Our Value Isn’t Arithmetical

Our Value Isn’t Arithmetical

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I saw a post the other day on LinkedIn where someone made the case on how to show value as Agile coaches, consultants, trainers, and leaders. 

The article was very math-focused, basically boiling everything down to the following—

Value = (The benefits a client/customer/leader receives – Total cost of ownership)

Then, they provided some value ROI calculations for various roles. All in all, it was a nice, tight argument. The numbers were precise, and the conclusions were compelling.

We’ve all heard this argument or position when folks are speaking about organizational leaders and how they determine value. It’s often arithmetic, algorithmic, and quantifiable. The phrase, the numbers don’t lie or the data doesn’t lie, is usually attached to their perspective.

There’s only one thing wrong with this anecdotal view of how leaders make decisions. It’s wrong.

In my experience, I haven’t seen leaders, when they’re making value-based decisions on individuals or teams—

  • Breakout a spreadsheet;

  • Compare individuals from an arithmetic value view;

  • Compare developers on lines of code produced or coaches on the team’s coaches;

  • Speak in terms of cost or return on investment for people;

  • Make pure or solely dollars and cents decisions.

Now, an incredible number of people imagine, hope, or perceive that this is the analytical decision-making senior leaders navigate. And it makes sense from an outsider’s perspective that it would happen this way.

But I have a different perspective. It just doesn’t happen. Period!

While the data may underlie the decisions somehow, every senior leader I’ve met makes decisions with their qualitative gut. For example, some of the following considerations are weighed much more heavily—

  • Polling the adjacent leadership team to see who has perceived value and who does not—comparing and contrasting;

  • Largely perception-based discussions on value propositions;

  • Often, the value proposition is skewed based solely on perceptions and not reality

  • Visibility becomes something that increases value;

  • Politics comes into play. For example, I we reduce staff in this area, will it minimize the number of people (clients, leaders, team members) that we piss off?

  • Often intangibles, for example—being a team player, someone who doesn’t challenge the status quo, positive attitude, etc. are vital determinants.

In my experience, and I’m recollecting/guessing a bit here, I think Pareto rears its head. These value-based discussions and decision-making sessions are often 80% qualitative and 20% quantitative.

I’ll wrap up this article with a recent email exchange I had with another Agile Coach…Here’s the snippet –

It does beg the question,

“How can we get executives to make data-based decisions more?” 

And here’s my reply—

Your last question is interesting. How do we get executives to make more data-based decisions? 

I think of Vacanti’s work and Evidence-Based Management of Scrum.org as examples of trying to become more skilled here.

It implies that we need them to meet us (in data) where we want them to be. Where it’s more “comfortable” for us and where it seems to be clearer and cleaner.

But what do we do if they don’t want to meet us there? Then, all the data collection and shares in the world will not resonate with them when they’re making these crucial organizational decisions.

Then what do we do? I’d turn around your question and explore—

How we become more adept at perception-based management so that our actual value emerges in their decision-making conversations?

This is the point of my talks lately for coaches communicating, showing, and validating their value with their clients. It’s US learning how to do a better job on the qualitative. But that means we need to improve the soft/human skills side of the equation. Which is far more challenging and scarier than simply showing off a spreadsheet and letting the data speak for itself.

Since you’re in such a strong influence position, I’m trying to influence you to think of both sides (quantitative and qualitative) AND to pick an amplification side. Why?

Because I believe this is a fundamental challenge our whole community has right now, and perhaps we’re chasing “the wrong side.”

Stay agile, my friends,


I’ve argued this same point at a leadership coaching and determining the value of agile coaches here – https://www.agile-moose.com/blog/2023/8/27/measuring-your-impact-amp-value-as-an-leadership-level-agile-coach


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