Customer Reviews: Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn))
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on April 19, 2011
I was very excited to read Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins. I knew Lyssa's name as one of the big names in coaching and with the raving forwards by both Mike Cohn and Jim Highsmith I had very high expectations. I am a beginning coach and this is my first book specifically geared toward coaching. My feeling after reading the book is it must be for someone who has had a couple of years experience coaching and has read some of the more "instruction" based books on the subject. There were some nuggets of good information and a very heavy emphasis on self-awareness and introspection but in general this is not the how-to book for coaching that I anticipated. The self-awareness emphasis helped me understand the importance of this subject to be a good coach but the book only touched on the subject throughout and I am left to go out and look for other resources to fill the void. This is not the type of book I was looking for or did I expect based on the table of contents.

The first chapter discussed moving from positions such as ScrumMaster, Project Manager, or Tech Lead to an agile coach and contrasted some of the thinking for the different roles and how they should change during the progression. This was interesting information and useful as a checkpoint to make sure you are on the right path. Chapter two moved into expecting high performance from the team you are coaching. This is where I started to wonder if this book was right for me at my stage in coaching. Lyssa discusses the power of metaphors and introduces the High Performance Tree as a metaphor you may use with your team. The High Performance Tree has roots in Commitment, Courage, Respect, and other important Agile cornerstones. It also has fruit of Astonishing Results, The Right Business Value, and others. This all makes sense but all of this takes up most of chapter two and I just can't see myself going to my team and building the metaphor while drawing this tree to hang up in the team room. I think I would be laughed out of the room. Maybe that is just me or the team I am working with but I tend think that most of the technical teams I have worked with wouldn't have much value for this exercise.

Another example of why this book was not right for me was in Chapter 11 discussing failure modes for coaches. This is a quote from the book under the heading Get a Broader View:
"If you imagined this team's life together as a gigantic landscape, what would today's view be? Perhaps you visualize a barren hill obscuring the horizon, a physical representation about how you feel about them today.... Perhaps the view drives you to become a Nag. Now step back. See the team's current circumstance on a broader timescale.... you see the barren hill below, but it's now just a sad dot in what is otherwise an interesting and varied landscape." I get it. Don't dwell on today; work on helping the team move past their difficulties. But this took three paragraphs and this was just one of the failure modes. This style of writing did not appeal to me for this type of book. Others may like it and I suspect that people who have attended Lyssa's training or presentations may appreciate the style more than me.

There were some good parts of the book too. I liked the Doing Donuts in the Parking Lot metaphor. It was about the responsibility of the product owner and how just because this process allows them to change course after every iteration that is not necessarily the best business approach. And as others have mentioned, the Shu Ha Ri stages is a great model to guide agile teams as they gain knowledge.

The chapter on Conflict Navigation was probably the most "instructional". It discussed five levels of conflict, how to determine the level of conflict, and some guidance on how to handle the conflict. I have to say this was not the right book for me but others may find it helpful.
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on May 30, 2010
Coaching of all forms--whether of kids playing basketball or software professionals learning to ScrumMasters or other agile leaders--is difficult. The advice given often boils down to "here's how I do it..." or "you should always do..." The first style of advice fails because the coach's personal style may differ dramatically from the apprentice's style. Techniques that appear honest and sincere when one person uses them may appear forced and artificial when used by another. The second style fails because it is directive and ignores important differences in context between two coaching opportunities. In "Coaching Agile Teams," Lyssa Adkins avoids both of these traps.

It would be easy to write a book like "101 Coaching Situations and What to Do in Them." Such a book would present a problem and offer good advice for that situation. If the book was done well, readers could leave the book knowing what to do in precisely 101 situations. But the reader of uch a book would not know what to do about the million other problems he or she is likely to encounter as a coach or ScrumMaster.

The reader of that imaginary book would not have learned how to think through coaching situations. Adkins' book is very different. Her book teaches you to think like a coach. You won't leave this book with 101 memorized solutions to problems, but you will leave knowing dozens and dozens of new tools and ways of approaching situations. These will allow you to solve just about any coaching challenge I can imagine.

Throughout the book, Adkins points out that one thing a good coach does is look for teaching or coaching opportunities. These are the perfect moments for a coach to make a point and for others to learn from it. I encountered many such perfect opportunities while reading "Coaching Agile Teams." Adkins was able to teach me numerous, practical things in each chapter. I am confident others will also learn a great deal from this book.
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on July 28, 2010
This is a very helpful resource for Agile coaches. Some of the principles are old hat for students of leadership but the packaging is fresh and relevant to Agile teams. The most useful section for me is Agile Team Stages; I love the Shu Ha Ri model:

"One good model for mastering anything (if that's possible) comes from martial arts. A martial arts student progresses through three stages of proficiency called Shu Ha Ri. Shu: Follow the rule. Ha: Break the rule. Ri: Be the rule. These stages also describe Agile teams as they first practice and then get good at Agile...A team can be in one or all of these stages simultaneously...Each person on the team inhabits one or more of these stages simultaneously, too..."

The most common mistake I see Agile teams making is bending the rules before mastering the rules--what we call ScrumBut. "We do Agile Scrum but..." can get your team and your project in all kinds of trouble. This book will help you get back out.

Good stuff, and recommended for new and experienced Agile coaches.
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on September 19, 2011
Having worked with many agile teams in the corporate world, I was excited to start my own business coaching agile teams. I was propelled and excited by the prospects of helping to grow teams in other businesses, making the world of software more positive and more successful. Although I had a lot of experience, I found myself myself with 1,000 questions about coaching. How do you coach advanced teams versus new ones? What's the best time to coach agile teams without getting in their way? How assertive should you be as a coach, versus letting them figure it out themselves? When is it appropriate to insert yourself into a conflict, versus letting them resolve it themselves? How do you inspire teams to do their best when it's all about the team, not about the coach? This book was just what the doctor ordered. Lots of perspective that's helped give me confidence about how to be an effective coach. Many things I already knew, many others that I didn't but rang true as I read them. Lyssa has put a lot of herself into the book, I can almost hear her kind words coming to me as I coach. I appreciate the help!

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on December 29, 2014
I think the book is too general, too much common sense and cheerleading and not enough application. The language is overly-flowery and lengthy; many points could be made much more succinctly. Much of the information to me as a manager seems to be common sense - it does not seem packaged or synthesized into new information very well. I think the book could be much stronger with examples. For example, try providing clips of hypothetical dialogue between coaches and coachees for teaching us how to interface with our teams or one-on-one.

Update 1/14 - I'm rescinding my original review and making this into a five star review. I should have read the entire thing before reviewing. Although the language is still a bit flowery and long for my taste, the examples, stories, how-to dialogues, and contributions from others is simply stellar. A very valuable book for learning about the essence of agile coaching. It does a great job in peeling away the layers to the onion on this tricky, important concept.
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on April 20, 2011
- A small group of Agile Austin members divided Lyssa Adkins' "Coaching Agile Teams" into four parts and met bi-weekly over the course of two months to discuss each part's content. The opinions of those who participated in this `book club experience' varied and the related discussions were certainly informative and entertaining. Some members of the group will be posting a personal review of the book.
- One of the primary elements that run the course of this book is the author's *journey* from Project Manager to ScrumMaster to Work/Life Coach to Agile Coach. Having taken this path, the author shares her firsthand experiences through anecdotes and advice while addressing other roles and perspectives often encountered in agile projects. She bolstered these areas with content from historically relevant discussions, input gathered via strategic interviews, casual research/discussion, and jewels of knowledge from well cited sources.
- Most of the book's chapters end with a summary/refresher, a list of additional resources, and a list of references. In my opinion, these subsections of the book's chapters comprise the book's biggest take-away. I think of them as a reasonably well-constructed compendium that I plan to use on my *journey* forward.
- Admittedly, I would not have read past the first few chapters if I had not been part of the related discussion group, as I found the content rather wordy. Not to belabor that point, but in certain instances, the book's figures and tables came as a welcome relief or nice break from the text. I appreciate Lyssa Adkin's sharing her knowledge and experience, and while I wasn't a particularly captivated by the book in terms of signal to noise, I'm sure others will find it a pleasant read.
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on April 20, 2011
I was excited to read "Coaching Agile Teams," by Lyssa Adkins and started it immediately when I got it. Part of my excitement was due to the fact that part of our organization is going through a transformation and I, hopefully, would be a part of the Agile transition. With forwards written by Mike Cohn and Jim Highsmith I had high expectations for this book. I was really hoping to get some deep knowledge about the topic.

After reading the first four chapters I was grasping for the depth I was looking for and the intimate knowledge that could only be known by someone with extensive experience like Lyssa Adkins. The first four chapters have some good ideas that one could take away and use, such as the Shu Ha Ri. However, on my teams if I tried these ideas I would have been laughed out of the room. That's not to say that they are bad ideas they just were not a fit for my situation.

I also struggled to find any good "meat" in the first for chapters. It seemed that I could have just read chapter 3, Shu Ha Ri, and not worried about the other chapters in the first part.

The second part of the book is definitely where the "meat" of the book is located. I found that I wanted more while reading. Just when I found myself saying, "yes right on!" the section stopped and didn't go any deeper.

The biggest value I got out of the book was chapter 9, "Coach as a Conflict Navigator." Although several books could be written on this topic alone it was a very good over view of how to deal with conflict. I was left wishing the other chapters were written more in this fashion.

The third part has some interesting nuggets, but in my opinion one could go without reading this section and be fine as a coach.

Over all is the book worth owning? I'm not sure. I would say definitely check it out if you are interested in becoming a coach as she references a _ton_ of other sources throughout the book. At the end of each chapter Lyssa has thoughtfully put a list to her references, links to videos, and other web site/blogs that go more in depth. It is a good supplement to the content of the book and if you are wanting more depth, as I do, then exploring these references, web sites, and video will help in your quest for knowledge.
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on March 26, 2016
Understanding your position as a coach is imperative. It's too bad that hiring managers and HR reps don't read this book before looking for a Scrum Coach. In a recent interview the interview started off with an HP rep making the statement: "We are looking for a strong Project Manager who can take control of the Project Teams using the Agile methodology to get projects completed." Strong? Take control? Methodology? All key words to let you know someone is missing the boat. As Lyssa Adkins points out in this book it's about the team working with a collaborative, committed manner, responsible for getting the team to function at their very best. The Agile coach brings to the table past knowledge to influence the direction of the team. She brings real life working examples, both ones that work and why some things fail. Reading through these examples will invite you to do some soul searching on your past projects.
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on February 24, 2011
Rarely do you find a book such as Lyssa's in the technical space: a book with heart. "Coaching Agile Teams" is more than a how to guide for Agile Coaches; it is Lyssa's testament about how to be more fully present in your work as a coach. It is about discovering real passion in your work and exhibiting it through her practiced approaches.

I like this book so much because it brings us Lyssa as well as her guidance. Lyssa truly gives us her genius self (as Seth Godin would call it) in this book. There is artistry and right livelihood and compassion as well as basic coaching fundamentals.

Embrace this book as Lyssa has embraced her love and art of coaching. If you do this, you will be paying Lyssa's gift forward to yourself, to your teams, to your peers, to your organizations, and ultimately to your customers.
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on July 16, 2012
In the new world of Agile, project management is no longer the pinacle of the ambitious and aspiring technologist. Instead, something of a combination between the scrum master and product owner has replaced the more traditional and plan-driven approach to software development. These roles, no less than the former project manager, are primarily leadership roles oriented around different foci: for the product owner, the clients and vision; for the scrum master, the product and team. Unfortunately, too often the product owner falls back into project management while the scrum master is relegated to that of a meeting organizer.

Adkins offers a refreshing and original perspective of the role of scrum master as one who ensures the team's operational efficiency and enjoyment. Far from simply organizing meetings, the scrum master is responsible for coaching, teaching, conflict mediation, facilitation, and collaboration. Seen in its entirety, the scrum master is an essential leadership role for ensuring the health of the team and, consequently, the software product. Adkins demonstrates her expertise in the craft of managing technology teams and brings that experience to bear on the task of coaching an agile team.

Her book missed the 5 star mark for me primarily because the material she chose to communicate is learned largely through experience. Much of what she communicated was lost on me without more experience myself.
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