Agile Coaching, Client Learning, and Money (Part 1)

Is client learning inversely proportional to short-term coaching revenue?

If the client learns quickly … and gets to Free Standing Agility (FSA) … does this reduce or even terminate short-term coaching revenue?

I have to say, generally speaking, YES. However, like any good policy, after a delay, being a service-oriented, service-optimized coach is optimal for revenue generation. It ends up making much more money over the long term… after a delay. Contributing factors include the generation of successful case studies, development of the client’s FSA, and the development of close friends and strong reputation.

Let’s do some analysis by unpacking this graph:

The horizontal axis depicts levels of short-term (not long term) revenue. This axis can be viewed as depicting the collection of billing over time. This axis is labeled [Coaches Billing and Revenues]. The vertical axis labeled [Free Standing Agility] depicts levels of client ability to proceed without requiring a coach to help continuously. The term Free-Standing Agility refers to a level of ability to identify and respond to change, as an organization, without help from an external source like a coach.

What is the Responsibility of the Client?

Clients often ask for a authoritative prescription– in effect, projecting authority on the coach … and expecting the coach to tell them what they “should” do.

What is the correct response from the coach in this spot?

Clients must be told they are responsible for their own learning, and that the coach plans to completely help with that … by conveying as much knowledge as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. By mentoring, by assisting in skills development, and as much as possible, not authoritatively prescribing. The goal is FSA- Free Standing Agility- for the client.

I want to make it clear that the client organization co-creates the learning situation with the coach. However, all too often what the client asks for is an authoritative prescription, the very opposite of what Agile is all about. This opens the door to all kinds of dysfunction in the coach-client relationship. Coaches need to be ready to discuss this dynamic with the client, in effect assisting the client in the development of rapid organizational learning.

OK, on to the graph. The graph (below) depicts four coach types: Service-oriented, Competent, Average and “Zombie”. Let’s look at the first three of these:

Service-Oriented Agile Coach

Depicted in green. Coach has high integrity. Coach is reflective and has achieved day-to-day personal mastery over his/her own behavior. Exhibits high levels of awareness and self-control and is consciously intentional. Coaching approach is optimized on client learning. Coach is willing to limit short-term revenues in pursuit of wider organizational learning development. Coach understands the inverse relationship between client learning velocity and short-term revenue generation. Coach actively chooses client learning over short-term revenue generation. Coach employs various methods and relationship structures to accelerate client learning velocities. Techniques may include arms-length agreements, limited-authority role, short-duration engagements, formal and frequent coach-client retrospectives, and other techniques executed with client, all designed to rapidly optimize client learning levels and ongoing organizational learning velocities.

Coach understands the nature of delays in long-term revenue generation. Coach accepts these delays and takes the long view. The Service-Oriented coach tends to make less money in the short-term and much more in the long term.

Figure 1: Short-term revenue dynamics of client learning, by Coach profile type. The 'Zombie' coach generates FOUR times as much billing overall, but client learning levels are about ONE QUARTER of what a Service-Oriented coach can help create. What gives here?














Competent Agile Coach

Depicted in orange. Coach has sincerity. Coach has competence and potential for mastery. Approach is optimized on client competence in prescribed and improvisational ways of Agile doing and being. Coach is interested in pursuit of good agility levels, and wider organizational learning. Coach is aware of the inverse relationship between client learning velocity and short-term revenue generation. Coach usually  chooses client learning over short-term revenue generation. Coach may or may not various advanced methods to accelerate client learning velocities. Coach understands the nature of delays in long-term revenue generation based on reputation and results, and is beginning to take the long view.

Average Agile Coach

Depicted in red. Coach has sincerity. Coach has competencies and is growing them. Approach is optimized on teaching the client  standard, semi-prescribed ways of doing and being Agile, in standard formats. Coach is interested in seeing team velocity increase. Coach is starting to be aware of the inverse relationship between client learning velocity and short-term revenue generation. Coach has less than 2 years experience and is gaining in competencies. Coach typically does not use ground rules and techniques like arms-length agreements to accelerate client learning velocities. Instead, coach focuses on delivery of A-B-C techniques such as canonical Scrum, basic and sound implementations of Kanban, TDD etc.

Coach probably has not thought deeply about the dynamics of short-term and long-term revenue generation from coaching.


The Service-oriented Coach is the ideal. Getting there takes experience, and a valuing of client learning over short-term revenue optimization. After a delay, the Service-Oriented Agile Coach develops positive change, wonderful case studies, many genuine friends, and a great reputation. All of this leads to more long-term opportunities to do great things, with great people, and be paid handsomely for this privilege.

Let’s go to work developing the profession of Agile Coaching. Part of that work includes paying explicit attention to genuine service as we examine what’s normal in our community.

In the next part in this series, we look at the Zombie coach: the coach that values revenue over client learning.

Thomas Paine says it best:

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”


See also:

Previous Posts on Agile Coaching Ethics