Mandated Collaboration: The Recipe for Botched Agile Adoptions

Here is a sure-fire way to virtually guarantee a failed adoption of agile or Scrum:

Simply have an authority figure, preferably the CEO, announce with great fanfare to the entire organization  that we are “going agile”.

To really make sure you definitely create a colossal train wreck of truly epic proportions, be sure to specify a hard date, the date when the entire organization is “going agile”.

The folks may start rolling their eyes, making sarcastic and sour faces, crossing their arms, shifting their feet…in other words, disengaging.

Why would mandating FORCED COLLABORATION be a bad idea? Why is it a bad idea to CHANGE EVERYTHING on people without asking them what they think? Why is mandated collaboration a very bad idea?

1. IT KILLS OPENNESS. It signals that whatever people actually think, feel, believe and want is NOT valued. (If we value what you want, think and feel, we’ll signal that by asking you what you want, what you think, etc.)

2. IT KILLS INITIATIVE. The very people who can help spread good agile in your organization are not getting a hearing. By this I mean the people who are capable of thinking for themselves, and have an independent streak in them. By announcing the “agile adoption” without checking in on what people might think, you send a signal that is OPPOSITE the Scrum value of Openness and OPPOSITE the Agile Manifesto value of [Individuals and Interactions]. Good job !

3. IT KILLS ENGAGEMENT. By announcing like that, you signal that AUTHORITY remains where it currently resides: with the command-and-control higher ups. Good luck getting people to self-organize themselves in that scenario. You just told them it is OK to check out and DISENGAGE, since authority is not about to be getting shared.

4. IT KILLS ANY SENSE OF CONTROL PEOPLE HAVE. By announcing like that, you make enemies of the people who might be allies. The people who CARE actually complain a lot, usually 1-to-1 … to colleagues and friends. Do you really think you are going to score points with people when you reduce their happiness? Do you really think you make people happier at work by making all of the decisions that affect them… at work? When you announce change like that, you botch the agile adoption by reducing the perceived sense of control people have. Good job !

5. IT KILLS ANY SENSE OF PROGRESS. By announcing like that, you kill any sense of progress. You make agile look, feel, and smell just like every other FAILED change initiative such as Six Sigma, CMMI, re-engineering, et al. Announcing authoritatively sends the clear signal that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED.


You cannot get people on the bus by barking the agenda and signaling that feedback is not valued.

That is the very antithesis of agile!

You get them on the bus by asking them what they think. Agile is getting a huge black eye as it “goes mainstream”. The same old patterns of command-control are being played out as new ‘agile’ terminology is being used as a cover story for disrespecting the people who do the work.

Add to this the fact there is always an ‘Agile coach’ to help well-meaning but misguided or misinformed “leadership” do whatever it wants with ‘agile’ (provided the price is high enough) and we have a train wreck of epic proportions being played out in enterprises around the world– especially in the USA.

Especially in Boston!

You might be asking: what is the solution? It is really very simple: Create a space where the folks get HEARD. The folks know the work. Why not ask them what they THINK about AGILE before rolling it out? Since this almost NEVER happens, 99% of ‘agile adoptions’ are train wrecks that associate with diminished feelings of control, diminished feeling of progress and diminished feelings of teamwork with “leadership” and authority. Did I mention diminished feelings of being respected?


The Culture Game book has an entire chapter devoted to the idea of opening the conversational space as a requirement for a successful agile adoption. The folks that do the work are going to get a hearing one way or the other. The only real question is how leadership chooses to manage the inevitable expression of what people want, what people think and what people feel.













The ICF Code of Ethics

Let’s get real. The International Coaching Federation has a Code. See it here. This document and the wording in it as written is inadequate for Agile Coaches in my view. It is missing a key set of  keywords.

The ICF wrote a generic Code. It is not intended for the Agile Coaching specialty. Agile Coaching probably was not even a real occupation when the ICF code was written.

Using the ICF code is dodging the issue. The issue is DEPENDENCE.

We need to include certain specific words in the Agile Coaching code.

They are:





These words need to be at the front of mind if you are an Agile Coach (big A, big C).

The reason is simple: there is nearly automatic dysfunctional, highly codependent relationship that can exist between external Agile Coach and client. I have ranted on this plenty in many previous posts.

(previous Agile Coaching Ethics posts.)

The ICF code is a good starting point. OK? It is a base class, also known as a abstract class. It’s good to use as a starting point, and for using that starting point to add more (minimal) features that tailor it for the Agile Coaching. Let’s stop pretending the ICF Code is adequate as a code for Agile Coaching ethics. It’s not.

Here is the idea: Agile Coaches must

1. Be mindful that dysfunction is nearly automatic;

2. Take steps to create firewalls that prevent co-dependence between coach and client;

3. Never knowingly encourage a dangerous and unhealthy  dependence on the coach;

Such dependency can create a nearly-automatic stream of revenue from client to coach. I’ve seen it. It goes on where I live. It probably goes on where you live.

That, and:

1. Client learns nothing; and has no clue this is true;

2. “Coach” ends up doing the same tasks over and over; making loads of MONEY

3. Agility gets a black eye when people observe the results; resulting in observers worldwide thinking Agile is some kind of gimmick;

4. The client trades one set of dysfunctions for another; and has no clue this just happened.


We can do so much better. Where I live, there is loads of this happening. And no one is saying ANYTHING about it. Where is leadership in the Agile space when we NEED it? We have a very weak immune system.


It’s time for the Agile community to:

1. Get a backbone and have this conversation now.

2. Develop a code of Agile Coaching Ethics that devalues the development of ANY dependency in the client.

3. Start discussing and identifying which behaviors that encourage a dangerous dependence, and call them out as out-of-bounds and not honored by the community at large. For GOOD reasons.

4. Wake up and smell the coffee. A lot of coaching is actually revenue generation with little or no learning taking place. The Agile community has no immune system and even honors this behavior.

It’s ludicrous and absurd to watch.

What’s up with this? Anyone can show up and promote ideas like coaches “occupying the Scrum Master role for some time” when we all know that is not coaching at all. What that is, is manipulation. Coaching is not manipulation and coaching definitely is not consulting, EVER.

Let’s all wise up. The ICF Code is a starting point. Let’s go to work.

What you tolerate, you insist on.

What you insist on will be supplied.

-Jim and Michele McCarthy, SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD

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

Free-Standing Agility

The goal of any legitimate Agile Coach is what I am calling Free Standing Agility:

Free Standing Agility is that characteristic of a group of people, which allows it to at once identify, and rationally respond to, environmental change. Such changes may be both intrinsic and extrinsic in nature. By definition, Free Standing Agility is free of dependence on anyone who does not have group membership.

This Free Standing Agility (FSA) is that property that allows a team, group or organization to adjust, moment by moment, to forces and influences that alter their current environment and situation. This is typically a business environment, but need not be, to satisfy the definition. Any group or organization, for example a hockey team, or an orchestra, can be in state of FSA.

Agile Coaching

‘agile coaches’ who insinuate themselves into a group of people who they are purportedly coaching are doing a serious disservice to that group. The coaching relationship must not be polluted with dysfunctional structure. Embedding and ‘integrating’ into a group of people who are learning how to be a group is a most insincere act.

Such insinuations may take the following forms:

  • Occupying the Scrum Master role for “some time”, certainly more than 7 days, with no intent to teach the role, thereby robbing the group of important experience in that role. Note: Scrum Masters must learn by doing. If no one else is “doing” the SM role, there is no intent to teach it on the part of the “coach”.
  • Engaging in Extended-Stay (embedded) “coaching”. In almost all cases, engagements of this type have at least the potential to engender a serious dependency on the “coach”.
  • Occupying the Product Owner role for longer than 2 days, with no intent to teach the role to anyone else.

Free Standing Agility is possible when the Agile Coach engages in an arms-length relationship with the client group. In this manner, dependencies that are dangerous to both Client and Agile Coach are intentionally avoided, in service to the development of Free-Standing Agility in the client group.

See also: Previous Posts on Agile Coaching Ethics

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.