Case Study 13.2. A Coaching Framework
This case study (based on Dubinsky and Hazzan 2003) presents a coaching framework, based on a reflective process (see Chapter 11, Feedback) conducted by a team of four coaches, who guided the development of agile software projects in academia during a full academic year. This coaching was performed in line with the academic coach description presented in Chapter 1, Introduction to Agile Software Development. For simplicity purposes, we use the term coach instead of academic coach.
Before the agile approach was introduced into the course, projects were developed with no emphasis on any specific software development method. Each coach had between five and seven groups of two or three students each. The students met with the academic staff at the beginning of the semester to receive their project requirements, and presented documentation and code on three specific occasions during the semester. During the rest of the time, the students could approach the coaches during their office hours. The students usually did not use this means of communication. The coach was not involved in the students’ work, since the students did not work near or with the coach when the actual planning, designing, or coding tasks were performed.
The group of coaches was trained using the agile approach before they started to coach. During the training sessions the team was introduced to agile basics, experienced several agile practices, and was trained to teach the method. Special focus was placed on the planning activity, since it provided a development framework from a time management perspective. The main issues of student team projects were discussed, including their structure, the coaches’ roles, the students’ roles, and the evaluation scheme (see Chapter 2, Teamwork). All decisions were made jointly by the entire coaching team. Starting to work, coaches’ meetings were conducted to rehearse agile practices. Specifically, guidance was provided to the coaches regarding which activities to conduct, how to overcome specific problems, what tasks to assign students the following week, and other such topics.
After a year of work, a reflective process was performed. The aim of this reflective process was to draw lessons from the accumulated experience, to be implemented in the following stages. Two almost identical questionnaires served as the basis for reflective interviews. The first questionnaire was filled out by each of the coaches prior to the first training; the second was completed towards the end of the year, when the coaches had had one year of experience. Both questionnaires referred to software development projects in general and did not address any specific software development method. In the questionnaires, the coaches were asked to describe the phases of a software development project, specifying the more important phases. In addition, they were requested to describe their role as coaches in the process of guiding students in software development; to rank the main activities performed during software development, as they perceived them; to specify the development process’ main problems; and to suggest solutions to these problems.
Two consecutive interviews were performed with each coach. In the first interview, the coaches started by filling out the second questionnaire. Then they were asked to describe the agile implementation, the effect of the agile training (a year before), and the topics that they felt should be the focus of the next coaching training. In the second interview, each of the coaches was asked to reflect on the two questionnaires they had previously filled in and to describe how the use of agile software development influenced them personally. They were also asked to compare their teaching approach before and after this year. At the end of the second interview the coaches were requested to put in writing their reflections on the two interviews.
Additional details about the coaching training as well as about the reflective process, can be found in Dubinsky and Hazzan (2003).
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