How to Become an ICF Certified Coach | A Guide for Agile Coaches
Updated: Feb 7
Earlier this year I obtained Professional Coach Credential (PCC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a major milestone in the journey from Agile coach to a Professional coach.
My personal journey started in 2016 with a big realisation:
I knew a lot about "Agile" but not about Coaching
I’m not alone. Many Agile Coaches I speak with have realised there is more to coaching than "teaching scrum".
Over the past 4 years, I have helped around 20 Agile Coaches gain their Professional Coach Credential. One thing that's common is the confusion around the Credential Process. What course should I choose? What counts as coaching hours? What if I'm an internal coach?
This post is intended to help you. It shares the steps I've taken along the International Coaching Federation (ICF) coaching path. From finding the right training course, completing the credentialing process and the coaching exam.
This guide will give you the practical steps required to get to where I am now; a Certified Professional Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF)
After reading this article if you still have questions, I also offer free coach mentoring. You may have specific questions or just want to hear more about my experience over the past 4 years. You can learn more about Coach Mentoring here
How do I become a certified coach?
Here are the three steps you'll need to follow to become a Certified Professional Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF):
Step 1 - Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP)
The first step for aspiring coaches is to complete what’s called an “Accreditated Coach Training Program” (ACTP):
“An ICF ACTP is considered an all-inclusive coach training program. An ACTP includes a minimum of 125 hours of coach-specific training, including comprehensive instruction around the ICF Core Competencies, Code of Ethics and the ICF definition of coaching. This type of program also includes Mentor Coaching, observed coaching sessions and a comprehensive final exam that evaluates a student's coaching competency.”
Which course should I choose?
In 2017 I completed an Accreditated Coach Training program(ACTP) with Barefoot Coaching. Within the UK, Barefoot is a very popular choice, especially amongst Agile Coaches. In fact, Geoff Watts, a well known Scrum Coach completed the Barefoot Course. He also published a book with Barefoot Founder Kim Morgan. It’s one of the 5 books I recommend for new coaches.
A popular alternative for Agile Coaches is Organisation Relationship and Systems Coaching (ORSC). This course is also an Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP). What's great about ORSC is that it focuses heavily on group, organisation and system coaching. Having also completed this course I found that the content was easier to relate as an Agile Coach. This is because most of Agile Coaches work is with groups.
A third popular option with Agile Coaches is Co-Active Coaching. Completion of the full program will also meet the requirements of an Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP).
You can find an Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) through the ICF website. My recommendation is to select a course that has a good personal referral. The training provider can make a real difference to the learning experience.
What are the alternatives to ICF?
Obtaining a credential through the ICF is not the only recognised option. There are several global accreditation bodies. Three other examples are:
The International Association of Coaching (IAC)
European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)
Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE)
This article explains the differences between the Accreditation Bodies.
An alternative route for Agile Coaches is to not pursue a credential with a global coaching accreditation body. Instead, there is the option to obtain an "Agile" qualification with an Agile Training Provider. A popular example is the ICAgile Coaching course. This course will not contribute towards a qualification with a recognised Global Coaching body. It's a great option if you want to remain within the agile context. It will limit your ability to coach outside of the agile context.
What does the course cover?
A training course will cover the 11 core coaching competencies described by the International Coaching Federation:
Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
Establishing the Coaching Agreement
Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
Planning and Goal Setting
Managing Progress and Accountability
What is the course duration?
The training length will vary. With Barefoot Coaching the course was 12 Days. This was split into 3 x 4 Day classes over 3 months. In addition, you were expected to conduct coaching sessions between the classes. Today many courses are delivered online and I've found the length can be longer. In fact, many courses are spread over 6-9months with a few hours of learning each week.
How much does it cost?
Prices for an ACTP course will vary but my experience is an average cost of around £6,000 ($10,000)
There is an alternative route called Approved Coach Specific Training Hours (ACSTH). This option is often cheaper as you break the course down into smaller modules. The downside is that it will usually take longer to gain the required training hours to earn Associate Coach Credential.
Bonus: Academic Qualification
Depending on your choice of training provider an Academic Qualification might be included. In the case of Barefoot Coaching, you can also gain a Post-Graduate Certificate with the University of Chester. To achieve this you need to complete some additional requirements including three dissertations.
The academic qualification is not a requirement for ICF Credential.
Step 2 - Earning a Coach Credential
Once you have completed an ACTP you can start building up coaching hours. The ICF has three credential levels. At each level you need to complete a certain number of coaching hours:
Associate Coach Credential (ACC) - 100hrs
Professional Coach Credential (PCC) - 500hrs
Master Coach Credential (MCC) - 2500hrs
To evidence your coaching hours you will need to keep a log which is submitted once you apply for your credential. The ICF provides a simple spreadsheet to do this. It’s best to keep this updated regularly. It’s rather painful tracking back through your records if you don’t update regularly (speaking from experience!)
What are client coaching hours?
It’s likely only a sub-set of Agile Coaching activities will constitute "coaching hours" for ICF. Therefore it's important to be aware of what can be recorded.
The ICF has a rather broad definition of what is classed as Client Coaching Hours:
A client coaching hour is 60 minutes of actual coaching with a client who has hired the applicant as a coach and not in any other capacity
This is not that helpful as often coaching can be interpreted broadly. The ICF provides further clarification in regards to Group Coaching:
To qualify as group coaching, participants must set the agenda, and the session must be interactive (synchronous interaction between the coach and participants).
What Agile Coaching activities are Client Coaching Hours?
Here are some examples of Agile Coaching activities that would count as coaching hours:
1-2-1 Coaching - For example with a Leader, Scrum Master, Product Owner. It's important to establish the right coaching contract for these conversations. You may run into challenges if you do not establish the right foundations.
Team/Group Coaching - It's important as per ICF guidelines that the team set the agenda and you demonstrate the core competencies. Most common for Agile Coaches would be coaching a Leadership Team. Or perhaps even a group of Scrum Masters or fellow coaches.
Activities that would not count towards Client Coaching Hours:
Training - For example Scrum Master Training
Mentoring - Where you are mostly giving direction and advice
What about Facilitation?
Facilitation is a little harder to categorise. In some cases, a facilitated group workshop might very much demonstrate the ICF core competencies. However, some workshops might be much more directive in nature.
The Scrum Ceremonies are a great example where it gets blurry. If you are facilitating these ceremonies you might take a more directive approach if the team needs your expertise and advice. However, in some cases, you might take a more facilitative and coaching approach asking questions to guide the group performance. For this coaching to count as client hours it must be contracted as coaching and again the client sets the agenda.
When recording hours for my credential I was very conservative. I took care only to record hours where the core competencies were demonstrated and the activity was contracted as Coaching.
Agile Coaches would need to exercise judgement when recording hours and where needed double-check with either the ICF or your coach training provider.
What's the best way to build up Coaching Hours?
For many agile coaches, it might actually be difficult to build up coaching hours. It’s common that organisations may not want you to do coaching and instead focused on more advice based work such as Mentoring and Training. If that’s the case a great option for Agile Coaches is Reciprocal Coaching:
“Peer to peer coaching is the exchange of coaching between two individuals. Peer to peer coaching (outside of training program) can be claimed as paid or bartered coaching. Peer to peer coaching (within Reciprocal Peer Coaching) can be claimed as paid hours.”
If you’d like to build up your hours I can help. I currently have open hours for free Reciprocal Coaching as part of my Coaching Mentoring.
How long does it take?
The time it takes to gain your coach credential will obviously depend on the amount of coaching you do. Here is the timeline of my journey:
February 2017 - ACTP Course Commences
May 2017 - ACTP Course Completion
February 2018 - Associate Coach Credential (ACC) - 100hrs
July 2020 - Professional Coach Credential (PCC) - 500hrs
My next step is to gain Master Coach Credential (MCC). This is likely to take a few more years to complete the 2500hrs at this level. The biggest challenge will be keeping an accurate log of all those hours!
Step 3 - Completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA).
The Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) is an online assessment of the ICF Core Competencies. There are 155 multiple-choice questions. Only one answer is correct for each question. You need to score 70% to pass. It takes two and a half to three hours to do this online exam.
After submitting your coaching log, you will be sent a link to complete the assessment. You will be asked a selection of questions to demonstrate you understand the competencies and ethics of the ICF. The assessment is a little challenging, mainly due to the tight time it must be completed within. However, if you do a little study prior you should have no problems completing it.
Three example questions:
Domain: Communicating Effectively
When dealing with a client who brings many issues to the table, it is best for the coach to:
a. where the coach has the most expertise.
b. of asking what the client would like to start with.
c. that looks most likely to be handled in the time available.
d. that the coach thinks can do the most good for the client.
Domain: Facilitating Learning and Results
An appropriate role for a coach in goal setting, planning, and prioritizing with a client is:
a. critiquing and embellishing a client’s goals.
b. letting the client self-determine the need for goals.
c. taking charge of the process to ensure it is completed accurately.
d. facilitating a process around the client’s goal setting, planning, and prioritizing.
Domain: Coaching Foundations and Knowledge Base
Every coaching conversation should include:
a. an action plan.
b. an agenda identified by the client.
c. review of fieldwork.
d. a summary by the coach of the client’s progress.
Are you ready?
So a final reminder, the three steps to becoming a Professional Coach are:
Complete an Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP)
Earning a Coach Credential
Coach Knowledge Assessment
The ICF website provides further details on each of these steps
I hope sharing my experience has helped you understand more about the journey to becoming a professional coach.
If you’d like a little more help I offer Coach Mentoring and Reciprocal Coaching. You can find out more here.