think are team problems are actually systemic problems for the coach. So you have to be able to take your eyes off the team and put them elsewhere.

So maybe those are three things that I think a lot of entry-level coaches make some fundamental mistakes. What do you think about that?

Vit Lyoshin (22:06.843)

Yeah, I kind of agree, especially with the last one, because there’s a lot of what I would call baggage in each organization, and they’re used to doing certain things in a certain way for a long time. Some leaders may be there for a while, and people kind of get used to it. It becomes an organizational culture. And when some coach comes in, especially external, and trying to make things change really quick because they’re on that short-term contract, it becomes really hard. And all you can do and try your best is to push on the team because that’s what you can kind of control. But it’s harder to go upwards to the leaders. Those are the things to watch out for new coaches.

So we touched upon technical versus non-technical coaches in the beginning. Do you have some advice for people who come from the non-technical world on how to upgrade themselves to be more technical and have more knowledge in that area to help teams?

Bob Galen (23:22.083)

I want to generalize it and say, I don’t want to categorize it like there are technical coaches and non-technical coaches. I want to maybe differentiate it and say, I think every actual coach should become more T-shaped or nowadays people talk about pie shape. What I mean by T-shaped is you should find an area, a vertical, where you can make a difference, where you can connect organizationally and contribute value.

And if you don’t have that, remember we were talking about people coming from like I came from development, so I immediately had T-shapeness, but people coming from the outside have to develop a T.

So what are some of the T’s or what are some of the verticals? I would say technical skills would be architecture, development skills, QA skills, maybe expertise in software testing, and DevOps. So having some technical chops. Not everything there, but that could be some vertical slices. What else? Product is another area where I think a coach could be very product-centric. Decision-making, value stream mapping, facilitating sessions, you know, cross-leadership sessions to decide what to work on. I would say organization would be another vertical. Organizational development. This is more enterprise, like leadership coaches or enterprise or organizational coaches, where you have some leadership chops like I do. You have some organizational development chops. You might have some change management chops, you’re familiar with how to change organizations.

I think a coach who doesn’t have something, I think of it as an anchor, you have to develop a vertical anchor. It’s a value anchor, and then align your coaching with that. I think they find something that’s valuable to the organization.

The other thing is to align it with your experience. For example, my daughter shifted from social work to Scrum Mastery. And she had 20 years of social work experience. So she has a lot of soft skills, conflict management, leadership, and organizational development, but she doesn’t have a domain, you know, software domain experience. I don’t think she should probably try to learn how to program. I think that’s probably too much of a leap.

However, I think she needs an anchor. Now a product would be an area where she could anchor in a product. And that would be a great place, and that’s where she’s trying to develop her vertical to make a difference in value. The other place she’s anchoring is leadership, and organizational leadership coaching, just because of her background. Even though it’s not a Scrum Master role, she’s trying to find value.

Now a coach that doesn’t have a vertical, I think, would warn them. So 10 years ago, I think you could get away with it, not having a vertical. You could have scrum speak and you could talk about retros and stuff and you could maybe fake it. Now, I don’t think it’s fakeable. I think anyone who’s a scrum master or a coach needs to find their verticals.

Vit Lyoshin (27:01.818)

Yeah, it’s more competitive now. That makes sense.

What about metrics? A coach should be assessing the team or assessing the organization, figuring out with their help, how to and where to move, right? What to improve. What are some of the best practices for figuring out metrics and how to track them?

Bob Galen (27:28.995)

See, I’m gonna disappoint you, Vit. I’m not a big metrics guy. I didn’t talk about metrics much in the book, I don’t think, unless I was drinking. Maybe if I was having, maybe if I was drinking, I talked about metrics. But I’m not a big metric, I’m not anti-metrics, but there’s so much dysfunction associated with metrics.

It can create so much dysfunction organizationally, that leaders can misuse them, so I try to be very light-handed with metrics. Now, I think coaches should probably have a metric system that’s only for them. So they don’t share it upward at all. And if they have to share it upward, I would say the coaches should turn it off or something. I think coaches need team performance data to help guide their coaching, but they need to be very careful with it from an organization, from a misuse perspective. I think there’s this metrics dysfunction that can happen. There’s a bunch of books that talk about like any measure, if you measure a system, the behavior of the system changes. So people game the system, et cetera.

So now one other point I wanna make about metrics is I think there are metrics, and then there’s arithmetic metrics and then there’s observational metrics. It’s like Jira metrics and then there’s perception-based metrics. And I think I can measure a team as a leader and I can have a perception of the team’s performance as a leader by watching what they do in sprint reviews. I hope I’m making sense.

So what is the data? And then what is the perception? A lot of people in Agile think that the data speaks for itself. That’s all leaders want, data, they do data-based decision-making. Do you ever hear, right? Leaders want data, leaders want value. You want to show incremental improvement with data. My experience is exactly the opposite of that. Leaders don’t, if leaders are deciding who to fire and who to keep, they don’t fire up Jira and start, Bob Galen, look at his velocity. Right. We’re going to keep Bob Galen and we’re going to get rid of Vit. Right. Yeah, Vit, look at his, he’s down here and Bob’s, they don’t really do that. It’s much more perception. It’s sort of gut feeling. My advice would be for coaches, don’t get lost in the data. Also, this is for the coach themselves.

Are you communicating via data? And are you also connecting to your stakeholders to tell them stories about your value, if that makes sense? And are you doing both sides? A lot of coaches make the mistake and they’re like, the data speaks for itself. Or look at my team, look how good they’re doing. Everyone should know that I’m producing value. And that’s not true. That’s not true. You have to speak for yourself. So I think navigating the data carefully and making sure that you’re balancing both sides of the proposition.

Vit Lyoshin (30:57.179)

Yeah, that makes sense. That absolutely makes sense. The reason I’m asking this question is because I’m a data guy. I’m one of those. I have a little bit of a technical background in decision support systems. And I always like setting up dashboards and measuring stuff, but I’m not using it for punishing people or showing my progress or whatever.

Bob Galen (31:19.011)


Vit Lyoshin (31:26.619)

But it just helps me to see one side of the work that we’re doing.

Bob Galen (31:30.595)

It’s beautiful, but I hate to tell you, Vit, I’m gonna burst your bubble. Leaders, there’s a secret that I’m gonna share with you. Most leaders are not like you. I mean, they actually ask you for the dashboard, right? They ask you for the data and then they ignore it. So they’re not really, they appear to be data-driven, but they’re not as data-driven as they appear. And so we just need to be feeding both sides.

Vit Lyoshin (31:56.571)

Yeah, that’s true.

And those personal connections for sure are important and make sense just to have a conversation and explain to them what’s going on honestly, right? If there are issues, just tell them there are issues and how you’re solving them and the data doesn’t have to show that. And many times actually, we are not there yet that the data will show us what will happen in the future. It never will. So it only shows in the past and that’s the biggest disadvantage of that.

Bob Galen (32:30.179)


Vit Lyoshin (32:35.003)

Okay, so coaches also have to interact with leaders. Is there any advice or best practices for coaches on how to maybe influence their decision towards agility or how to shift their mindset towards agility?

Bob Galen (32:57.635)

So yes, they have to interact with leaders. It’s actually one of the things I do most of my job nowadays is less team coaching and it’s more organizational leadership coaching. And part of the fun I have with leader coaching is how dynamic it is and how challenging it is sometimes.

So the first thing I would say, I gave a hint already, don’t use Agile language. If you’re coaching leaders. Figure out what matters to them. And don’t translate it into agile language. Like, you want to get more done, so we’re going to reduce your WIP. Don’t have that conversation, right? No, no, you want to squeeze more juice out of the lemon. OK, that’s what you want to do, right? You want to get more juice, right? All right, let me figure out how to meet that goal. Can we meet that goal with agile tactics? I think a lot of Agilists make the mistake of trying to immediately translate their goals and outcomes into our language. We need to stay in their language and then just use our techniques. So that’s one key for leaders.

I think another key for leaders is walking in their shoes. I’ve had Agile coaches come to me. I’m a fairly good Agilist and I’ve hired coaches and they come into me and they start telling me what to do. You need to do this and you need to do that. And they don’t even ask me what my struggles are. And I smile to myself. I’m like, you know, you have no clue what my day is like. You have no clue what pressure I’m under. You have shown zero empathy for me. And you’re just telling me what I’m doing wrong. And you’re telling me I need to do, you need to convert to an agile mindset. Please. Just stop. So what I would say is build empathy, walk in their shoes, figure out what keeps them up at night, and build a relationship with them.

Don’t start coaching right away. Build and relate, get to know them. One of the first things, Vit, I would say is to ask, if I’m gonna coach you and you’re a leader, I wanna hear your story. So Vit, tell me your story. What got you into software? And I want to hear your story of how you professionally make that decision. Tell me your story here at this company, Vit. What keeps you up at night? And then just listen to you. And I’m trying to create understanding and rapport. So often Agile Coaches start immediately diving in and coaching. I would say don’t do that, particularly with leaders. With leaders, they’re going to want you to get out of the room. They’re going to be like, get out of here. You’re not helping me.

The other thing is I think you need to bring, remember we were talking about verticals, you need to bring some experience to play. You can’t just bring agile and tactics. You have to bring leadership chops, experience. And, you have to bring your experience to bear as options and things like that. So I think that’s a key. Now what I just said, I find so many, Agile coaches who try to coach leaders, they don’t do what I said. They’re making a lot of missteps there. Don’t stay in the professional coaching stance. If you know what I’m like, I think a professional coaching stance is asking questions. I call it, sometimes a coach can be, it’s death by a thousand questions.

So anyone who’s listening to this, who’s coaching leaders do not subject them to death by a thousand questions. You can ask a few questions, but then once you understand their situation, you may need to go into a leadership stance, or advising stance, or transformation stance and give them some options, work with them, co-create some solutions, and get some skin in the game. Not just be a coach, but get some skin in the game. And so many coaches don’t do that.

So I think, those are some keys to coaching leaders. How does that resonate with you?

Vit Lyoshin (37:21.659)

Well, I have a conspiracy theory about that. I think that most people, when they come to an organization, they want to show some results right away. The next day they want to show something that they’ve improved and they provided value because they got hired and things like that. And that’s maybe why people come to leadership and try to go, if you start doing this, it will improve that, and so forth. And they’re not really taking time upfront, like you said, to learn them, to walk in their shoes to adapt to the situation.

I had an example in my career a few years ago, I was asked to cover for a Scrum Master who was leaving the team. And that was a pretty important product work that needed to be done and he was leaving so nobody was there. So when I went there, I told our product owners, there were two different teams with two product owners and I told them that for the first month, I didn’t want to change anything. I just want to work with you and you can tell me what and how you do things. And then we will kind of survey each other and we will find improvements. But the first month, we’re not changing anything at all. I’m just going to be a new guy running your meetings and things like that.

And we did that and after a while, we started making small changes. I did a lot of observations. I came to them pretty much every week with some improvements and things like that. And it went well. But as you said, many people don’t follow this rule and they just jump into the water and that’s it. And they scrub more things that they fix.

Bob Galen (39:03.683)

Something you said, I think is critical as well. And it’s my interpretation, but those people are making it about them, right? So I’m new and I want to make an impression. I want, and it’s not, that’s I, I, I, I, I, that’s a bad coaching mindset. It’s not, I think an Agile coach has to realize it’s you and we. And, and that’s, that’s the juxtaposition. It’s not about my solutions. It’s not about my impact. Now it is about how quickly I partner, and how quickly we work together. Absolutely. But it’s really, to me, a key part of leadership is are we co-creating? Are we partnering? I think it’s a partner mindset if you can get to that, that relationship. That’s what you want with leaders.

Vit Lyoshin (39:56.571)

100% agree with that. So another thing, coaches many times gain some insights into the confidential information and sensitive things in the organizations. How to balance access to this type of information between confidentiality and transparency?

Bob Galen (40:26.627)

I mean, what I would recommend, anyone who’s listening to this, if you haven’t done it, if you go to the Agile Alliance website, they have a coaching initiative, an Agile coaching initiative, and they have an ethical statement. They have a very complete ethical statement with some scenarios for the different levels of ethics consideration. So they talk about ethics violations, you know, what to do in these situations. So it helps interpret the ethics.

I would require you all, so part of the part of the cost of listening to this is to go to that site and read the ethics material at least once. And, I think it’s sound. It’s been out there for over a year, maybe two years. It’s built by coaches. The Agile Alliance is pretty agnostic. So they’re not trying to sell it. And I think it’s very sound. It’ll give you some guidance about how to handle that.

And so to me, it’s an ethical dilemma. And Agile, it’s not just coaches. Leaders have ethical dilemmas. Coaches have ethical dilemmas. How to handle that stuff. How to handle ethical dilemmas like conflicts between Agile principles and business organizational ethics, I think you’ll find some guidance there. So I would highly recommend everyone to go research that a little bit.

Vit Lyoshin (42:03.483)

Okay, that’s a great resource. I didn’t know that.

So let’s touch a little bit on the future. Do you see any agile coaching trends that will change the future of coaching anytime soon?

Bob Galen (42:22.755)

Well, I think we’ve lightly touched on, I think there’s a disruption. So right now it’s not just economics. I think in terms of, there’s like three eras of agile coaching. So I think early, maybe like from 2000 to 2010, no one knew what an agile coach was. So that era was easy, the easy road. And people didn’t worry about being a natural coach so much. It wasn’t necessarily a role or anything that people worried about. So there could have been technical coaching, but you were just a technical coach or a guide.

Around 2010 to 2020, I think this was the golden era of coaching where, everyone is a coach. Everyone wants to be a coach. There’s the joke that if you search on LinkedIn, you find 300,000 people with Agile Coach in their title or 500,000. So there are hundreds of thousands of coaches in the world. And this goes back to mediocrity. And I think what happened is early in that era, it was still easy because leaders didn’t know what coaches did. So they sort of said, okay, we’ll pay for a coach. Scrum Masters, that sounds like a good idea. If we’re doing Scrum, we need a Scrum Master. But there was no value sort of decision-making. There was no justification. And there wasn’t a lot of discreet ROI.

Around 2020 to today, I think what’s happening is lots of disruption, ROI matters, value matters, and excellence matters. You can’t get by just being a professional coach. So, you have to be able to navigate the wheel. You need deep competencies. And I think that’s going to carry into the future. Unfortunately, I think a lot of coaches and scrum masters are going, so the ones who are mediocre or average are going to be displaced.

There’s the metaphor of wheat and chaff, right? I think the next 10 years will be the era of excellent coaches will be doing well. Businesses still need highly skilled coaches. I think businesses still can get value from highly skilled scrum masters. Unfortunately, maybe that’s only 20% of the population. So it’s going to be this sort of pivot. And a lot of people are gonna have to figure out what to do with themselves. So I think that’s the major future.

Now, I don’t know if you pay attention, but a lot of people are predicting the demise. So the demise of coaching, the demise of Scrum Master, the demise of Agile. I’m not one of those, but I do think it’s changing. I do think there’s a fundamental shift occurring, not just economic and skill. And then I think there’s a bright sunrise on the horizon for, again, it goes back to badassery, extraordinarily badass coaches. I think there’ll be a premium. Organizations will love to hire those. I think it’ll be incredibly competitive. And then we’ll see what happens after that. Does that resonate at all with you?

Vit Lyoshin (46:01.819)

Yeah, absolutely. And I also think maybe part of the problem is also a large number of different organizations that certify anybody, basically. Those certificates are so easy to get, and once you get them, you can claim your coach and you go hunt for a job.

Bob Galen (46:23.331)

Exactly. So one of my hopes, I can’t predict it, but one of my hopes is the certifications come down as well. Meaning, do you realize, we probably have 300, I’m not exactly, you’re a data guy. I am sure that we have 300 plus individual agile certifications in the market today. Can you imagine, I mean, how, if you were a customer, if you’re a leader, how the heck do you differentiate 300 certifications and the value proposition? So my hope is that that certification mill, some people call it the Agile Industrial Complex where people are chasing money. I’m hoping that declines, but I don’t know. It’s pretty resilient, but I hope that gets less and less important.

Vit Lyoshin (47:17.435)

Yeah, I hope so too. I didn’t believe much in certificates until, well, I still don’t really believe in them. I don’t think they have very little value in terms of education. But if for certain situations you have to get one and just to prove that you actually have to know something. But that becomes also a challenge. How do you separate people who know something from who don’t know anything?

Bob Galen (47:41.443)


Vit Lyoshin (47:44.603)

Yeah, it’s kind of hard, but we’ll see how the future aligns with that.

So, all right, sounds good. We’re coming to the end here. I want to just ask for any additional advice that we haven’t talked about yet that you would like to share with Agile coaches.

Bob Galen (48:06.147)

So maybe it’s where to start. I get this question a lot. So if you want to get into coaching, whatever the direction is, how to start, if you’re new or if you’re relatively new. So I have a little list that I made. 

I would say read Lisa Adkins’ book twice. It’s cover to cover, no excuses, cover to cover, read it twice. Read my book once. So Lisa’s book is better than mine. So read mine cover to cover. Find a mentor, which isn’t always easy, but find a mentor and be humble enough to be mentored and find a coach and be humble enough to be coachable. Look at the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel and assess yourself. You can be inexperienced. Go figure out where are my skills?

I would say engage in the community. There are so many groups around videos, and interviews like this. Engage, fully engage, don’t be lazy. Engage in the community. There’s a lot of support. And then I would say practice your craft. It’s not easy. So don’t look for it. You have to practice, and you wanna look at it as a craft. So you’re continuously practicing your craft. And the final thing we talked about is focusing on self-mastery first. So don’t just dive in on the outside coaching, also look inside.

Those would be some early things to set a proper foundation. And I’ll leave it at that.

Vit Lyoshin (49:47.917)

Yeah, that’s great. Thank you very much. It was great having you, a wealth of information, and I hope we can talk more in the future.

Bob Galen (49:56.515)

Hey, Vit, yeah, I had a good time. Thank you for inviting me. Thank you for this gift to the community, and for doing this for other people. I appreciate it.

Vit Lyoshin (50:05.627)

Yeah, absolutely. All right, thank you very much. We’ll talk soon. Bye-bye.

Bob Galen (50:10.019)

You’re welcome. Bye-bye.

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About Vit Lyoshin

Hey there! I'm Vit Lyoshin, and I've been working with technology and cool software stuff for a long time. Now, I'm hosting a podcast where I talk to really smart people who know a lot about making software and managing products.

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