Agile Enablement: Now in a Spray!

“Agile enablement is all we do” is a phrase used by some firms that sell Agile as a product. The basic idea here is that this one firm with a designed, “proven” approach can solve all your Agile problems– can be your “panacea”– so long as you write a big check.

This is very misleading, since Agile is not a product. Some folks with a very creative sense of humor are bringing this to attention with “Agile In A Can“– in effect, delivering Agile in as a spray-on product. Imagine spraying Agile on your managers, your developers, or your task boards, like deodorant or cologne. You get the idea.

(NOTE: You can follow @AgileInACan on Twitter )

The notion you can write a big check and then get visible, instant Agile going is seriously misguided. Your organization must be committed to learning, UP FRONT, and take responsibility for that learning after a while being guided by an external coach. And in time, by going forward– without that external coach. This is your goal: self-sustained, “free standing” agility.

Some service firms out there are selling the idea that you need a coach present each and every day, 5 days a week, for at least 12 weeks. Otherwise, you may fail !

This is called “embedded agile coaching” or “integrated coaching”. It sets up an nearly-automatic, unhealthy dependency on your “coach”. The implication is, “We are the experts. We have loads of experience, look at our client list. We have the one true way, this is absolutely the right way to do it. You may fail otherwise. We are the experts, and we are here to help you.” Out comes the contract and when you sign it, you lock in legally to pay for five days a week for 12 weeks.

What this does is simple. It sets up the “coach” to be present 8 hours a day, every single day. After a while, it becomes very obvious to you, the customer: the coaching job is definitely not a full-time job, even when coaching 1,2, or 3 teams.

How to get the coach busy doing something? The obvious fix is to make the “coach” the Scrum Master for all the teams right? ….so the coach is “doing something”, and is “earning their keep”. Makes sense right? Not exactly. Now the dysfunction kicks in.

The coach is now the authority, the person your Agile adoption most depends on. What usually happens is, this person takes up the Scrum Master role while not really teaching this skill to others in your organization. This makes the “you will fail without us” theory a self-fulfilling prophecy. If that “coach” leaves, no one really knows how to be the Scrum Master.

This practice of “integrated agile coaching” is really just a gamed scenario for installing a billable person in your shop each and every day for 60 days in a row. At a high bill rate. To generate loads of revenue. That’s it. It’s about revenue generation. For them to keep it going beyond the contract term, you need to stay dependent.

Don’t think so? Consider this report that says many customers are reporting that “agile is a scam to sell services”. Are these practices I am describing fueling this trend?

Did the customers surveyed in this scathing analysis of agile  buy 5-days-per-week, “agile integrated coaching”?

Are you looking to buy some agile coaching? OK. Here is the pattern.

The rigged game presented to you by the  “agile coaching innovation” firm goes something like this:

The Goal: Maximize Revenue Generation

The Rules: The coach is going to set up camp in your shop 5 days a week for 3 months. You the customer must sign a binding contract for “integrated” coaching, which is 5 days a week, for a 3 month minimum (a legally binding, ironclad revenue guarantee. You cannot get out.)

Scoring: The game is scored by the minimum 3-month revenue generation and the ongoing creation of more dependency on the coach from the client. Primary device to do this: be there 5 days a week, and work to occupy/own the Scrum Master role on every team. (NOTE: A good coach will teach others in your organization this role, and vacate the Scrum Master role as soon as possible and without delay !)

Opting-In: You the customer are either in or out based on the 5-days-a-week-for-3-months contract. Did I mention the high bill rate? The insistence on this engagement structure as the terms of engagement tests your willingness to play the dependency game. If you go for the contract, that means you are willing play the dependency game. By signing, you are agreeing to much more than you bargained for…

And dependency IS the name of the game!

Here is a good article on agile coaching, from the Agile Journal. It is from 2009.

Look at what it says:

However a Coach works, and whatever approach they take they the Coach needs to avoid creating a learned dependency.  This happens when the team comes to depend on the Coach.  Coaches need … to withdraw when the time is right and let the team continue.

While many companies will have their own coaches on staff and some will work with teams day-in, day-out for months or even years, there is a lot to be said for…limiting the period of coaching.

Yes, some “agile enablement” service firms selling “integrated Agile coaching” are eager to set you up in their “agile enablement” game, a game that maximizes billing-revenue for them first, and enables Agile for you second.