Business news

How to Coach Teams Using Agile Project Management 

As the business world becomes increasingly complex, project managers who struggle to evolve as leaders are discovering that an agile mindset is essential to serve the needs of internal and external customers. Mindset is a concept that is gaining traction in multiple disciplines. Author Carol Dweck has popularized the idea of a growth mindset as a key to success in education. Savvy project management professionals use the principle of an agile mindset to be flexible, open-minded, accept change, and adapt to a fluctuating project plan. Knowing that change is the only constant, it is imperative for agile project managers to learn and use five basic coaching skills to be effective.  

Five basic agile coaching skills

Coaching and mentoring are essential skills for every project manager. Coaching involves developing and nurturing the skills of team members and motivating them toward the successful delivery of projects. Agile coaching leverages the tools of an agile methodology and is essential for adaptive leaders. Agile project managers play the role of both a coach and a mentor, developing individual skills and motivating team members toward effective work processes while ensuring the alignment of individual and organizational goals and facilitating the advancement of each team member. 

Agile Project Management 

An effective agile coach possesses five key skills:

1) A keen understanding of agile methodology. 

Agile project managers need to be well-versed in agile methodology. They cannot teach or coach something that they have not internalized themselves. Every project manager needs to understand and articulate the principles of agile project management to their teams. 

A real-world example is found in the transition of the John Deere farm equipment company to an agile mindset. Their research showed that “ineffective or insufficient levels of training and coaching are leading causes of failed implementations.” This indicates that the project manager must have the coaching skills to ensure that everyone on the team shares “a unified understanding of the new way of working for it to have any chance of working at all.” John Deere’s approach was to develop a self-sustaining internal training model. The company initially worked with consultants but quickly built internal training capacity. Agile project managers need to coach their teams to be self-organized and develop training capacity from within. Self-sustaining agile teams know they are trusted to organize themselves and make decisions.

2) Effective goal-analysis and goal-setting ability.

Agile project managers are crucial in coaching teams to analyze goals effectively. The agile approach emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and continuous improvement. Project managers coach teams to self-organize around project goals and break them down into short-term objectives that lead to and align with long-term value.

Agile project managers encourage collaborative goal-setting with their teams. Involving team members in defining project goals, milestones, and success criteria fosters a sense of ownership and commitment. A project manager can use training sessions to provide resources to help the team develop goal analysis skills. This may include workshops on goal-setting techniques, agile methodologies, and other relevant topics. It’s also important for project managers to stress the importance of iterative development cycles and coach teams to break down projects into smaller, manageable increments and regularly review progress. This approach enables teams to inspect and adapt their goals based on feedback and changing requirements. Project managers can use SMART goals to plan execution and delivery. Other popular goal-definition frameworks include CLEAR or SPRINT approaches.  

3) Effective communication and persuasion—the ability to create “buy-in.”

The John Deere example shows how there must be a “unified understanding” of agile methodology. Beyond gaining a simple understanding, project managers coach their teams to believe in agile and recognize the meaningful value it will bring to the project. As the team members recognize the value in their actions, they will be motivated and enthusiastically take ownership of the project. 

Some possible techniques an agile manager can use to share a vision that employees will embrace include: 

  • Active listening. Agile coaches will listen to team members and ensure that team members know that they have been heard.
  • Visualization. Coaches can use visual thinking and visual facilitation such as Kanban, Scrum Board, or metrics to transform complex ideas into a combination of images and text.

Agile project managers foster a culture of empowerment, where team members feel encouraged to take ownership of their work and contribute to goal analysis. Empowered teams are more likely to proactively identify and address challenges. Regularly check with the team to discuss progress, challenges, and potential goal adjustments. This feedback loop is essential for maintaining alignment and addressing issues promptly.

4) Strong relationship and team-building skills.

Agile project managers encourage collaboration and focus on relationships before building tools or processes. These relationships include those between the various teams working on a project. The Sky Corporation, a satellite, broadband, television, and telephone business, found it was very slow to deliver new software products without direct collaboration between different teams, such as developers and testers. A switch to agile project management changed the workflow so that software is “developed through collaboration between self-organizing and cross-functional teams.” A switch to agile project methodology encouraged the teams at Sky to release software “as quickly and regularly as possible.”  

5) Openness to change.

A common reason that companies adopt agile methodology is to have the capacity to quickly respond to rapid change and challenges with an agile mindset. Converting to agile is not easy. It involves significant changes to attitudes and mindsets. It may include the elimination of well-liked processes. It is often difficult to convince individuals to change—to be open-minded enough to be willing to try to do something differently. The ability to coach others to adapt to change leads to a shared understanding that forms the basis for aligning goals with agile practices, as outlined in the “Agile Manifesto.” The Agile Manifesto states that “the ability to not only respond to but welcome change is the most powerful tool. The ability to embrace change is built into every agile process, practice, and attitude.”

Putting it all together

As more organizations introduce agile methodologies, project managers with specialized skills will play crucial roles by spearheading projects in a dynamic and ever-evolving business landscape. In addition to a keen understanding of agile principles, project managers will require specific skills to navigate the complexities of cross-functional teams and deliver measurable value to their organizations. Project managers who constantly refine their coaching skills and stay up to date with emerging agile methodologies will ensure the resilience of a project in the face of change but also foster a culture of shared purpose, ultimately driving the project and long-term organizational success. By implementing these coaching strategies, agile project managers can help teams analyze goals effectively, adapt to change, and deliver value collaboratively and iteratively.

About the Author: 

Bhanu Priya is a project manager with more than 16 years of experience leading and managing projects using both traditional and agile methodologies. She has applied her expertise in project management, product management, and Scrum methodologies to broad-based domains including telecom, insurance, healthcare, and PC support. Priya is a Certified Scrum Master and Certified Product Owner and holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in electronics and communications engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in India. For more information, contact

To Top

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This