Someone asked on an internet forum I follow if becoming an Agile Coach is a good career move.
I think it’s a very reasonable question. Making a career move is a big thing for your personal and professional life. And the best way to make one is by being confident that you’re making a good choice.
I’ve been an Agile Coach as a contractor and I’ve had the role of Agile Champion, where coaching agile leaders and agile teams was part of the hat, as an employee. I’ve worked with a fair share of Agile Coaches and I have the privilege of calling some of them friends.
If you’re pondering whether or not Agile Coach is a good career, here’s everything that you need to know on the topic.
Agile Coach is a good career choice. If you’re passionate about agile and teaching, mentoring, facilitating, and coaching others to use it sounds like a fulfilling way to spend your workday, you can make on average $130k. The highest-paid Agile Coaches live in California and New York, and work in healthcare, finance, and technology.
As Agile Coach, you will be helping your organization, its leaders, and its staff to learn and use agile ways of working in their strategic work and day-to-day operations.
You will work at all levels and with all functions of your organization. Agile Coaches are tasked with solving a diverse set of challenges for adopting agile — from showing stubborn managers why and how to let go of command-and-control to showing stressed-out Product Owners how to talk to grumpy and tired Programmers in their Dev Teams.
You will be the go-to person when it comes to agile in the organization. Everyone will be looking at you to get their questions answered and problems solved. So you’ll need to become really good at deciding where to step in and help and where to coach and challenge others to solve their own problems; many peers will be testing your patience and boundaries because they don’t want to put in the work themselves.
Half agile expert, half group therapist (in every joke there’s a little truth), you’ll be helping leaders understand why they shouldn’t ask for ad-hoc answers and estimates from their teams every time they come up with a new idea. You’ll be intervening in teams that have lost their mojo, breaking down toxic and dysfunctional cultures with the aim to bring back the spark in people’s eyes and help everyone talk freely and proactively participate.
Being an Agile Coach won’t always be an easy ride. Some will question if your role even warrants a full-time job. Others will keep asking you the same questions over, and over, and over again. You will end up in the middle of politics and conflicts, where your goal will be to stay neutral while encouraging conversation and facilitating alignment.
At the end of the day, though, it will all be worth it. When you get it right, you’ll get it right.
You’ll help colleagues excel at their jobs and skyrocket their careers by adopting the agile mindset and working in agile ways.
You’ll show demoralized teams how to talk and work with each other again, oftentimes with surprising and unexpected results along the way.
You’ll contribute to your entire company becoming more adaptive and innovative by helping everyone understand that it’s not the detailed plan, it’s the best outcome, that matters.
Then one day, when you look back at it all, you’ll have had a good career that gave you a healthy work/life balance, good benefits, and plenty of stories to tell your grandkids.
Yes, Agile Coach is a good career. And, while it’s not a career for everyone, it just might be the career for you.
How Much Does an Agile Coach Make?
The average salary for an Agile Coach in the United States is $130k. Based on the industry, location and seniority, that amount can vary between $75-$100k for 1-4 years of experience, $100-$130k for 5-9 years, and $130-160k for 10 or more years.
On average, an Agile Coach receives an additional compensation of $10k in cash bonus and $5k in profit sharing. The most common benefits are 401(k), 401(k) matching, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, and paid time off.
Agile Coaches who live and work in the states of California and New York are paid the highest. Those who work in Georgia, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia are paid in the mid-range. The ones who work in Missouri and Minnesota are paid the lowest.
According to Zippia, Agile Coaches who work in the Healthcare ($143k on avg.), Energy ($138k on avg.), Construction ($130k on avg.), Finance ($128k on avg.), and Technology ($122k on avg.) industries receive the best salaries.
Over the last decade, the average salary for an Agile Coach grew by 15% from $110k in 2011 to $130k in 2020. The total inflation rate from 2011 to 2020 was 17.25% (based on CPI data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
What Does An Agile Coach Do?
An Agile Coach teaches, mentors, facilitates, and coaches individuals, teams, functions, or organizations, helping them understand how agile works and become self-sufficient in using agile frameworks. The Agile Coach works at all levels in their organization, helping leaders and staff solve the typical challenges of working in agile ways.
The most common responsibilities of an Agile Coach are:
- Train, mentor, facilitate, and coach leaders, teams, and individuals with the goal to improve adaptability, engagement, resilience, and delivery
- Conduct trainings and Q&A sessions for the entire organization or for organizational functions, business units, and teams
- Promote and guide the adoption of agile governance (like Objectives & Key Results) among managers and of agile frameworks (like Scrum) among teams
- Be the expert and primary point of contact on the topics of agile, lean, as well as the relevant agile frameworks, and industry practices
- Foster a culture of scientific experimentation and continuous improvement through the ways of agile and lean
The Agile Coach can work with the CEO of a company on one day, helping them adopt Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) as a way of running their business. The next day, she can be teaching a Product Owner how to communicate about their product roadmap to stakeholders or coaching a Scrum Master how to tackle a heated situation (and gently help his team eliminate the root cause behind it) that came up in his team’s Retrospective.
When it comes to soft skills, to be a high-performing Agile Coach, you need to be (or aim to become) emotionally intelligent and politically savvy.
An important and underestimated part of the Agile Coach’s role is to observe, listen, and intuit. Oftentimes, individuals and teams are unaware of the issues in their attitudes and behaviors that are preventing them from being agile and achieving more.
As an Agile Coach, you need to be observant and intuitive enough to recognize these issues, even when others are unable to see and articulate them. Then, you need to decide which of the four basic skills in your toolbox (teaching, mentoring, facilitating, or coaching) to use to help them identify and overcome them.
The four basic skills of an Agile Coach are:
- Teaching others on the principles and practices of agile and helping them understand them through personal experience. Articulating the roles, events, and artefacts of the frameworks that they’re working with.
- Mentoring agile leaders and team members by giving them advice and insights on how to work in agile ways and champion agile values and principles within their organization.
- Facilitating routines and conversations, so that they are purposeful and effective. Creating a safe and collaborative space for others while maintaining neutrality and encouraging participation.
- Coaching individuals and teams to identify goals and uncover underlying issues to work on, and keeping them accountable as they move into action of their own choosing.
Agile is easy to learn and difficult to master. Most agile frameworks are lightweight. There are roles, events, and artifacts. In some cases, like Extreme Programming (XP), there are specific technical practices like writing unit tests. However, 90% of the value from agile and most agile frameworks is derived not from knowing the rules on theory, but from learning how to use (or sometimes not use) them in practice.
Agile is about conversations with the right people, on the right thing.
It’s about letting go of fancy slide decks, political emails, and lengthy documents, and having hard conversations about what works and what doesn’t.
Mastery in agile comes when you, your team, your function, or your entire company focus on the substance, not the form. Like a Sensei in judo or karate, as an Agile Coach you use the four basic skills to help others to master the mindset of agile as much as the rules of agile frameworks, until you yourself become redundant.
What Does It Take to Become an Agile Coach?
To become an Agile Coach, you need working knowledge of agile and experience working in/with agile teams. That experience is ideally in a facilitation role, where helping others adopt agile ways of working and use agile frameworks is their main responsibility.
Most Agile Coaches start their career as a Scrum Master or Agile Team Facilitator and build up multiple years of experience in the role, until getting promoted or changing jobs. The most recognized certificates for Agile Coaches are Certified Team Coach (CTC) and Certified Executive Coach (CEC) by Scrum Alliance.
The highest-performing Agile Coaches have complementary skills in change management, program management, and project management, and a profound understanding of DevOps. You don’t need to be technical to become an Agile Coach, but foundational knowledge of programming, quality assurance, and/or UX design will definitely help.
There are many ways to become an Agile Coach. Here are three of the most common entry routes:
- You can join an agile company or one that’s going through an agile transformation, becoming part of an agile product or service team;
- You can get hired by an agile consulting firm that provides agile training, facilitation, and coaching services to other organizations;
- You can start working in a tech company or an outsourcing company where agile teams are part of the core business.
The most usual career progression path for an Agile Coach in the long term is to become an Enterprise Agile Coach, then Chief Information Officer (CIO). Every situation is unique and your personal career progression path depends on your knowledge, experience, certifications, seniority, and employer.
Enterprise Agile Coaches are the most senior agile coaches in an organization. With time, they’ve built up the expertise and credibility to be able to work directly with the organization’s leadership team. Usually, that work involves adopting agile management frameworks and improving business agility across organizational functions and business units.
In my experience, Enterprise Agile Coaches are at the late stages of their careers and, unless hired specifically for the role from outside, have at least a decade of service with their companies, which helps them to know the business and tackle its challenges.
The Bottom Line
If you’re passionate about agile and helping others adopt and master agile ways of working sounds like a good way to spend your working day, you can make a good career and enjoy an above-average standard of living for you and your family by becoming an Agile Coach.