Agile Coaching and Authority

Agile Coaches have broad latitude in how they operate inside a client. The client is bringing the coach in as a trusted adviser. The coach is presumably coming in with a heart of service and a mission to help the client achieve what might be called “free standing Agility”.

One way to achieve “free standing Agility” for the client is to STAY AWAY from taking up essential and authoritative roles in the client organization. Specifically, the act of assuming the role of Scrum Master is to be avoided unless specific circumstances exist. Why?

If the ‘coach’ plays Scrum Master and is occupying that role for more than a few days, the following conditions need to be in place:

1. The client has no one willing or able to do the job, and is actively recruiting to fill the role with an employee. Here the Agile coach fills a (temporary!) gap.

2. The Agile coach is modeling how to occupy the Scrum Master role as he or she mentors a specific client employee (or employees) in how to do it. Here the Agile coach is mentoring and modeling and teaching.

Absent these conditions, having a coach assume the Scrum Master role is a very bad idea, for the following reasons:

1. No one at the client is learning anything by experience about being a Scrum Master

2. The coach is in a position to extend his or her stay, by creating a real dependency

3. Teams and organizations tend to convey authority to the Scrum Master. This sets up the coach and the team and the org is a set of distorted alignments. Teams defer to the “Agile expert” coach, the Agile coach is encouraging dependency, the organization is not learning essentials, etc.

In this scenario, the ‘coach’ is functioning not as a coach but as a consultant. The truth is the ‘coach’ is acting as a mere contractor, essentially doing for the client what they can and must do for themselves if the goal of free-standing Agility is to be achieved. This is OK when the client and the contactor call it what it is. When contracting is called Agile Coaching, there is dysfunction.

Coaching is not consulting or contracting, and there is no place for these functions in coaching. Agile coaches who take up the Scrum Master role for ‘some time’ are in fact setting up an extended-stay, and a stream of predictable billing. That is what contractors and consultants do.That is NOT what sincere Agile coaches do.

When a coach takes up the Scrum Master role on an extended-stay basis, that is contracting masquerading as coaching. The Agile coaching community as whole gets a black eye when the definition of Agile coaching includes this kind of behavior. There are some voices in the Agile coaching community advocating the inclusion of ‘consulting’ in the Agile coaching definition.

Guidance: If you are a Agile coaching client, pay attention when your ‘coach’ suggests that they take up the Scrum Master role for more than a week. In most cases, this is a very bad idea. If you are an Agile coach, stop doing this. Short term, your client suffers.  Long term, your reputation suffers.

As Agile coaching matures as a profession, it is inevitable that we discuss what is in and what is out of the definition of Agile Coaching. The time is probably here to discuss the ethics of Agile Coaching. There is plenty to talk about.


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