The Virtue of Coercion

The following is a session submitted to the Agile2015 by one Timothy Turnstone. The session was not selected.

Even so: I find the session more than intriguing. I have submitted the following “Lightning Talk” about this idea of coercion. It has been accepted to the conference and I hope you can attend!

I promise you a most interesting experience as we unpack the assertions of Timothy Turnstone and his dubious-at-best “VIRTUE OF COERCION” session.

If you are going to the conference, I hope you will attend.

Here is the schedule link:



Where: Agile 2015, Washington DC

Date: WEDNESDAY, August 5

Time: 345PM

Here is the session:

Someone named Timothy Turnstone submitted this intriguing talk to the Agile2015 conference.

I am eager to comment on it in some detail.

The proposed session and related comments follow….please note the intriguing comments from Tobias Mayer, Ron Jeffries, Harrison Owen, and many others…..


The Virtue of Coercion

Presenter: Tim Turnstone

Track: Enterprise Agile

Source Link (for reference):


management, leadership, Enterprise, Enterprise Agile, manage, coercion


There is almost no chance of Agile transformation without the imposition of Agile practices on teams. Pushing Agile practices on teams is the primary way to obtain lasting enterprise-wide Agile adoptions.

…in this session we present 4 years of data proving that employee engagement actually has nothing whatsoever to do with successfully scaling Agile. Rather, the right underlying conditions for agility have more to do with buy-in (and appropriate funding) at the C-level. We show how the crushing system dependencies found across typical enterprise IT systems actually make the imposition of Agile practices essential.

During this session we also present data that proves that “Agile-at-scale” is seldom if ever achieved without a well-planned and coercive mandate (or “push”) of specific Agile practices on teams. We present and detail the data behind seven successful “push oriented” Agile adoptions, at scale (30 teams or more in each sample, across multiple locations and time zones.)

Inside this session, we present the very strong correlation between the imposition of Agile practices on teams, and successful Agile transformation at scale. We back this up with case data. We also debunk some of the more common myths. Specifically, we systematically dismantle the well-meaning (yet dangerous, and even misleading) essay written by Martin Fowler in 2006, “The Agile Imposition.”

Information for Program Team:

Please reference the following essay from Martin Fowler for an idea of the dangeous myths we will be dismantling during this presentation:

Prerequisite Knowledge:

Knowledge of Agile, Agile-adoption failure patterns, and Agile coaching techniques

Learning Outcomes:

Understand the subtle differences between effectively mandating, effectively coercing and effectively pushing practices on teams.

Understand how and why the imposition of Agile practices on teams actually works at scale.

Gain access to a Agile-at-scale “framework” for helping you get great results with “Agile push” across your entire enterprise.

Presentation History:

We have developed and refined an Agile-coercion framework over the last ten years which we plan to share and distribute to all participants who attend this session.

Public Comments

Wed, 2015-02-25 17:43—Tobias Mayer


Well… this is either a brilliant tongue-in-cheek effort to take us into the land of the absurd in order to understand the opposite message as being valuable, or else it is serious, and the presenter actually believes that Agility must be mandated (and has real data to “prove” his case). Either way, I endorse this session, as no matter if absurdist or serious it has to be one that will challenge Agile group think—shake us off our our comfortable couch. Thumbs up.

Fri, 2015-02-27 12:05—Harrison Owen

Absurdity Confounded!

This is so absurd it just has to be worth while! Might just open up some space for useful learning.

Fri, 2015-02-27 14:16—Harold Shinsato

Enjoying the commentary

The session proposal sounds so serious, it’s hard to see the satire at first especially as the Virtue of Coercion seems so much like the way “Agile” is forced down people’s throats. If this is satire – I wonder if the presenter would be willing to come in dressed like Emperor Palpatine with a dark flowing cape and hood, and say things like “feel your anger”. Either way if this is serious or satire – if Harrison Owen and Tobias Mayer say yes, I feel in extraordinarily good company asking that this session be accepted.

Sat, 2015-02-28 08:15—Pablo Pernot

Hats off

Oh such a pity we do not have sessions like this one in France. Hats Off to US.

Sat, 2015-02-28 10:32—Richard Saunders

The SERF Framework actually works!

I am a manager in a large company in the USA. Lately I have been drawn to the ideas of some of the more outspoken and leading Agile coaches out there.

These ideas make lots of sense to me:

Self organization is not impeded by the presence of team-external managers. (plural)

Agile practices absolutely should be mandated.

If people don’t like it, they can always self-organize into another job.

For Agile to work, we have to learn to tolerate an organization’s established, outdated worldview and practices until it can change into an agile organization. So we do have to force it. That’s what people actually expect and want. Especially senior managers like me that sign the checks and make the whole thing go in the first place.

I used to work in human resources and now I work as a Senior Director in IT. A lot of what I learned in HR applies here. Agile obviously works when coercion is applied thoughtfully. In 2013 I was looking for a simple way to force Agile across the enterprise without a lot of discussion about what people want. And this is it. Tim Turnstone is a leading agile pioneer in this space.

I’m eager to see people learn more about the SERF (Scaled Enterprise Resources Framework). Disclosure: We have employed some (many!) of the ideas of Tim at my company. That’s how I know the name and details of his framework. Tim’s SERF framework actually works. We are getting AT LEAST 11% improvement in everything we are now measuring. You can also! Two thumbs up. We need to get the best ideas out there.

Sat, 2015-02-28 11:14—Michele McCarthy

What is obvious?

Everyone knows that I just can’t say enough about coercive techniques. It would be wise to watch this one.

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:40—Tricia Chirumbole

Let’s get real about our relationship with coercion and control!

This is a hot topic that looks like it has already started to get good! No matter where the presenter actually stands, or where you or I say or think we stand, the conversation is worth bringing to the fore! How many of us would swear up and down in public, and even quietly to ourselves, that we do not in any way endorse coercion, mandates, or the attempt to manage self-organization, but in reality we can’t let go of these practices and even believe they are necessary? Is this you? Is this me?! Let’s get real and be honest with ourselves and dive into why people still regularly lean into coercion, mandates, and the seductive desire to manage and control ourselves into a comfortable stagnation!

Tue, 2015-03-03 10:55—Martin Grimshaw

About time…

At last, someone speaking my mind. It’s time to counter all this new age namby pamby touchy feely politically correct nonsense about choice and ‘co-creation.’

Every good boss knows that the way to get things done is to tell your staff what they have to do, and threaten them if they don’t obey. After all, it’s the bosses who know best about everything in detail that all staff are doing and what they should do better. That’s why they are bosses. Let’s welcome this session with open arms and stop this ‘self-organisation’ flim-flam before its dangerous malintent causes irreparable damage.

Thu, 2015-03-05 15:04—Andrea Chiou

I am confurious!

I was both curious and confused and responding to a tweet about this session, when I mistakenly typed ‘confurious’…

It seems COMPLETELY INSANE and good that avowed members of the Open Space community are raving about this session – to say nothing of attracting the likes of Michele McCarthy of the well known ‘Core Protocols’ – where checking in, checking out, pass, decider and other protocols provide the safest system for getting to effective team products!

By all means, bring this on! I’m sure more folks will sign up for Agile2015 now – esp. in DC – where agile-by-mandate is hot business!

Fri, 2015-03-06 09:44—Daniel Mezick

An “Agile-coercion framework” ?

Is coercion Agile? Is there a certification?

Mon, 2015-03-09 16:54—john buck


I do not think this session is tongue-in-cheek as one commenter speculates. We do a lot of very successful software development. We would not be so successful if we had not forced the introduction of our Agile practices. Organizational change initiatives are typically met with initial staff skepticism and resistance. We skipped all that by simply mandating. We watched carefully for any signs of passive resistance and squelched it in the few cases it appeared. Once staff grasped that they actually had more freedom with Agile, all resistance disappeared. It may seem ironic that we can push people into freedom, but it really works! Try it!

Mon, 2015-03-09 17:08—Richard Pour


The proposed session is ridiculous and offensive. The soul of Agile is voluntary self-organization. I am outraged by the obvious mockery of our sacred values. I hope that the conference organizers will reject it as simply in bad taste and poor. – Richard

Thu, 2015-03-12 11:55—erik blazynski

What is this about?

Is this about getting people to do what you want them to do without them knowing that you you are getting the to do it? Sounds interesting.

Thu, 2015-03-12 13:00—erik blazynski

I have an idea for this topic

Change the name of this session to “Foie Gras Agile” Bring some feeding tubes so it can be demonstrated how to jam process and procedure down people’s throats until the human resource value bloats and can be extracted.

Sat, 2015-03-14 18:15—Ron Jeffries

But Seriously …

I am no fan of coercion. However, imagine the following scenario:

We impose some practice, say TDD. A bunch of people say “bite me” and quit. Others, being all WTF, give it a go. Some come to like it. They begin doing it more. Good results happen. People say “How are you getting those good results?” People reply “The jerks upstairs actually had a good idea with this TDD thing. They didn’t have it quite right but look how it’s working for me.” Voila, imposition worked.

Hell, if someone made me exercise 3x a week, I might come to like it. Maybe. It could happen.

I don’t know whether this is serious or not. I don’t know whether he has a solid experiment or not (I doubt it, solid experiments are hard to do.)

But if he has data we need to look it in the eye.

I recommend acceptance of this session, and some guidance from a mentor so as to present substantive material in a way that won’t cause people to shout it down before they know what is being said.