Five Reasons Why Agile Coaching is Bullshit

Five Reasons Why Agile Coaching is Bullshit

By popular demand, here’s a short post expanding on a recent pithy tweet of mine:

“Agile coaching” is bullshit – for various reasons.”

1. Agile is a Means to an End, not the End In Itself

“Software development coach” might be a (slightly) less bullshit title. For many organisations, and people, quick and cheap software development is the goal. Setting aside why “software is the goal” in itself is a bullshit concept (see: #NoSoftware), “Agile coaching” implicitly excludes other approaches and other means to improving software development. Other approaches which have proven more effective than Agile. And other approaches which the players (coachees) might reasonably seek to explore or experiment with, yet find themselves unable so to do because those other approaches are deemed beyond the pale. Why not start down a road towards the goal that matters (better products, higher margins, more profits, to make money now and in the future or even – and most realistically – maximising the bosses’ well being), instead of driving into the Agile cul-de-sac?

2. Individual Technical Focus

As coaches, (in theory) Agile coaches follow the interests of the folks they’re coaching. In most coaching contexts (i.e. outside of the software domain) coaches have no agenda of their own beyond assisting their players (coachees) grow and develop their skills and abilities – as those players themselves see fit. In practice, technical folks generally seek to develop their individual technical skills and abilities – which hardly matter in the grander scheme of things, such as from the broader business perspective) – and recoil from any suggestion that other skills and abilities might also be important. Things like interpersonal skills, dialogue skills, business skills, serving the needs of the users and other folks that matter, etc..

3. Agile Coaching is an Imposition

I’ve never seen an Agile coach get hired at the request of the people they’ll be coaching. Nor selected by the folks they’ll be coaching. I hear it happens, but so rarely as to be an extreme anomaly.

4. Coach as Manager

There’s a lot of talk about (middle) managers becoming coaches to their people. In most practical scenarios, Agile coaches are expected by the people that appoint them to become managers of the people they’re coaching. I’d call that regressive. And bullshit.

5. Kaizen vs Kaikaku

In theory (for example, with Scrum), Agile coaching supports the team in reaching out across the organisation to address systemic issues affecting the team’s performance (kaikaku). In practice, for all the above reasons, this almost never happens. The Agile coaches, sensitive to not biting the hands that feed them, avoid raising issues that might disrupt other parts of the organisation, and limit their focus on improvements local to their team (kaizen). Which is entirely understandable, given the coaches’ brief and the dynamic of their position (who’s paying them and keeping them in a job). As Shakespeare wrote :

“To be [remain in a job, helping locally], or not to be [rocking the boat and being vilified and let go]: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune [refrain from raising thorny organisation-wide issues],
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles [raise those issues and thanklessly suffer the consequences],
And by opposing, end them? [’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.]“

– Bob

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