If I could promise you returns of 6:1 on a project in a single year, would you take it?

That is a pretty impressive return for a project, and most businesses would be happy to run a project that will yield that sort of return.

Essentially, this is the type of benefit that hiring an Agile Coach can bring to your team.

Study at Yahoo on Coaching

In 2008, Gabrielle Benefield from Yahoo published an academic article detailing the results of a three year effort of adopting Scrum across 150 Yahoo development teams . The results were impressive, and they lend extra credibility to the value of hiring an Agile Coach for your enterprise.

The coaches at Yahoo used the same type of evolutionary adoption model that I use at AgilityFeat. First, they assessed the needs of current teams, and then they conducted training sessions for individual teams on a staggered basis over time. They found that two day training sessions worked best (which is in line with most scrummaster training courses offered today), and that it was best to rollout to teams gradually over time.

After the initial training, a coach would work with the team in depth for the first month. During that time the coach would lead them through the sprint planning process, grooming of the backlog, development of user stories, daily standups, reviews, and retrospectives.

Guiding new Scrummasters

During the second month, a person within that team would become Scrummaster and the coach dialed back their commitment. The new Scrummaster would lead the day to day activities, and the coach would attend the planning session, daily standups, reviews, and retrospective. The Scrummaster would still lead all these sessions, but the coach would be there to answer any questions, provide guidance, and provide feedback to the Scrummaster and the team as they went through their first self-directed month together. This lines up to the “Checkpoint Coaching” phase that I use for AgilityFeat clients after I’ve done initial training and in-depth coaching.

After this second month, the coach could leave the team to their own devices and spend more time with other teams that they are beginning to coach. This sort of phased approach lends itself to bringing in one or two external Agile Coaches who gradually bring all your teams up to speed.

As I am moving from team to team in your company, it is my goal to identify and nurture your team members who show a particular interest in Agile methods and have the right personality traits and skill sets, so that they can become your next Scrummasters and internal coaches, so that you will not be dependent on an external coach in the long run.

At this point, each team should be “Cruising.” But that doesn’t mean they never need a coach again. Over time, people may tend to try and drop the practices that they find most difficult or challenging, and so it can be very valuable to have the coach periodically check in with teams. These check-ins during the Cruising phase for AgilityFeat clients can be phone or virtual sessions, quick on site visits, and specific problem solving sessions to work on particular challenges your team is facing. In any of those cases, the continued check-ins show your teams that the company still values and places an importance on Agile practices even after the initial and intense adoption phase is over.

Responsibilities of an Agile Coach

The key responsibilities of an Agile Coach, and the reasons to bring in an external coach, are to lay a strong foundational training, helping you and your teams manage this change, and provide ongoing support to ensure the positive changes last. These responsibilities are key to securing the long term benefits of Agile and Scrum.

So, back to the 6:1 return on investment. How Benefield’s coaching team at Yahoo arrive at their estimates of the value of coaching?

Through their experiences, Yahoo determined that one Agile Coach can coach ten teams of ten people in a given year, leaving to a ratio of one coach for every 100 team members. Benefield’s team examined the productivity of the 150 teams at Yahoo, and determined a conservative estimate of 30% productivity gains for each team.

Based on that, they determined that brining in one Agile Coach for a full year was like hiring 30 people, in terms of the productivity effect a coaching program could have on 100 people. Then based on an analysis they conducted with their finance team about that extra productivity, they determined that Yahoo was getting $1.5 million a year in benefits for each Agile Coach.

So if we assume that bringing in an external coach for a year full time will cost you about $250,000, then you are potentially getting a 6:1 return on that investment.

How much value can an Agile Coach provide your teams?

Your mileage may vary of course, and many companies won’t need to spend that much on the external coach. If you are running only 3-4 agile teams, then a 4-5 month engagement with an Agile Coach may be all you need.

Suffice it to say, Yahoo’s analysis lends extra weight to what many successful Agile teams already know. A strong agile adoption plan will lead to faster time to market, a better focus on the value being delivered, happier teams, and therefore more excited and loyal customers. That’s why over 80% of the Yahoo team members said that they would continue using Scrum and Agile.

Investing in an external Agile coach will reduce the risk of your agile adoption, make sure you get off to a good start, and help you keep the increased productivity going. That’s a sound investment.

Source: “Rolling out Agile in a Large Enterprise”, Gabriel Benefield (Yahoo!), 2008, Proceedings of the 41st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.