Beyond the Classroom: Agile Coaching Fills the Gaps

We Passed Our Certification Exams – But We Feel Lost!

Going from books to boots on the ground and continuing the march forward, coaches help your organization start and improve on the Agile journey.

By: Stephanie McCormick, PMP, CSP-SM, SPC

Training and Certifications – A Fantastic First Step

My signature line has my given name, but my heart identifies with Hermione Granger from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I collect training courses and certificates and rejoice in classroom bliss. Any co-worker of mine who has been in class with me can testify that I always sit in the front row. Virtually, I am a vocal, participatory student. I have been a student with my own company, PCI, and love the trainers’ expert facilitation, and I highly recommend PCI – Click here to view our class offerings for individuals or groups! Regardless of your vendor for training, I have found an immense return on investment in courses and certifications.

Formal courses and certifications offer valuable assets:

  • Shared Vocabulary
  • Foundational Knowledge
  • Foreshadowing of Common and Predictable Challenges
  • Purpose/Historical Perspectives
  • Networking

Academic and Foundational Learning is Just the Beginning – We Need More

When I leave a course, I feel a lot of energy and enthusiasm with my new digital badge. Simultaneously, I also feel a sense of intimidation as I ponder my next steps. What do I do now? How do I put this knowledge to action?

Eduardo Salas, Program Director at the Institute for Simulation & Training, suggests skills must be applied and reinforced or risk losing 90% of the newly taught skills. Organizations presume that if an unskilled worker completes training, s/he will instantly transform into an improved, skilled worker. When those skills atrophy and the expected transformation fails, organizations can sour on the investment of formal training.

What happens before and after a training session is as crucial as the actual learning.”

   -Eduardo Salas

Furthermore, the academic learning for Agile has excelled with the education of values and principles and the resulting processes but has lacked mechanics and tools. Let me offer a concrete example from my career – my journey as a Scrum Master. Many courses delved into the foundational purpose of ceremonies and the responsibilities of the role, but very few provided practical tips (if any) on facilitating those meetings and using the Agile Lifecycle Management tools. I learned through intensive, iterative experimentation and a zeal for seeking out methods and tools with teams who kindly accepted my novice attempts. I survived it, but I am certain that any organization would rather efficiently coach their novices into experts.

Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Lean-Agile Leadership, and other newly trained professionals can all benefit from coaching as they start the journey from book knowledge to applied skills in an organization. Coaching sessions, Learning Dojos, and Communities of Practice are all vehicles to advance the application of Agile values and principles while people layer this with “on the job” challenges.

Coaching Fills the Gaps

  • Mechanics – Formal training may discuss the purpose of a ceremony, but how does the meeting actually happen? Who starts the meeting? What items of business are handled first? What items close the meeting? What happens when a meeting is missing critical attendees? Who shares the screen? When your Agile team has uncertainties about mechanics, the resulting ceremony can lose some of its value and reap unnecessary discomfort in a transformation.
  • Tools – Most academic courses and formal trainings refrain from teaching specific tools or prescribing their use. Many organizations immediately start their transformation with a new tool that magnifies the burden of change.
  • Facilitation – Is it a science or is it an art? Facilitation balances soft skills and hard skills. With expert facilitation, teams enjoy the journey of diverse opinions and eventual consensus through discussion. Coaching helps facilitators grow as they navigate the challenges of diverse personalities and working styles.
  • Conflict Resolution – Transformations often form new teams with new ways of working. Ultimately, when change is abundant and teams work in novel, cross-functional ways, conflict will arise. Coaching helps your organization deal with inevitable conflict and channel that conflict into productive improvement.
  • Coaching Stance – Agile transformations hope to empower and develop teams with a respect for people and culture. Focusing on individuals and interactions, we are all coaches for an organization. Furthermore, Scrum Masters (even novice ones) are considered the coaches of their own team. Coaching can help all Lean-Agile Leaders develop a coaching stance as they develop others.

Consider PCI

Formal courses are widely available, but certifications are not enough to ensure that skills endure to your organization for the long term. Professional coaches guide your teams to apply their knowledge through new tools and new ways of working while solving problems in real-time. Those experiences, with a coach, are lasting gains and pay dividends on the investment of training.

PCI brings over six years of coaching and consulting experience with SAFe®. We have many cleared and certified SAFe® Program Consultants (SPCs) embedded in multiple government programs, assisting them on their Lean-Agile journey and producing significant results in a short amount of time.

PCI can help whether you are just starting or have been Agile for a while, but not seeing the expected results.

Contact Us


Stephanie McCormick started her Agile career in a custom dev shop after years of struggling with waterfall projects. Since starting her Agile journey, she has enthusiastically embraced roles as a Product Owner and Scrum Master and is now a SAFe® Program Consultant and Certified Scrum Professional. At PCI, she is a servant leader and coach for government clients and looks forward to a bright future of predictable, sustainable delivery of delightful products.

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