What Happened to Agile Coaching?

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What Happened to Agile Coaching?

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Todd Charron posted a rather Big Question on Linked in February 2023. And it’s supported by this blog with more details. 

I thought I’d share a snippet from Todd’s post to set the stage for his thoughts and position—

But I don’t see these kinds of coaches as often as I used to

Now I see–

  • “You’re going to have bring in more coaches”

  • “You have to follow the process exactly”

  • “If only we had management support / buy-in”

  • “Which certification should I get next?”

  • “I’m studying to be a life coach…”

The last one, in particular, annoys me

It’s like a bunch of life coaches discovered Agile

And since they can’t get hired as life coaches, they figured they’d get businesses to pay them for “Agile Coaching”

These coaches are doing the activities they want to do instead of focusing on the mission

And the mission is:

Helping the client solve their problems

Instead, what we get is:

Coaches pretending to help businesses while they convince people to quit their jobs

I’ve seen this more times than I’d like to admit

This isn’t the only coaching anti-pattern

Among the 38 comments by March 1st, I also wanted to share these two from Sam Perera

𝐅𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐆𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐂𝐨𝐚𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐬
These are the highly skilled professionals who had been there in the industry for a long period of time and had the skills and experience of actual software development and knowledge work under their belt. They got the opportunity to learn agile (principles and values) from the thought leaders or the people who wrote the manifesto. They were smart enough to comprehend the actual problem they were supposed to solve.

However, when the software didn’t get shipped on time; couldn’t help the teams to remove the blockers they were facing; couldn’t improve the quality of testing; and most importantly couldn’t drive costs down, they often didn’t have to face the music of the customers, the shareholders, or the senior managers. They often operated in a realm far from the actual delivery layer just as an ‘advisor’ or a ‘consultant’. It was always the team who had to take responsibility.

This made the organizational management (especially the middle management who were directly in the firing line) grow weary among the agile coaches. They started asking the question – “𝘴𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘥𝘰 𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘭𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘴 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘥𝘰?”

Next Generation Coaches
Consequently, a new arm in the training industry has been spun up. The increased demand for high-quality agile coaches, and the consulting fees they charged, created the perfect pathways for people from other areas to become agile coaches or scrum masters in a short period. When organizations saw a new wave of agile coaches who did not cost as much coming out, they grabbed this new generation with open arms, most of the time hiring them as permanent employees rather than independent consultants.

These employees were often both new to the industry with limited knowledge and experience and had a line manager who was sitting either in the same department or the same team. Rather than spending the time to actually peeling out the challenges associated with software delivery, they were often prescribed by their senior managers – the Jira workflow rules the team had to adhere to, the Miro board they must use in a retro, the template they should comply with in the weekly status reporting, and some measurements that didn’t mean anything – above 95% team utilization and 108 point sprint velocity.

And, sadly these agile coaches most of the time have neither the skills nor the right environment to ask “𝘸𝘩𝘺?”.

I largely agree with Todd & Sam’s observations but potentially not their conclusions. I’ve been in agile and coaching since the late 1990s, so I’ve seen the transition they are alluding to. And it makes me incredibly sad not only for those coaches that are competent but for all of those clients who are being short-changed.

In the beginning, agile coaches emerged from the practitioner side of things. There was little to no stock put into certifications and training. Instead, it was a hard-earned experience that was highly valued.

An agile coach wasn’t a well-defined role early on and still isn’t, so it wasn’t as attractive of a goal for the masses to acquire.

I think the Agile Industrial Complex (growing certifications and mills, consultants primarily focused on dollars, the level of opportunity, and people looking for an easy way to grow their careers) has brought us to this point.

First, I want to say that there are still highly-skilled agile coaches around. Sure, they might be in the minority, but they are there. You must raise the bar in your interviewing and selection criteria to find them. And be willing to pay for this level of competence.

Another wonderful thing occurring in the agile community is organic, grass-roots learning and growth among those who aspire to be agile coaches. I’ll give you two (of many) examples of this as proof—

As positive counterpoints, I view these as indicative, perhaps of the difference between the Agile Industrial Complex view of coaching and the agile coaching community (people) who are challenging themselves to grow in their capabilities.

I believe the world of agile work still needs agile coaches at a team level and at the enterprise, organizational, and leadership levels to transform our working methods effectively.

And contrary to Todd’s point, I think part of their skills must include professional (life coaching) skills.

Read this post that speaks to the depth AND breadth needed in Agile Coaching.

I also believe the craft of Agile Coaching is at a flex point where we either continue down the path that Todd rails against or raise the bar across all areas of our competencies, ethics, and standards. Time will tell which way we take…

Stay agile my friends,


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