Agile Coaches – Armed with Sticky Notes and Pens?

In Summer 2018 I started a new challenge within trivago. I applied for a role in trivago’s Organizational Agility team. The job description stated that I would work with Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters. Did I know everything about agile methodologies and what my team would do daily? Not yet, but I soon learned about the variety of tasks every member of the team encounters on a daily basis. Now, after one year, it is time to share my knowledge about the team and its functionality. This article will give you insight into how we work together as a team, how Agile Coaches work with other teams and what a day in the life of an Agile Coach at trivago looks like.

Working in the team

We are an independent entity within trivago, which means that we are a team of coaches that form an overarching support unit across three trivago locations. Ten Agile Coaches currently work in our offices in Düsseldorf and Palma to ensure our support can be offered on a company-wide level.

Being an Agile Coach or Scrum Master means working with various teams on a daily basis. Yet, we find it important to come together as a team to talk about updates and latest developments in our ‘Focus Day’. This monthly exchange focuses on discussions of best practices and our experiences with teams. Sharing knowledge helps us to get inspired and learn from each other.

Working with other teams

We reach our goals with evenly distributed coaches across the company. One coach is a point of contact that keeps an overview of teams within a pillar. Team coaches, on the other hand, work with specific teams to drive efficiency or improve processes directly. Those who are both Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters can work with various teams and take over different roles to support. It is important to us that everyone’s skills can also be applied outside of software development. In our team set-up coaches have a voice as to which teams they can add most value to and where they would most like to work and support.

If we get a request, we first talk to the leads of the teams who require our help or need support. We have a look at their strategy and check the top six initiatives. Our Strategy Framework at trivago focuses on reaching our goals within the company. This helps us identify where we can create the best possible value for the business. Ultimately we contribute to trivago’s overall mission through driving efficiency of teams and individuals.

How many teams our coaches work with depends on the level of support needed. A Scrum Master, for example, offers his or her full support to a maximum of two to three teams. Some teams need more support in the beginning or a specific initiative to get the ball rolling, so the involvement usually decreases after the initial action. Facilitating retrospectives from time to time requires less support, therefore more than three teams could be supported. This also gives coaches the opportunity to jump in for ad-hoc sessions if it is needed and does not disturb the work with other teams.

An Agile Coach at trivago is a chameleon that is able to adapt to teams in a unique way by finding suitable approaches to support. A coach needs to be able to reflect and mirror, be a mentor and facilitate within teams. They support teams by participating in updates, planning stand ups and retrospectives. They understand team dynamics and needs which they address with a flexible use of agile and lean methods. Although trivago develops many software products including our core hotel search, we use the common principles as guidelines and do not always follow the rule book. 

Any form of information is an inspiration for us to develop agile in our own way. We use different methods or our own experiences. This also applies to different frameworks that make it possible to scale agility (like “SAFe” – Scaled Agility Framework). We are inspired by these frameworks, but find customized solutions for our teams. There is no one standard process that we follow.

What’s a day in the life of an Agile Coach at trivago like?

Every coach has a desk in our team area where they can work on different tasks, plan or prepare next steps – but it is common for them to sit with the team they are coaching. Sitting with a team is important to understand team dynamics. It also helps to analyze the current situation to be able to support the team the best possible way.

A day in a life of an Agile Coach could start with shadowing a team’s meeting or observing how they work together daily, while another coach could be running a retrospective for a team. If a team works in Scrum, they have daily stand ups where an Agile Coach can also join to get an understanding of how a current sprint is going. Agile Coaches at trivago can also either give private training sessions in ‘their’ teams, or run open sessions for peers in the company, so that colleagues get a better understanding of agile methodologies. They can explain how Scrum or Kanban are used in the company to improve processes. A session with a specific team can help them to recognize and learn about different concepts and get a good understanding of applied agile methods. Our goal is to help teams to ultimately be able to work and apply suggested techniques of improvement without a coach.

To finally answer the question in the title. Sure, we like to work with sticky notes and pens and we always take some with us ─ just in case ─ but as you can see there is more to the role of an Agile Coach at trivago. A big thank you to my colleagues who gave me a better understanding of agile methodologies. They made sure I can join retrospectives, trainings and run sessions myself to get the best possible learnings. I would not have been able to write this article without their continuous support. Cheers to the team!

Florian Krushel

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