Being an agile coach in a company can mean many things. The role has extensive activities and is changing and adapting during the time, so it comes as no surprise if after reading the job ad you feel unsure about what is the company expecting from you.
Agility is one of the core values at codecentric and we feel that change is necessary in order to evolve and develop. We are sure you, as an agile coach, know what the job carries but sometimes companies can see it differently.
We spoke with Marija Gobovic (currently product owner, also in scrum master/agile coach role in her spare time) about the responsibilities agile coach could have in our company and her development path.
From developer to the product owner – how would you summarize your career path?
Information technology has always been my field of interest. I have studied Computer Science at the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Novi Sad. The love towards mathematics in elementary and high school brought me there. I appreciate the luck to have good teachers who played an important role in my education path. However, I feel that somehow logical way of thinking needs to be built up even earlier.
After graduating from my studies in 2011, I have started working as a developer after only 3 months. All the knowledge from the studies was still fresh, but the real learning starts once you step inside a company and realize how different the industry is in comparison to academics. You know a bit of everything and the process of finding your niche is ahead. I have discovered that I have leadership and communication skills above average, so naturally, I started taking over the team lead tasks and communication with the clients. More and more I start realizing that the satisfaction I feel from those kinds of tasks is much higher than programming. 🙂 Besides mathematics, I have always felt a special connection with languages and found that my professional role should be intertwined with the two – logical and social/communication aspect. After all, that is the same for me, a language is actually a tool your brain uses to help you program your thoughts and sentences. 🙂
I have changed the company in order to be able to switch to a full management role. That company has just started the agile transformation, so I started as a junior scrum master and was coached and mentored by an agile coach together with the whole development team learning new ways of working. I was so grateful to have a good agile coach at the beginning of my new role. As I developed myself as a scrum master/agile coach, I learned how to work on continuous improvement of the team, personal and professional development of individual team members, facilitation, mentoring, coaching, teaching, training and many other skills from the wide range of skills that are required from an agile coach or scrum master besides knowing what lean and agility means.
It has been almost three years now that I have switched the company once again to go to the environment that has agility as its core value. That’s what codecentric has. Besides that, codecentric gives you time and budget to work on improving not only others but also yourself. That is so valuable to me because I can satisfy my need for learning new things and my interest in different fields. I like business as much as coaching, so I have tried myself in a product manager role on a few short projects in between coaching engagements and figured out that product ownership or product management can be my next main role. Since the codecentric’s culture is agile and open-minded my aspirations were highly accepted. It also turned out we are getting a new project that needs a product owner, so that was a perfect opportunity for me. I have been working as a product owner around half a year now on the same product and I am glad to be a good fit for this product and project since as a product owner you have to be able to identify with the users you are developing the product for. Also, I am very happy to have a great development, UX and product team and to have a culturally suitable environment on both client and codecentric end where we all pull each other towards being better every day.
What does being agile means to you and how would you describe it in today’s environment?
Agility means flexibility in changing direction and ability to learn and improve constantly as you go. That’s it. Sounds easy, but it is not at all if it is not in your blood, your nature if you do not have an open mind. It can be tough to develop yourself to be agile and to be able to work in an agile team. There is usually a natural resistance to change in humans and that is the most asked for in this “advanced” way of working. I really like one example of how to explain agility and self-organization in the team so I use it a lot. You can compare intersection with traffic lights with a traditional micromanaged way of working and the roundabout with the agility in teams. The first is easier, but the second is more efficient. In the first case, you can be a bit lazy and just wait for the signal that tells you what to do. In the second case, you engage in order to manage yourself as part of the group. Another thing that Agility cannot exist without is an open-minded way of thinking (in comparison to a fixed mindset), listening to the ideas with a positive bias and then evaluating them to use best out of them.
Today, in software development, agility has to be one of the default skills for all team members. That is a prerequisite to be able to compete on the market. Working in codecentric implies having this.
How your day looked like while you were an agile coach and how it looks today?
As an agile coach or scrum master, your job is to make yourself redundant as funny as it may sound. Joef Watts explains that nicely. When the great scrum master is ready to leave the team, they will want him/her to stay longer. You support others in their development and teach them to get in automatic self-development mood until you recognize that they do not need a coach any more.
Your days as an agile coach can differ a lot. Sometimes you coach, sometimes you observe and know when not to coach. You can facilitate the meetings or teach others how to do that. Sometimes you teach agile practices and sometimes you listen actively and be there for someone while they resolve their problem. You can plan some days, and some not, you learn from your team what they need and act spontaneously to help them be as efficient as possible.
Product roles are something else. Your main focus is on achieving business value. You do that by finding the balance between the needs of the market and users on one end and possibilities and feasibility on the other hand. You motivate the teams by setting clear, as well as ambitious and feasible goals.
How different or similar are the position of an agile coach and a scrum master?
Good scrum master and good agile coach have the same job description. You noticed that I use scrum master and agile coach terms interchangeably. That is because that is the same role, just someone can think that one title sounds fancier than another.
What would be the most interesting task you were responsible for as an Agile coach?
For an agile coach, most difficult tasks are always the most interesting ones. We like challenges and like them, even more, when they are overcome. 🙂 As an agile coach, I was responsible to lead the teams from the traditional mindset setup to agility. That is the biggest challenge. You need to be an eye-opener, and that can require boldness and direct communication in some cases, or be wise and subtle in others.
Can you try to paint a better picture of how one regular day on a project you work on looks like?
Right now I work as a product owner in one development team of 8 members total with UX designer and me. We are one of the feature teams who develop consumer software tool of high complexity and wide use. Our focus is on the certain functions of this software and we are the ones who own most of the knowledge about them. We are an autonomous team who decides about its ways of working on their own. The goal of this and every other feature team is regular delivery of value for the customer and user. My contribution to this team is providing clear direction and the big picture for the tasks that need to be fulfilled. I do that by being in constant contact with all relevant stakeholders, product owners of other teams, our product management, user researchers and the team; preparing backlog items by doing research and refining them with my team.
Right now, I do some tasks of an agile coach as well. I have a hard time switching off from my mind the role of an agile coach and it is overwhelming for me sometimes since I have a need to do all I see the team needs. 🙂 That is one more reason to ask for an agile coach to join our team. 🙂
What do you see as a great advantage for the person who works as an agile coach at codecentric?
It is definitely a culture of learning, openness, transparency, eagerness to be better versions of ourselves every day. What more to wish for an Agile coach but people who love to develop themselves. 🙂
The agile coach role is constantly evolving and changing as the other parts of codecentric. We have all kinds of different teams and projects you could potentially be involved with. When Marija started we had only one scrum master, while today (3 years later) we have 3 product owners who are responsible for 3 different teams where each team has 4 to 6 developers and UX designer.
We are constantly experimenting and are ready to try new things and we would like to hear some fresh, new ideas from you. Read more about the position we are currently looking for.