Agile Coaching is Evil

Agile Coaching is Evil

And Scrum Mastering is the work of the Devil.

[Update: 15 March 2012]

It’s nice to see this post has generated some discussion both on Twitter and in the comments below.

It seems clear that some folks object to the term “evil”, which surprised me a bit, as the dictionary entry says

e·vil [ee-vuhl]


  1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life.
  2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.
  3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering;unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.

So I’d like to explain why I (carefully) chose this particular word, despite the risk of being accused of click-baiting. Please note I am particularly focusing on definition 2), above, although I’ll touch on 1) and 3) a bit, too.

Why Agile Coaching is Evil

I have done much Agile Coaching myself over the years, and know a whole bunch of excellent, sincere, and lovely people who put their heart and soul into trying to help others through Agile Coaching.

But Agile Coaching make implicit promises. Promises about collaboration, treating people better, giving people more say in the way the work works, self-organisation, and a whole host of other ideas – which I’d collect together under the label “synergistic thinking”. The organisations who commission Agile Coaching rarely, if ever, appreciate that these promises are part of the package. And these organisations are rarely, if ever, prepared to deliver on the promises being made on their behalfs. In fact, it’s the raising of these hopes and expectations in the players, and the wider organisation’s ignorance, indifference or downright opposition, that contributes to much tension, stress and frustration (i.e. misfortune and suffering) all round, only a little while down the line.

Is wasting people’s time, good intentions, hopes and dreams evil?

I’d have to say “yes”.

And as a local optimisation, even if the Agile Coaching itself goes well, as Ackoff taught us:

“Optimising one part of a system ALWAYS leads to sub-optimisation of the system as a whole.”

Is burning through clients’ money whilst delivering little real value-for-money and few bottom line benefits (or even net dis-benefits) evil?

Again, I’d have to say “yes”.

Does this mean I think Agile Coaches are evil? Certainly not. As Gandhi said:

“Hate the sin, love the sinner”.

They Know Not the Evil that They Do

The saddest part in all this, for me, is that few Agile Coaches seem to be aware of these issues. Or, for those who are aware of them, they seem to regard them as inevitable, intractable, insoluble, or irrelevant. In their genuine keenness to help people, to spread the “Agile goodness”, they wrap themselves up in the minutiae of daily coaching practise, and sooner or later become inured to the dysfunctions imposed by the wider system – dysfunctions outside their remit or influence.

As William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) said:

“it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

I hold that is is wrong (unethical, immoral, and, yes, evil) for us all to continue believing (or is it pretending?) that:

  • Agile Coaching generally has much impact on the bottom line of business.
  • Agile Coaching, as a local optimisation, does not contribute to the sub-optimisation of the whole organisation.
  • Agile Coaching does not falsely raise players’ hopes, over the longer term.
  • Agile Coaching does not make implicit promises the organisation cannot or will not keep.
  • Agile Coaching does not make players less employable (see my Magralls11 video for more on that argument).

With the lights of Ohno, Deming, Ackoff, Senge, et al to guide us as to the crucial role of “the system”, we know better, now. Is ignoring that knowledge evil?

I’d have to say, “yes”.

So, It seems clear to me that Agile Coaching, in its common form is a largely irrelevant local optimisation that is, on balance, harmful or injurious to both the client and the individual players (team members being coached), and that ignoring this is morally wrong. That’s the evil.

[End of 15 March 2012 update]

The Agile Manifesto

That was then, this is now.

“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the enemy’s main body.” ~ Von Moltke

For its day, the Agile manifesto was a landmark in bringing some sanity to the world of software development. But things have not gone according to plan. The issues noted and addressed by the manifesto and its signatories have turned out not to be the core issues affecting software development. There is merit in the argument that we could only have discovered this by addressing what we imagined those issues to be – to learn whether our hypotheses were relevant.

Indeed, some of those hypotheses were, and remain, marginally relevant. But newer, much more relevant hypotheses have now come into sharp focus.

Unfortunately, we appear to have become rather too wedded to the “plan” (hypotheses) of 10+ years ago. We have discovered that the enemy’s main body was not where we thought, but we continue to conduct the battle as if it were. Are we just paying lip-service to the value of learning, and that it’s OK to fail, so long as we learn from our failures? Or can we truly embrace that idea, and learn from the failure of the Agile Manifesto and all its works?

Agile Coaching

Agile Coaching is a case in point. With the very best of intentions, Agile coaching has climbed into bed with the enemy, and is now comfortably(?) making it breakfast every morning. And just like any loveless marriage, no one is really happy, but having a roof over one’s head and a modicum of social standing, on the one hand, and daily breakfast in bed, on the other, often outweighs matters of principle. Agile coaching is thus now clearly evil.

Scrum Mastering

Similarly, Scrum Mastering is the work of the Devil, bending its considerable efforts to accommodating the status quo and deliver more-or-less irrelevant local optimisations (and that’s in those rare cases when it’s working “well”).

A New Plan

We need a new plan. One that recognises present intelligence (sic) on the disposition of the enemy. And to draw up a new plan, I suggest we might also do well to pay attention to Clausewitz and Von Moltke (among others) and:

  1. Very clearly articulate our “commander’s intent”.
  2. Listen intently to the junior officers and serve their need for information (and the necessary resources).
  3. Get the hell out of the way and let the folks on the front line make it happen.

– Bob

Further Reading

Product Aikido ~ FlowchainSensei

  1. Could you expand on what you mean when you say Agile Coaching and Scrum Mastering? I’m left in a quandary as to how to respond when reading this as it doesn’t sit with my experiences in either role – maybe we mean different things.


      • A good Scrum Master will often take the impediments outside the team, working with the organisation around them to allow better overall operations. Many Scrum Masters I’ve worked with over the years find this idea very uncomfortable, but with time and experience they start to effectively engage the relevant people within the organisation, seeking ways to adapt the current processes etc.. for a better overall solution.

        Of course, a poor Scrum Master will accomodate the status quo, “protecting” the team from the evil “business”, and working to make their team faster within an existing environment. I’ll agree these are of little value to the organisation as a whole.

      • The link you give to Liz’s article doesn’t reflect my work as a coach, for me it reads as something similar to a Scrum Master or XP Coach (though not quite either). Is this a typical Agile Coach today?

        As a coach (I don’t like the title Agile Coach, but haven’t found a better one yet) I work with individuals and teams to improve their overall effectiveness within the workplace. Very often these people fulfil roles similar to Scrum Master and Product Owner, but can also include managers and senior executives.

        In fact your New Plan section is very close to what I talk about with my clients.

        PS: I’m not aware of having made breakfast for anyone but my children in the last few years 🙂

  2. tom said:

    “The issues noted and addressed by the manifesto and its signatories have turned out not to be the core issues affecting software development. ”
    So what do you believe are the core issues?
    I tend to think “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” when applied to the situation between developers and business people was and still is the issue for most Scrum teams. I worry that Agile doesn’t necessarily best serve the reals needs of our business at least but I’m yet to see a better alternative. Do you have one?

  3. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

    I believe we can nowadays see further, and see that the core issues are (and always were) mostly outside of the development teams or development department itself, and lie in the wider business. i.e. How companies decide which products and services to bring to market, how to put those product and services together, how to understand what customers want, how to treat employees such that they work well, and so on.

    I’m not arguing with principles like “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, even in the broader context – they have got us this far, after all (when actually applied, that is).

    I believe we need to stop trying to “fix” parts of the organisation in isolation, and realise that (and act like) “we’re all in this together”.

    – Bob

    • tom said:

      Thanks for your reply

      Yes I fully agree (well not the evil bit). As a Scrummaster I’ve been trying really hard to help the organisation change for 5 years in this respect but have to admit to complete failure. I’ve been looking into ways that I can do this more effectively (Argyris, Systems Thinking etc) but it’s easy to become despondent.

      My point from the view of a Scrummaster who’s tried is, there’s a wall (well a few) that I have no idea how to break down. I imagine a lot of others have tried too. Help us find ways to do it, but don’t call us evil (accept to attract attention to you post ;)).

      • My apologies if I led you to believe I was referring to Agile coaches as evil. Hopefully my 15 Mar update will have clarified that it’s Agile COACHING that I have a gripe with.

        And I share your despondency. I know many coaches who are frustrated to distraction with the situation you describe. I just try to identify the walls (in the Marshall Model I call them “transition zones”) and posit ways of helping *organisations* cross them.

        – Bob

  4. KaTe said:

    Interesting perspective.
    I see why you would say that the agile manifesto failed, but I cannot agree. It has done a marvellous job making people understand what counts. Business conditions and the perception of IT reality changed though.

    The main thing is that Scrum is still not considered a management practice. Since it’s so “close” to XP, it is believed to be a technical thing. Companies are trying to reinvent the wheel. In HBR 10/2011 there is an article “Lean knowledge work”, where you can see how Wipro is coming up with a scrum-like thing from the scratch. I doubt nobody heard of Scrum there, just no one from the upper management realized that scrum is management. The way everyone talks about it is talknormalized, easy to understand, it’s not written with corporate vocabulary therefore no board of directors will take it seriously. Therefore agile coahing is something neglected in an organization, percieved as maybe improving a team a litlle, but rarely coaches and scrum masters can have impact on the organizational strucure and the way companies do business. This should be driven by Product Owners, but the role of the Product Owner is misunderstood greatly as well. For years it’s been boiled down to being a business analyst. Many times I have heard: “You used to be a Project Manager? The role you should take in Scrum is the Scrum Master, we will make your BA the Product Owner”.

    I really hope that Ken & Jeff’s new book will bring some sanity to this …


    • Hi KaTe,

      Thanks for joining in the conversation.

      I was not aware I had said the Agile Manifesto had failed. Perhaps you can direct me to where that appears so I can clarify that point?

      I concur that Agile principles in general (Scrum being but one example/instance) have not reached the consciousness of the managing classes. I’m not sure expecting Product Owners to make this happen has much merit. I also doubt that books will have much impact, not least because few managers seem to read books. Steve Denning’s book (Radical Management) was great, but seems to have had little to no effect.

      I become more convinced daily that a sea change will only come about if and when everyone gets involved in understanding, discussing, debating and spreading these “new”, “radical” ideas. Ideas which folks like Deming and Ackoff have been wittering-on about for half a century and more.

      – Bob

      • KaTe said:

        Hi Bob,

        this part: “The issues noted and addressed by the manifesto and its signatories have turned out not to be the core issues affecting software development. ” – maybe “failed” is strong, but this is how it sounds in my head …

        The problem with POs is that they are like mythical beasts – everyone claims they have one, but they just turn out to be business analysts with no decisive power. If an organization had proper POs, who were really responsible for customer value they would care about individuals, interactions, working software, customer collaboration and responding to change since it directly impacts customer value. Therefore they would drive agile principles into the organization.
        The only way I can see this working is through business. Agile coaches can preach about making teams working comfortably and utilizing the collective intelligence. If we have no POs that will turn this into money and customer satisfaction, we will keep on failing.


  5. Thought provoking. However, maybe this is merely being realistic? I know classroom training courses have little impact, I hope longer term engagements have more, but I do know I can’t change other people and their organizations. I can help them change if they want it and work on it. If they just want to fake it or merely follow what they think is a fad there is nothing I can do about it, except telling them so and leaving.

    To bring in an analogy: healthy-living advocates can hope everyone leads a healthy lifestyle, eats fruit and vegetables, doesn’t indulge in sweets and junk food, quits smoking and exercises regularly. However, most people don’t do it – and will never do it. Does it mean health advocates do something wrong or should stop doing it? And does it mean they should stop selling exercising programs, diets etc.?

    I think we should realize the limits of our influence and have patience.

    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Coaching individuals is rather simpler, in that few (individual) coaching clients are raving Dissociative Identity Disorder cases. Unfortunately, when introducing new ways of thinking, like Agile, into *organisations*, we are often (unwittingly?) contributing to their latent – or manifest – disorder.

      Individual coaching clients, by definition, generally *want* to change, whereas in most organisational (Agile) coaching engagements, it’s some folks (management) wanting *other* folks (techies) to change – and often not liking the outcome when they do, either.

      And to engage with your analogy, I would suggest that healthy-living advocates selling exercise programs, diets, etc. are evil if they fail to advise their customers of the potential health hazards of their products (e.g. for folks with allergies, heart conditions, and so on).

      Your thoughts?

      – Bob

  6. Julie said:

    Surely is would be better to say Agile coaching may be evil?
    When an agile coach is also very aware of the situations you describe and is not simply in it for the money then agile coaching can be good – not evil at all.
    When there is barrier to organisational change it is valuable to nurture people instead and sometimes it takes the next generation of leaders to blossom before real change is effected.
    The trick is in knowing when to go and always making it about them, not yourself.

  7. I think the word “enemy” in the Von Moltke quotation is a dead give-away.

    Are we really at war, and if so when is the war won? Parallels with Afghanistan come to mind.

    The Agile consulting community (Coaches, Scrum Masters and the like) have set themselves up as modern day messiahs (me included :)), but they have neglected to ask the paying nobility whether they want to be converts to their new religion. Most are happy with the religion they’ve got. All they want is to find a way to get those pesky surfs into producing more grain.

    So we promise the nobility that we can get them to produce mountains of grain, knowing that this is a promise we can’t keep. Knowing that this is something they and the surfs must work out for themselves.

    Eventually a decade later once millions have been spent on consulting fees, disillusionment has set in. It transpires that the messiahs don’t have a special potion after all. Eventually the nobility put their cheque boos away, the messiahs leave the kingdom, and the fad cycle comes full circle as a new bandwagon full of new messiahs is spotted approaching in the distance.


    In the cellars the unwashed serfs have been reading some of the material left by the messiahs. They recognise it for what it is, the words of free men and a call to arms. The manifesto resonates and they begin to dream of a better world and start plotting.

    Some do more then dream. escaping the lands of the gentry and forging new settlements of their own in fresh virgin forest. They are a few in number but passionate. Soon their lands become very fertile indeed, and their grain silos swell.

    Will these ‘free hamlets’ remain small dispersed settlements for an eternity? Or will they grow in number, a force big enough to challenge the established order?

    I think we have only reached the end of the first chapter. This epic struggle is far from over 🙂

    Lots of growing up to do first, I think. 🙂


    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      I share your concerns about the Messianic tendencies (see my next post “Time For the Agile Old Guard to Retire”), and how this can sometimes contribute to a sheep-like vibe in the community.

      Your analogy with Nobles and Serfs strikes a chord, too. Our society as a whole has yet to reach the point where such feudalism is excoriated, rather than tacitly accepted. I believe that day will come, though, both in wider society as well as in business organisations. Not only is an end of feudalism morally superior, but it makes great business sense, too.

      I’m not expecting the little guys to multiply to the point where they can challenge the established order. I think that would consign too many indentured serfs to a continuing life of exploitation for way too long. I’m hoping the indentured serfs see what the free serfs are achieving, and revolt from within. #OccupyBusiness !

      This is not even the end of the beginning. 🙂

      – Bob

  8. For me, this is the key point: “In fact, it’s the raising of these hopes and expectations in the players, and the wider organisation’s ignorance, indifference or downright opposition, that contributes to much tension, stress and frustration (i.e. misfortune and suffering) all round, only a little while down the line.”
    To put it in terms of lean and systems thinking, it is disrespectful to the team, and the wider business to raise expectations of benefits and outcomes that will never be realised because the system as a whole will not permit it. Unless we can address the whole system, we are kidding ourselves. It may not quite be evil, but is sure as hell ain’t good.

    • Hi Pete,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. I think you have understood my “key point” very well.

      And it’s not only the matter of benefits promised but never realised (nor realisable). It’s the enormous investment that e.g. developers (and others) put into making Agile successful, when that effort is unlikely to bear any real fruit, and often even backfire and reduce those folks’ employability and enjoyment of their work in the future.

      – Bob

  9. Bob,
    thanks for the clarifying edit to the post:-)
    I like the provocation, and I agree with your assessment of the kind of “Agile Coaching” as you have now “defined” it.
    I stumbled upon a mail by Ron Jeffries today which has this statement in the signature:
    “I’m really pissed off by what people are passing off as “agile” these days.
    You may have a red car, but that does not make it a Ferrari.
    — Steve Hayes”

    That sums it up quite nicely, I think. I share your assessment of a lot of “bad examples”, I don’t yet see how the generalisation you make helps our cause.

    Just a few thoughts to inspire further discussion:
    Agile Coaching as I understand it is a means to challenge the status quo, to uncover and overcome dysfunctions, to increase effectiveness of the business (not of any part of it). The Values make it Agile, the client owning purpose, goals and outcome make it Coaching. That way the term works for me. I would prefer a different one!
    As Agile is Lean (respect people and continuously improve) its principles and mindset apply to the organisation and should not be used to sub-optimise.

    What the “common form” post lists about the daily work of an Agile Coach I would label as ScrumMastering, done wrong. There is no overlap between that list and my understanding of the term, so I would challenge your labeling of “common”. On the other hand I agree that many of us are not much better.

    You motivated me to write a replying post to further detail these thoughts. Thank you.
    take care

    • Hi Olaf,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Q: How would you define the “cause” to which to refer in your comment?

      – Bob

      • The “cause” is improving effectiveness of organisations, making them more successful, improving betterness.
        – Olaf

  10. Personally, I like local optimization, done well it can cause emergent behaviour and ideas to spread in an organic way. Whole Systems Thinking—optimize the whole—is a flawed concept. To optimize the whole you have to understand it. By the time you understand it, it will have changed. Your optimizations will likely be worthless. My focus is individuals, not systems. People come first, systems follow.

    And I don’t work to satisfy the paying customer, but to support the people I am directly in contact with, oddly, that sometimes has a side effect of satisfying the paying customer. It is true, the buyer often doesn’t know what he is buying—and sadly, too often doesn’t show up to find out. I know what I offer, and I never lie about that. If people choose to interpret my offer to fit their own mental model, well, that’s their issue, not mine. And being freelance, they can always fire me. Sometimes they do.

    I don’t have an enemy, and I doubt using that term/concept helps in any way.

    I also dislike the terms Agile Coaching and ScrumMastering/ScrumMaster. They give a false sense of security, and I agree that many use these labels to gain access and then comply to the existing status quo. There are far too many Agile hybrid models, like Agile project management and other such nonsense.

    I can’t support your New Plan, as I don’t acknowledge a commander, or junior officers (even in metaphor). And I’m not sure that getting out of the way is /always/ the right thing. People taking on new ideas and ways of being often need guidance. The guide should be available, perhaps sometimes in a proactive way. There are no rules.

    Glad you wrote this post though. Agile Coaching is a term—and a profession— worth calling to task.

  11. Hello Bob,

    The last sentence of your “Agile Manifesto” section seems to explicitly call the manifesto a failure. As of March 16th it reads: “Or can we truly embrace that idea, and learn from the failure of the Agile Manifesto and all its works?”

    To the broader question of your post, like so many other commenters I agree with most of your observations, but not with your conclusion that agile coaching is evil.

    Yes, there are plenty of people doing it badly, and plenty of efforts that fail to bring value to the larger business and wind up being rolled back. To me these failures and partial successes are iterations in the larger arc of the whole community learning how to get better. They are how we learn where the really hard problems are.

    I haven’t had a chance to dig up your Magralls11 video yet, but am surprised and intrigued by your assertion that being coached makes one less employable. My experience and observations would suggest exactly the opposite.


  12. Here’s what I hear you saying: Agile coaches are evil because they do a lot to improve life for the teams they work with (making their jobs easier by teaching them useful techniques, giving them saner workloads by setting reasonable expectations with management, letting them spend more time on work they enjoy by eliminating frustrating bureaucracy), rather than concentrating on making the organizations they work for much richer.

    It feels to me like I’m probably misunderstanding: this post is pretty light on details, and your complaints are all phrased very abstractly, so my reading is strongly shaped by my own experiences and assumptions. This is clearly something you feel pretty passionate about, so I want to understand better. Or maybe you really are just saying that it’s evil to value individual quality of life over the corporate bottom line, in which case, well, I guess there’s not much more to talk about.

    In short: an example would be handy right about now.

    • Hi Moss,

      Thanks for joining the conversation,. and for playing back how it read for you. I’m not recognising much if anything in your playback that corresponds with what I’ve written in this post. No matter. Maybe it just illustrates what a poor medium the written word can be – or my inept use of same.

      I’m not sure what kind of example might satisfy you, but to relate just one story from my recent experiences:

      In a corporate setting (dozens of developers, testers, etc.) the Agile coaches / Scrum Masters spent much of their time working with teams, helping them “gel” and improve their individual and team capabilities. The higher (line) management, despite fine words on many occasions, continually rearranged team, destroying the “gel, the team spirit and the sense of cooperation. The developers were not blind to this, and many who had the opportunity saw the hypocrisy at work (sic) and left the company. The Agile coaches did little or nothing to offset this dynamic, preferring to accept (even actively support) the status quo. The evil was not so much the situation and the tacit complicity of the Agile coaches, but that the folks who left (those that I kept in touch with, at least), having had some (small) taste of working in an agile way, found it hard to go work for another company (i.e. most of them) with the same prevailing hypocrisy, and thus found their career paths now more difficult.


      – Bob

      • Tobias said:

        “…found it hard to go work for another company (i.e. most of them) with the same prevailing hypocrisy, and thus found their career paths now more difficult.”

        This is A Good Thing. No one ever said this was an easy pathway. You are describing enlightened people, not willing to stomach the corporate BS any longer. I can’t see that as negative in any way. Sure, they now have higher standards, but that is what we are striving for, no? You seem to be implying that ignorance (of Agile) is bliss. I hope you’re not saying that, but I’m not sure how else to interpret this comment, given the context of the blog post.

        What would you rather see? Like others, I find the original post a little thin on recommendations.

  13. Hi Bob,

    happy to see that my click-bait comment on twitter helped improve the article. 😉 Much clearer now, thanks.

    Still, I disagree, not just on using the word evil. (A term I’d personally save for things like the current massacre in Syria etc)

    I think it is a false option to choose between optimize locally or optimize system-wide. Even though many problems with software development have roots in the surrounding organization, it does not mean that shifting our energy 100% towards that is the only (moral) choice. For the sake of the argument, with that approach, we’ll soon end up having to change accounting laws that ultimately creates need for control. To do that, we’d need a political party. But could we do that within the system, or is revolution the answer? And I do not think engaging in a revolution is beneficial for software development. (It is definitely not an iterative approach 🙂

    Similarly it is not evil to clean up your own backyard before engaging in cleaning up the neighborhood. If you’re lucky, the clean backyard might even inspire your neighbors to help out. (Emergent behaviour as Tobias writes above)

    You wrote in your update:
    “I hold that is is wrong (unethical, immoral, and, yes, evil) for us all to continue believing (or is it pretending?) that:

    Agile Coaching generally has much impact on the bottom line of business.
    Agile Coaching, as a local optimisation, does not contribute to the sub-optimisation of the whole organisation.
    Agile Coaching does not falsely raise players’ hopes, over the longer term.
    Agile Coaching does not make implicit promises the organisation cannot keep.
    Agile Coaching does not make players less employable (see my Magralls11 video for more on that argument).”

    Where I work, the agile coaches & people operations have formed a team. The retrospectives fills our board with whatever are our current problems or opportunities to improve, typically it means we need to engage the wider org to remove dependencies etc. The priorities of our focus comes from the engineers & our belief in forming autonomous teams. That we clearly can articulate the value and why we want this – based on the old fashioned agile manifesto – is very helpful in our conversations, and it does have bottom line impact, increases the health of the org, puts some reality behind the cliche “people are our most important asset” etc. I’d be happy to expand on this and our learnings at a later time. Maybe it’s not perfect, but we’re heading in the right direction. (Btw the Agile Coaches are awesome)

    I’m thinking of the saying “Don’t let perfection stand in the way for what is good”. Not being perfect is not evil.


    – Petter

  14. I read Bob as follows:

    1. Agile coaches typically do not test leaders for willingness to do genuine and authentic Agile, meaning willingness to WORK to DELIVER on the Agile promises (as described in the post briefly).

    2. This sets up all (evil) that follows.

    Result: These same coaches, being paid a fee, are now part of the problem.

    They go in (for a handsome fee) and perpetuate the same problems (using new language) and in so doing generate poor (“evil”) results.

    These poor results take two forms:

    1) the perpetuation of the current problems, using “agile” terms instead, and

    2) generation of real despair on the part of team members who come to understand that the bullshit they are experiencing is not authentic Agile in any sense of that term.

    This is why we need a code of ethics for Agile coaching. NO one in coaching wants to talk about that, because it is a constraint on behavior. Anything goes in the world of Agile coaching. That’s why, like Bob says, it is evil in its current form. If we have a code of ethics that is very clear, we hold the people in the role of Agile coach to a HIGH STANDARD and then have a community license to CALL OUT the evils Bob is talking about. That single move of establishing a code of ethics can do more good than any other action. How many current “Agile coaches” might agree to a high standard?

    With a code in place, we can LEVEL UP the world of work. Without it? Anything goes. And that is what we have today.

    Towards an Agile coaching Code of Ethics:

    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks for joining the conversation, and for you very supportive words.

      I concur very much on the need for more ethical awareness in many areas of Agile, including
      of course Agile Coaching. Some kind of Code of Ethics would, I think, help very much in that ambition. Many other coaching disciplines have such Codes. For my part, the essence of any such Code would be, as in the Hippocratic Oath, “Do no harm”. Note: NOT “Do no harm knowingly” or some such weaselling. My main gripe about Agile Coaching is the widespread and blithe ignorance of the potential harm (negative consequences), even when doing a *good* job of coaching.

      – Bob

      • I am glad someone somewhere (you) is showing up to discuss these issues and dynamics in the Agile coaching space.

        Some tell me the ICF code is good enough. Not so fast. At issue is the word ‘dependence’ or ‘dependency’. This word appears nowhere in the ICF code. I explore this is some detail here:
        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: dependence, dependency, dysfunction, codependence. These words need to be at the front of mind if you are an Agile Coach.

        THANK YOU for your writing on this. This problem of Agile-compromise is acute, and you are doing a big service to others by calling that out. Bravo

  15. Lars-Magnus Skog said:

    Hi Bob!

    I especially like point 3. Give me some credit and get the out of the way and let me do my work damnit! : )


  16. Heiti Allak said:


    Could someone please shed some light on this employability argument. Is the employability reduced for the Agile Coaches or the people(developers) working in an environment with Agile Coaches? And either way i would like to know why it is so?

    • Hi Heiti,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. You might like to watch the video of my Magrails11 session for more insight into the employability argument. If that does not make things clear enough, do get back to me for more info.

      – Bob

  17. Emily said:

    “Scrum Mastering is the work of the Devil, bending its considerable efforts to accommodating the status quo and deliver more-or-less irrelevant local optimisations (and that’s in those rare cases when it’s working “well”).”

    As a Scrum Master, I 100% agree. People who normally were PMs become SMs. A PM traditionally had little to do with organization management. A SM can not be effective with out being able to impact the whole system. Most organizations still hire SM to do the same work of a PM: get the project done.

    I’ve read a little about changing the deliverables culture. This seems to be the most compelling point for change that one could make as a SM. The question for focus is not about story completion but about reporting back what we’ve learned once the feature goes out into the wild.

    This type of accountability would enforce frequent releases, focus on only the necessary improvements and energize an otherwise fear based work environment. Without having a leader who is willing to be wrong often and publicity, though, the agile process is stuck in the scrum room. And that’s a dark place to be stuck.

  18. Hi Emily,

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

    I agree with your comments here, and would add that some folks still think that local optimisations, e.g. improvements limited to inside “the dark scrum room”, are worth all the disruption, contention and investment occasioned by adopting Agile. As Mary Poppendieck and others have observed, the real benefits from any changes to the way work works only really come about when the whole value stream is overhauled – “from concept to cash”. The Scrum room is but one slice out of this larger value stream.

    – Bob

  19. ceezone said:

    One of the problems is that seldom (at least in my experience) do clients keep in mind (let alone state) a clear outcome of a coaching engagement. Do I mention it, yes. Does it get taken up, once in a while. And mostly it’s about productivity improvement. Dirty phrase though it may be for many reading this, it can be done without being nasty to people who are doing the job. It’s about making some adjustments to the way people work and are organised.
    ALERT: Flippancy ahead: Hmmm… comment on comments: were there really 42! I thought it was a joke! Anyway it going to be 43 now!

  20. bradesp said:

    Each of us will take what we choose from Bob’s comments and see it through our own lens. I appreciate the critical inquiry. For me this whole thread boils down to accountability… and yes I’m well aware of the subjective nature of accountability, nevertheless, accountability to SOMETHING must be established or any relationship involving the exchange of promises of future results in exchange for money is likely to result in exploitation (intentional or not).

    While I agree with Bob’s observations surrounding holistic change vs local optimization pov, I personally have no issue using local optimization as a tactic for revealing the value of orchestrating change more broadly in an organization (something Tobias and I appear to agree on). Bear in mind however, prior to us agreeing to deploy coaching support and guidance – notice I didn’t use the word Agile :-), we require clients to formally acknowledge that local optimization will NOT yield the promised land, but will more likely reveal the next boulder we need to move.

    On a different note… I’m surprised anyone on this thread (Bob included) finds the need to spend time lamenting the sorry state of “Agile Coaching”… Those who are ineffective coaches (no matter their focus) are pretty easy to spot, and even easier to differentiate from those offering real value. While these ineffective coaches make trouble for the rest of us, that’s not unique to the software industry domain… Every industry that attracts and pays so called “experts” to help is subject to the same issue of accountability.

    Our solution is pretty simple, but works for us. we require our clients to jointly define a model of accountability BEFORE we engage in any activity that would be described as coaching or “facilitated change”. BTW, we charge for this… it’s valuable human, cultural, skill, and process archaeology work. Guess what? Most clients wont pay for this work. Guess what else? We wont work for these clients. Why? Because without accountability there can be no fair evaluation of our our merit after the money’s been spent on our services. You might suggest this is actually quite expedient. Why not take the money and run? We recognize that you NEVER achieve perfection.. instead you merely reach a point of “good enough for now”… We seek to be valuable navigators to our clients throughout their journey towards perfection. Without a true accounting and proof of value, our relationship with a client will be “one and done”.

    YMMV 🙂

    Brad Murphy, Founder/CEO
    Gear Stream
    BradAMurphy <– Twitter

  21. Jay Bond said:

    Is being a stand for peace evil? Is violence the fault of the person speaking against it? I get your frustration but I think you’re shooting the messenger.

    • I don’t think you/re addressing any of the points I make in the post.

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