Reflection on the Agile Coach and Other Demons


I have taken a few days to write this reflection on one of the perversions of our times. The Agile Coach who is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors salesman or salesman. I can't tell lies, I think so. The Agile Coach have become a sort of cheerleader who knows various cute little games with post-its, book-learned topics like "happiness indicators", and don't solve business needs. Kind of like a Hippie Agile Coach.

What is an Agile Coach?

The best available definition I could find from another author was published on and reads as follows:

Agile coaches help train corporate teams on the agile methodology and oversee the development of agile teams to ensure effective outcomes for the organization. They are responsible for guiding teams through the implementation process and are tasked with encouraging workers and leadership to embrace the agile method. The agile coach's ultimate goal is to arm agile teams with the right knowledge, tools, and training so that they'll be able to use agile to its full potential.

Sara K. White, 8/8/2018 -

Responsibilities of an Agile Coach

Sara's definition states that the Agile Coach has three major responsibilities:

  1. Helps to train
  2. Oversees the development of the agile teams to ensure effective results for the organization
  3. Encourages leaders and team members to adopt the "agile method".

Why sometimes the Agile Coach doesn't work?

Many of the self-described "agile coach"They have never led or coordinated projects, operations or product management. In short, they have no experience coordinating human beings. They do not know how to manage people and, consequently, they avoid such responsibilities. What criteria for reflection or debate can a person who has never held a position other than team member, analyst or programmer have?

The fault does not lie with the coach alone. Many of these people take courses from other people just like them, with no field experience. At the end of these courses they get PDF files with the words "certified" and "agile coach" on the same sheet. The truth is that we are full of experts in getting nice PDFs with golden logos and trophies for "participating".

People who have only had technical positions, surely do not understand the organizational dynamics and their exercise of coaching seems more like a rebellion against the oppressive system, and less like a responsible exercise of reflection.

Although command and control positions are the antithesis of coaching, we cannot judge the dark side of the force without knowing it. There is no night without day. Remember that even Yoda spent some time on the dark side.

Happiness and productivity, not always the same thing

As it is, today we have coaches who believe that the only indicator of performance is the happiness. And although we all want to be happy and be part of a great team, no one can maintain a company without business goals. If you are passionate about the topic of happiness, I invite you to read the book The Book of Joy. However, as an entrepreneur, as a supplier and as a customer, the nature of the free market forces us to compete. The healthy competition that forces us to also keep the focus on the ".business value". And, in my particular case, the constant search for excellence and quality in my work.

If we only focus on happiness, where are the results? Are all happy people productive? A person who doesn't know how companies work, doesn't understand his contribution as an Agile Coach. The result: agile teams as anarchic and disconnected units of the organization, and of course an unsustainable model in the long term.

How to identify a good Agile Coach?

It's very easy to identify an agile coach who is NOT good! Here are some tips.

Beyond the Agile Coach, there's an experienced professional

If you find an Agile Coach with an "overbearing" tone and an urge to disqualify any attempt at organizational management, then you find a Hippie Agile Coach. The most ignorant of a practice refer to a book or an author. They can't link their opinion to their experience.

It's funny how much they remind me of the "PMO" who walked around with the PMBoK under their arm reading every word without context. In the same way we will find Scrum Trolls, in the SAFe By The Book and PMP Fanboys.

Agile Coaching and adaptive leadership

An Agile Coach is not necessarily a life coach. Although they may be complementary skills and knowledge, they are not the same. An Agile Coach is - in Sara's words - a trainer, a person who brings perspective and experience, and an ally of organizational leadership.

Many Agile Coaches try too hard to "coach" and not enough to "help". Although, in theory, the coach should abstract him/herself from the team, I feel - a very personal opinion - that not putting the shirt on shows a lack of commitment to the transformation. We call this adaptive leadership and it fits the reality and needs of the team.

The Real Role of the Agile Coach

Every team requires leadership.There are no exceptions to the rule! Assuming a weightless, "warm water" or "cold chest" position is a bad symptom. I see it all the time in the consulting world - not only from Agile Coaches. A seasoned professional is not infallible, but he knows how to present his ideas, he uses his judgement to make value judgements. Value judgments that, right or wrong, are given by experienced people, who "act" and take sides. Let's remember that without action, there is no "fail", without "fail" there is no "fail fast", no "fail safe", no fail at all.

The Agile Coach must of course have a passive position, which some define or link to servant leadership. The coach is not the decision maker, in principle, and it works well most of the time, but what can we expect from the coach in the storm? In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary that the coach takes an active role and leads the team (even if accompanied).

It is better to lead from the back and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory because of good things that have happened. [As a leader] you will take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

Nelson Mandela

How do you approach a mediocre Agile Coach?

This is a difficult question, it all depends on the level of "bewitchment" generated. Agility promotes, among others, good spirit and something as simple as "enjoying" work. It also promotes good team coexistence and good performance. Here are some guidelines to determine how good an Agile Coach is:

  1. The team recognizes the Agile Coach as a positive role model - they deserve the respect and trust of their team. This happens even when there is no consensus.
  2. The Agile Coach knows and understands budget management, the cost of operating the team, or an iteration. They understand the financial cost of not delivering. It's not about being a financial expert, but neither is it about being oblivious to business dynamics.
  3. The Agile Coach is able to support with data the prioritization done by the Product Owner. He must support the PO in the prioritization process, as "Jiminy Cricket" would do with Pinocchio. Although he knows he cannot take sides, he encourages the stakeholders to take sides. Everyone must play a position and state their priorities.
  4. Beyond the emotional discourse, he has data, metrics, indicators on the progress of the work. With the data, he makes decisions, helps the team to incorporate those decisions. Participate.

I declare myself a detractor of the philosophical Agile Coach that leads the team to an unsustainable model without results. Joshua Kerievsky said at the time when presenting the Modern Agile model (which is not so modern anymore):

That which is not delivered, cannot help anyone be more awesome or secure. In modern agile, we ask, "How could valuable work be delivered faster?" To continuously deliver value, we must break large amounts of value into smaller pieces that can be delivered safely now rather than later.

Joshua Kerievsky, Modern Agile

An Agile Coach who abstracts himself or herself from the process of delivering results is a charlatan.


Alberto Dominguez
Alberto Dominguez

Leading teams from theory to real and sustainable delivery of innovative IT products and services.

Articles: 44

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