Agile Coaching Ethics: The Definitions

There is plenty of money to be made in Agile Coaching. Wherever there is money involved in providing counsel and advice, there are ethical considerations to address.

When discussing Agile Coaching Ethics,we must first define our terms.

The real problem with defining Agile Coaching ethics is the fuzziness of the Agile Coaching role itself. And it is exactly this fuzzy definition  for Agile that creates opening for all kinds of unethical behavior, such as taking up the Scrum Master role and even the Product Owner role for a very long time as a ‘coach’. Remember, Clients know very little and are vulnerable.

When is it legitimate for a coach to be on an “extended-stay” with a client? When is is acceptable for someone in the Agile Coaching role to occupy the role of Scrum Master? Product Owner? For how long?

And in service to what?

Lyssa Adkins in her book Coaching Agile Teams, lists some of the varying roles that legitimate Agile coaches assume. These include:




Problem Solver (NOTE: this section does not condone ‘contracting’ or ‘consulting’ to solve Client problems)

Conflict Manager

Collaboration Conductor

I do not see anything here which validates the idea of the Agile Coach being on extended-stay, indefinitely,  in the Scrum Master role. In my view, that is not Agile coaching. Instead, it is plainly:  fee-for-service contracting.

So let’s call it that !

Agile Coaching is not contracting. Or is it? Some say this contracting is coaching.

How exactly have we come to include contract labor in a definition of coaching? There are some in our community who are promoting the idea of including ‘consulting’ in the Agile Coach definition. This includes taking up the role of Scrum Master for ‘some time’.  Excuse me?

Is it legitimate for a professional Agile coaching to take up the Scrum Master role for an undefined length of time? Or is this merely contracting? I assert it is the latter. Practices like this give Agile Coaching a black eye, as I have articulated earlier, in this post. In this situation, a dangerous and potentially harmful dependency on the ‘coach’ may be engendered. Such dependency has great potential to reduce the Agile-learning yield for the client, even as more money is being spent on this so-called ‘coaching’.

The deeper problem is the definition of Agile.

What is Agile? We have the manifesto, we have the Scrum values, etc. Where can the clear definition of Agile be found? Once we have located this definition, we may more properly address the question “What is an Agile Coach?” and my favorite question: “What are and where may I find the ethical standards for Agile Coaching?”

If you want to get confused quickly, simply Google “What is Agile” and examine the results.

And so it is here that the opening exists for the creation of many sorrows. “What is in” and “what is out” of Agile Coaching is fuzzy at best. That leaves the door open to all kinds of coaching abuses, including attempts to include contracting and “consulting” in the Agile Coaching definition, to justify doing for the Client what the client can and must do for themselves.

We might consider tightening up the definition of Agile Coaching. Since the role encompasses so many tasks, and the definition of Agile itself is so broad, it may be best to describe what Agile Coaching is NOT. This is a shorter list, and such a list clearly defines what behavior is out-of-bounds for legitimate and professional Agile Coaches.

What is striking as of 10/12/2011 is the total lack of conversation in the Agile community, worldwide, about this topic. That leaves the door open to all kinds of sorrows for coaches and clients alike.

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