Free-Standing Agility

The goal of any legitimate Agile Coach is what I am calling Free Standing Agility:

Free Standing Agility is that characteristic of a group of people, which allows it to at once identify, and rationally respond to, environmental change. Such changes may be both intrinsic and extrinsic in nature. By definition, Free Standing Agility is free of dependence on anyone who does not have group membership.

This Free Standing Agility (FSA) is that property that allows a team, group or organization to adjust, moment by moment, to forces and influences that alter their current environment and situation. This is typically a business environment, but need not be, to satisfy the definition. Any group or organization, for example a hockey team, or an orchestra, can be in state of FSA.

Agile Coaching

‘agile coaches’ who insinuate themselves into a group of people who they are purportedly coaching are doing a serious disservice to that group. The coaching relationship must not be polluted with dysfunctional structure. Embedding and ‘integrating’ into a group of people who are learning how to be a group is a most insincere act.

Such insinuations may take the following forms:

  • Occupying the Scrum Master role for “some time”, certainly more than 7 days, with no intent to teach the role, thereby robbing the group of important experience in that role. Note: Scrum Masters must learn by doing. If no one else is “doing” the SM role, there is no intent to teach it on the part of the “coach”.
  • Engaging in Extended-Stay (embedded) “coaching”. In almost all cases, engagements of this type have at least the potential to engender a serious dependency on the “coach”.
  • Occupying the Product Owner role for longer than 2 days, with no intent to teach the role to anyone else.

Free Standing Agility is possible when the Agile Coach engages in an arms-length relationship with the client group. In this manner, dependencies that are dangerous to both Client and Agile Coach are intentionally avoided, in service to the development of Free-Standing Agility in the client group.

See also: Previous Posts on Agile Coaching Ethics

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5 Comments for this entry

  • Dan LeFebvre

    November 7th, 2011 on 10:40 am


    This series of posts is most interesting and essential to making agile coaching a legitimate profession.

    I am concerned with your time limit on taking on the SM role. I once worked at a large SW product company (15 teams) for 9 months, 5 days a week. I was moving from team to team, getting them started, providing feedback, and trying to guide them to FSA. Was that within the bounds? They hired an internal agile coach and I mentored him to the point where he took over the role. In bounds?

    During the engagement, they had a SM that just couldn’t get it. They asked me to take the role while they look for a replacement. They were struggling some with allowing self-organization so I took the role to properly model the behavior. I was SM for 3 sprints. In that time, I taught the team to self-organize, they tripled their velocity, I mentored one of the team members to take over the role. The client was now a believer that agile can and does work and they are still going strong today. Was this in bounds?

    I think yes! I served the client by modeling behavior, mentoring my replacements, and helped them achieve business goals. It was not my intent to take over the SM role, they asked me. I thought long and hard before taking it and made sure they were looking for a replacement before I agreed to it. In the long run, it served the client.

    So in my opinion, if I believe I am serving the client to become self-sufficient (FSA) then I am in bounds. I don’t believe in hard time limits because every situation is different. I made it quite clear that I was a SM for the 3 sprints and not the “coach”. I informed them that my coaching of other teams will greatly diminish while in this role. I feel I acted ethically. What do you think?

    • WebMaster

      November 7th, 2011 on 12:06 pm


      Thanks for your comment. Hard limits are prescriptive, rigid and static. It’s the SPIRIT of the behavior. Here in your story, the spirit of the behavior is service and learning. Some essential prescription may make sense, but only when that prescription can achieve the intention. For example, Scrum prescribes very little, but what it does prescribe is essential.

      Same thing here. Your story has these elements:

      1. Multiple teams
      2. Mentoring replacements such as SMs and internal coaches
      3. Taking up of the role by you is explicitly TEMPORARY in service to their learning
      4. You occupy SM role for 3 Sprints
      5. Your taking up of the SM role is designed to increase client learning
      6. Your behavior as coach is consistent with getting them to free-standing agility (FSA) and then LEAVING

      These last points are key and need to be prescribed. Anything that that reduces the flow of learning to the client is undesireable; anything that increases the Agile maturity of the client and increases the client’s learning is desired. Coach staying forever embedded in an ‘integrated coaching’ mode is not consistent with client learning and coach exit. Free standing agility (the goal) means by definition client does need anyone external to maintain Agility.

      Your story provides a great example of strong, service-oriented Agile Coaching.

      “I work to be aware and reflective, intending to always increase the flow of Agile learning to my client”

  • Gene Gendel

    November 7th, 2011 on 2:11 pm

    I agree on temporary engaging, then disengaging. I agree that leading by example for a time period (time boxed, just like everything in agile) is a must.
    I am just not as optimistic as you are in terms of for how long a coach has to stay engaged before they leave.
    7 days for SM – might be OK. But 2 days for PO might be a bit too short.

  • Karen Favazza Spencer

    November 7th, 2011 on 3:33 pm

    The most usable instructions for learning/teaching I’ve ever found has 4 steps. There is no time prescribed to each of the steps, but the process works for everything. Dan LeFebvre’s example follows this formula.

    1 – Demonstration (model the behavior)
    2 – Participation (guide & lead the student)
    3 – Practice (supported repetition; inc. feedback & deepening instruction; dependence)
    4 – Performance (independent ability)

  • Ravindar

    November 15th, 2011 on 5:19 pm

    I agree with your assessment. I have always said this to my clients when they ask me what my job is or how I know I am successful “By making sure I am out of a job soon”. But as some have said the level of engagement in terms of time can be different based on team maturity etc.

    Overall, I am glad you have started this discussion.


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