Agile Coaching

Planning is important.  That's (fairly) self-evident.  Planning implies that there is some logical structure  and movement towards an outcome, that thought has been put into both the outcome and the process.  This all makes sense.  But what I have been wondering about is where documenting the plan fits.

I was talking about this to a friend who runs a web design company and he mentioned Agile Management, which got me thinking about a concept called 'Agile Coaching'.

The first thing to mention here is my belief that just because you invent a name for something doesn't mean you were the first person to do it, nor that you are an expert at it.  The second thing to mention is that there are many times where I have 'invented' something only to find out that 100s (1000s?) of people had 'invented' it before.

Now for a story:  I was talking to a multiple World Championship winning coach about training plans.  He said that, yes, people were always asking for his training plans, athlete management plans, strength and conditioning plans and dept charts, but he found that they stopped asking at the end of the season if you won.  In the end it took a lot less time not to write up and submit these plans.

The question, as always in coaching, is not whether something is of benefit, but what the time/cost analysis is.  With unlimited time, there are many things a coach might do that, with finite time to achieve almost impossible things, he/she may not.  So, to put the question more simply:

Are you better off implementing a badly documented plan well, or better off well documenting a badly implemented plan?

The answer, I think, is that it depends on what your priority is.  If your fundamental priority is to win (or, achieve the goals of your team/program), then it is clear that implementing your plan is key.  If your fundamental priority is to keep your job, then at times you are better off well documenting what you can do in order to demonstrate that even though you didn't succeed, you are on the right track.

Getting back to Agile Coaching, the critical point isn't that it justifies not writing things down, the critical point is that it focusses on what a coach is employed to do, which is coach.  As a coach you must have a plan, which needs to clearly lead towards the desired outcome within the scheduled timeframe.  Agile coaching urges you to work out your plan, then get started at a sprint.  At the end of the sprint assess what has been done and plan for the next sprint, which may be refining what has already been done, or adding some new aspects.  The key tenant is that you know more about the problem and the solution set after you have started than before you start.  The chances of writing a perfect plan and implementing it are zero, and after you have started implementing it, you will always want to tweak it or possibly even scrap it if you find it is wrong.

Now, does this sound like what a coach already does?  Particularly if you are coaching in season.  You have a series of sprints, and between each sprint you evaluate what has happened, tweak what you are doing, and get started on the next sprint.

As I said earlier, I lay no claim to inventing Agile Coaching, it is what coaches have always done.  But what they are being asked to do, more and more, is to document what they are doing.  I'm not saying planning and documentation are not important, I'm asking, what sort of documentation is most appropriate for coaching.

(Photo Credit)


  1. a few comments though.

    1) documentation is important, but the idea is just enough documentation so that everyone understands what the aim is and what needs to be done (which is different the bureaucracy land documentation)

    2) at the start of the sprint, there are clearly defined tasks (or goals) and are objectively measurable. the tasks (or goals) need to be able to be completed in the time set up for the sprint. if they are larger then they need to be broken up. at the end of the sprint you have either completed a goal or you haven't if you haven't then it cannot be evaluated and is pushed to the next sprint

    3) at the end of the sprint those that are completed are evaluated and planning commences for the next sprint.

    the thing that i think is different from the traditional way of coaching is the ruthlessness by which if you haven't completed a task (it doesn't matter if it's successful or not, it just needs to be completed) it isn't even considered in the review.

    so non of 'well we made progress with blah blah blah' it's either done or it isn't.

    the other thing that is important is that it is based entirely on empirical evidence. again, nothing wishy washy that can't be measures.

    finally, each day there is the stand up meeting. everyone gets in a circle and says, what they got through yesterday, what they plan to get through today, any problems or blockers.

    this is also a key so that everyone makes a social commitment to their tasks / goals and also has an opportunity to raise any problems rather than letting them fester

    i think lots of coaches do something similar, but the system needs to be distributed to the players and the whole structure needs to support this.

    1. Thanks for your comments Jason, specifically thanks for filling in some of the 'many' gaps regarding my description of Agile Management. The main point of writing this post was to introduce the idea that there may be alternatives to standard management and documentation processes. Hopefully I at least conveyed that!

  2. I think the key phrase is: "I'm asking, what sort of documentation is most appropriate for coaching." The answer is easy.. it is IF......... If you work for the government than plans, justifications, etc could be more important than results (wait for all the bull Swimming Australia will come up with following the OG "failure"). If you work for Abramovich, I am sure he is not interested in plans - just trophies.


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