Agile Coaching and the Learning Landscape

In previous posts about Agile Coaching Values, I discuss how the lack of clear definitions for Agile and Agile Coaching create opening for all kinds of sorrows and abuses in the role of Agile Coach.

Once again, I reiterate: most people doing this kind of work have a genuine and passionate interest in creating a space for clients that leads to what I am calling Free-Standing Agility. That said, whenever there is money involved, we can expect abuses.

One way to curb current and future abuses is to be, as a community, self-policing. We can choose to encourage as normal the identification of actual and potential ethical abuses of the Agile Coaching role. Or, we can watch as the emerging profession dies a death of one thousand (ethical) paper cuts.

To be clear, I am not offering a definition of Agile, nor I am offering a definition for the role of Agile Coach. What I am offering is my participation in a wider conversation in and around the ethics of Agile Coaching.

I wonder how much longer we as a community can defer this essential conversation.

The Current Situation

A quick survey of the landscape illustrates the confluence of forces that are creating a crisis of ethics in Agile Coaching:

  • There is no ethical standard for the Agile Coach role. We are just starting this essential conversation. Some like excellent Agile leader George Dinwiddie are speaking plainly about what they are seeing. Quoting George’s well-reasoned post, “What is An Agile Coach?”:“…..The coach helps the team articulate the results it wants, and generate courses of action to achieve those results. The coach partners with the team on the coaching process, but allows the team to exercise its own judgement about the software development practice. The coach does not become a member of the team, but endeavors to wean the team off of the need to consult with the coach on a regular basis. There are consultants whose business model includes making the client more dependent on the consultant. That, to me, is not coaching. And that’s not the model of consulting that I choose.


  • There are some people in the Agile community that have a legitimate voice, who are presently unwilling or unable to articulate a public position on the essential matter of ethical concerns in the Agile Coaching space. This behavior is a non-starter and has the effect of dampening community-wide development of the dialogue. This in turn impedes a more rapid development of Agile Coaching into a legitimate profession.


  • The advent of the PMI Agile certification has the effect of complicating and widening the Agile conversation to include traditional projects and project managers. This creates more terms, words, and complex “noise” in the dialogue and debate about what is and is not Agile and by extension, and about what is and is not Agile Coaching. This in turn more greatly confuses what is and is not a good ethical standard for Agile Coaching. This at-time confusing noise becomes cover for potential unethical practices and borderline coach behaviors.


  • Some in the Agile Coach community are publicly asserting that embedded, 5-days-a-week Agile coaching, with he coach often occupying the Scrum Master role, is  legitimate in every way and in every case. There is a strong assertion, by some, that coaches can legitimately “consult” in the Scrum Master role, for “some time”, and this is actually a foundational element of good Agile Coaching. Not so fast. While there are specific cases where 5-days-a-week coaching makes total sense, in my view (and the view of many others who participate in this community,) these are the exceptions, not the rule. Those who seek to validate an embedded, ‘integrated’ Agile Coaching model are actually instigating this wider worldwide conversation about Agile Coaching Ethics. They do so by making strong public assertions that ’embedding’ an ‘integrate coach’ as Scrum Master for ‘some time’ is actually a foundational aspect of a comprehensive ‘model’ of Agile Coaching. Great! Let’s have this conversation without delay.


This conversation about Agile Coaching Ethics is starting. Has started. Is now underway.

And here is the very good news: This  is a very healthy conversation, ultimately leading to more community wellness. It is driven by a confluence of forces that are conspiring together, drawing in participants that have have a keen and legitimate interest in Agile Coaching.


2 Replies to “Agile Coaching and the Learning Landscape”

  1. IMHO: Five days a week as a coach may be justifiable if the Coach is working with multiple teams, rather than just with one or two teams. Plus, an internal coach could serve as a Scrum Master on one team, and coach several other teams. However, this doesn’t seem to be the real issue……..

    Hierarchical organizations exert pressure on its members to stay hierarchal, i.e. concentrate power at the top in a personification of the “hero.” Project Management follows this model, with the PM assigning tasks and managing “resources.” The organization, not knowing how to function in any other way, casts the Agile Coach in this power matrix. This is the real issue, the challenge of Agility. Breaking the mold.

    It’s been said before that Agile is about transformative cultural change. It’s also been said the the kind of thinking that created the problem cannot solve the problem. Agile Coaches may be evangelists, but they grew up in traditional structures. Coaches are vulnerable, too. It’s easier to command than to collaborate. Easier to give the people what they want and demand. It certainly seems faster to tell people what to do, at least at any given moment, and that’s where we all live, isn’t it? In the present moment.

    And when we say we have the answers…. even when we are right on target with what we say, we are walking a thin line. It’s like trying to teach humility. If you set up yourself as being the voice of humility, that’s not so humble, is it? Yes, the infrastructure of Scrum and other Agile approaches goes a long way to promote collaboration, but there are many factors involved which conspire to divert the process.

    Bottom line: Coaches are vulnerable to the culture we live in. We’ve got to understand the psychology, and accept that it is going to hurt us and them to go through this process.

  2. To be honest I do see this model of consulting (“extra pair of hands consultant I think Block calls it) I also advocate Schien model of Process Consultation that all consultants would be best served to apply. This helps the client learn much and improves capability, thinking, and so on. Again reading the definition above,I still feel the SM should be covering that. If not you are under utilising the skill and potential. A coach can coach many teams and should by defintion be hands of. Imagine Ivan Lendl walking onto court mid-match and start working with Andy Murray. Again I see thismainly as a mentor/supervisee role especially in new teams and less so in more experienced teams.

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