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Is Agile Coaching Becoming a Commodity Profession?

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Last week alone I received five requests to be an Agile Coach, or a Scrum Master if you prefer (these two terms seem so interchangeable nowadays). The requests are always generic and ever so bland; in fact, I'm deleting them now.

Is Agile Coaching Becoming a Commodity Profession? [Nostalgic moment] Oh I remember ever so fondly when Agile Coaching jobs were filled with people who actually knew how to coach teams. And even when they did not learn anything, at least they were actually interested in learning.

Not anymore. Those days are long gone.

Nowadays the entrance criteria to become an Agile Coach is whether or not you can facilitate a retrospective few different ways and are able to find your way around some Agile tracking tool... Oh yes, if you can pretend to listen while nodding your head every so often and saying "I hear you. What do YOU think you should do now?" then that is also a bonus.


It is evident to me that we have entered the industrial revolution phase of Agile adoption and the Agile coaching community is an all too willing victim of this.

You know that you are working in a commodity profession when:

  • Run of the mill staff augmentation firms start their own Agile practice.
  • You start receiving unsolicited e-mails from 3rd world country recruiters named Prince offering Agile ScrumMaster or Agile Coach opportunities.
  • Agile coaching jobs command a whopping $60 an hour, and forget the travel expenses because they won't pay for that (get to California on your own dime!).
  • Everyone who has taken a CSM class or read one of Esther Derby's posts is suddenly an expert on team dynamics.
  • Yours is the first position the company downsizes when the going gets tough.
  • Non-Agile companies start to sponsor Agile events.

In addition, all these certifications by PMI, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, ISQI (just to name few) are not making things any better. These days you can pay between 1K-3K, take some exam that has a +90% passing rate and become an official ScrumMaster, Agile Coach, Agile Developer, Agile Tester, Agile Project Manager or a Certified Expert in Agile scaling.

Right now we are at the convergence of two perfect storms: on the one hand we have an army of a bogus Agile experts, and on the other side we have an equally vast army of companies who could not spot a knowledgeable Agile tech if their life depended on it.

Okay, okay… so I am being a bit dramatic and negative. The Agile coaching world isn't all that bleak right?

Comments   

 
StevenJ 2012-11-13
Great article. I completely agree that current Agile certifications don't mean anything.
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Rob 2012-11-13
We have just employed people from [NAME WITHHELD] to train several people to become agile coaches. These people never knew agile before and planning to become full time coaches after estimated two to three weeks of training.
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Frank 2012-11-14
I do not believe you can become an effective Agile Coach after only 2-3 weeks of training; especially if these people never knew agile before. A good Agile Coach will have years of experience with multiple teams -- and hopefully multiple environments as well. Any company that is selling the "Become an Agile Coach in 2-3 weeks" service is only adding to the notion that Agile Coaching is becoming a commodity. I'm not sure which is worse: The company that is offering this service, or the company that's purchasing it.
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Truth Will Prevail 2012-11-14
While I don't think Agile Coaching will ever become commodity, I am sick of the people pretending to be Agile experts.
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Mike H 2012-11-14
Can you post links to certification sites so I can get certified? I'm BA and $60 per hour is a lot of money.
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David 2012-11-14
Mike. Have certificate will travel...:) Scrum.org, Scrumalliance.o rg, pmi.org. Good luck and happy coaching!
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Selena Delesie 2012-11-15
Great article, and points well made. I have been feeling this too for the last year. I am also an Agile Coach and choose not to take on particular engagements. While I have been coaching agile teams for 3 years, I spent 7 years prior to that coaching individuals and teams. I love to engage and see the people I'm working with find joy and excitement and achievement in their work (and in their lives). The loose adoption of what Agile was intended to be when the term was coined is certainly creating some challenges in the industry, as you noted. I am now evolving what I describe myself as, and what I do, towards something broader, leaving the term Agile out of the headline entirely. I'm not exactly sure what that is. I recognize I might have fewer client opportunities, but in the end, I want to find the perfect clients for me, where I am the perfect coach for them. Blending in with everyone else was never my cup of tea. :)
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Tobias Mayer 2012-11-15
There are always two players in an agile coaching transaction: the coach and the client. If the client is so lazy and/or stupid to hire based on certification, or to actually believe that one coach is the same as any other, then frankly they get what they deserve. Sure, there are coaches who are inexperienced, and even a few charlatans selling the Agile snake oil. Best response? Don't buy it.

I have written an article entitled "How to hire an Agile consultant". It may help clients in the Agile market for the first time.
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Lupo 2012-11-20
Best quote I've seen in a while:
"A good consultant will seek to understand."
Love it.
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Tim Ottinger 2012-11-16
There is an interesting question in here: how much you need to know to START v. how much you need to know.

Someone can begin to be an agile coach today, but they will need to know quite a lot before they can be trusted by paying clients to coach their teams on production systems.

There really is a lot of personal learning and community learning necessary to become a good coach. The skills are personal, interpersonal, communal and span software development practices, project management, content planning, and human organizational psychology. You really need to be through a few experiences before you are going to be confident and competent to coach, let alone to teach others to coach.
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Xu Yi 2012-11-17
if the clients can judge if somebody is a qualified coach, they may not need a coach that much. well, they would if they just need more coaches to push something forward.

or they just want to be Agile, and they need somebody to help them. While they're still looking through old channels (e.g. hiring websites, headhunters) for qualified Agile Coaches.

And there're some many people would count their Agile experience maybe since they read a book or article with "Agile" in it. Well, I also counted since I read through "Scrum" or "Agile" articles, but I also started practicing since that time.

I could call myself "coach", while I couldn't decide if I will be accepted as "coach".
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Mario Moreira 2012-11-17
Yeah, I've seen a similar pattern. Some of this stems from the notion that you can take 2 days of training and (wa-la) you become a ScrumMaster, so why should Agile Coaching be any different? Be on an Agile project for a few months and wa-la, I know all about Agile! Unfortunately as you indicate, this does occur.

IMHO, being an Agile Coach implies living some of the Agile roles, having experienced an Agile deployment, understanding what it takes to deploy Agile, having some level of coaching training, and more.

Cheers!
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Support 2012-11-20
Thank you!
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Agilarium 2012-11-19
By the way, who is the author of this article?
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Support 2012-11-20
Author is AgileDevelopmen t.org .
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Brian DSouza 2012-11-22
Lets ignore anyone who takes a Scrum Certification, does a project or two and calls them self a Coach. I will go so far as to state that even an Agile Trainer ( CSM trainer) cannot be considered an Agile coach. The journey to becoming a trainer may have required you to work on some projects but that is far from enough to be a true Agile Coach.

In the first place, unless you have been there and done that a few times, and I do not mean success but have experienced failure, you have not earned the right to call yourself an Agile Coach. And that still does not qualify you as a Coach.

People look to you to provide answers and context to any challenge. They expect you to speak from your heart based upon your many and varied experiences, and not from a book or a reference to some expert. They look to you to provide various solutions and be able to justify which particular solution makes sense in the current context.

This can only happen if you have a close and constant interaction with people and teams that are learning, refining and practicing Agile. This interaction never ends as a good Coach learns something new every day. If and when it does, then write a book and stop calling yourself a Coach.

You must live and breathe Agile so that when you speak you are not enforcing but educating and opening people's minds.

A true Coach is able to intuitively provide solutions. Authors, books and experts no longer drive your thought processes or answers as the principles have been internalized and common sense prevails.

True Agile Coaches are few and a fake can be spotted a mile away. The challenge is that most people are unable to discern a true Coach from a book-guru. This is a real world challenge. People are not willing to pay for a real Coach. If they do, most times its because they learnt the hard way how damaging a bad Coach can be.

And then there are the purists... the other side of the coin... they look down on anyone who speaks Agile from their heart. These purists remind me of the my born again Christian friends. They were so filled with the spirit that they took every rule literally and made us 'regular' Christians cringe. These purists are equally damaging to the Agile community as pragmatism has been replaced by rigid religious adherence.
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David 2012-11-26
Total agreement on this Brian. Kudos. It is actually a problem as well for clients to distinguish b/w a POS Agile coach and a good one...unless as you mentioned they get burned. Another point is that the vast majority of professionals who operate as Agile Coaches or Scrum Masters at the team level are administrative help. The role of the Scrum Master is a dying one....mark my words.
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Lupo 2012-11-27
David, would you elaborate on your comment about the role of SM being a dying one? Do you mean saturation by poor SM have diluted the value of a good SM to the point that nobody would want one or that it will evolve to something else?
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Daniel Gullo 2012-11-25
I appreciate the effort and time that someone took to create this conversation placeholder. However, I don't place much stock in an article where the author won't claim their work with attribution. If you want to lend credibility to your article, I would encourage you to cite facts and sources and also put your name(s) on it. Less sarcasm and drama, more facts, reason, analysis, and argumentation (in the classical sense).

That said, I would agree that the term "agile coach" has become over-loaded and commoditized; the skills, abilities, and competencies to guide an organization through Agile adoption have not. A true "Agile Coach" is able to determine through the discovery process what the client's agenda is and can see through the bogus requests. Many of us actually decline work because it doesn't align with our values or we see a mismatch in expectations. I have fired clients because they have asked me to do things that are not within the realm of what I consider responsible. It's akin to a doctor firing a patient who after years of treatment, counseling, etc. refuses to quit smoking, lose weight, etc. "I am sorry but this relationship can serve neither of us well any longer."

BTW, there is no such certification as "Agile Coach" and certainly, no coach-level certifications where a hopeful can "take some exam that has a +90% passing rate" to become certified. The CSC is a highly-selectiv e, peer reviewed certification that only has about a 30% pass rate. The ICF certifications also have a significant amount of rigor built-in.

Ganbarimasu-

Daniel
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Tobias Mayer 2012-11-25
> "I don't place much stock in an article where the author won't claim their work with attribution. If you want to lend credibility to your article, I would encourage you to cite facts and sources and also put your name(s) on it."

I second that. Hard to have a serious and meaningful conversation with an anonymous figure... or a url!
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Support 2012-11-26
Thank you for your feedback. We do not expect all of our visitors to agree with the editorial opinions or decisions. Our decision is to allow people to publish anonymously or use pseudonyms.
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Adam 2012-11-27
Certifications should be only one indication of your worthiness as an employee. We always look first for experience, communication skills, ability to be a team player, etc. By the way excellent topic.
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Rishi 2012-11-28
While I do appreciate and agree with a lot of comments on Agile Coaching and when one is really ready to play that role, why is having a lot of coaches really an issue? Isn't that the natural progression of a delivery framework / methodology which is maturing? Don't we expect the methodology to mature, become more mainstream, need for "coaches" really to go down as the adoption increases and teams become more comfortable with the values, processes and practices?

In my opinion while there is also some issue with lot of people pretending to be coaches but at the same time there is also a reality where people have experienced Agile first hand, failed in some and succeeded in some implementations and now are really ready to help others out if someone needs help.

So when we say what we have said above, we should also take a step back and think are we really trying to make this a closely guarded sacrosanct profession just because it is convenient and suits the "Agile Coaching / Consulting" model we are in or is it really only the bad guys out there? In my opinion it is both and we should recognize the other side of the "coaching" problem as well.

I have been into Agile deliveries now for about 7 years now and generally see around me more aware and knowledgeable people around me who have better appreciation of various practices and frameworks which Scrum, XP, Lean and even Kanban have to offer now then what they ( or rather we) knew 7 years back. So there is definitely a portion of natural evolution in this. We should see more coaches and lesser demand as we go forward as people have tried, learnt and improvised. Also I completely agree with what Brian says above about Agile purists, it is really about common sense, being observant, good listening skills and flexibility then academic rigor. Certification or no certification a good program manager or technologists should be able to pick that basic traits up? If they can't then they wouldn't be able to deliver, Agile or no Agile ...

My 2c.
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Xu Yi 2012-11-28
I think the reason of "having a lot of coaches really an issue" might be, nowadays people want the coaches to help them walk, more than want the coaches to talk. While there're far more coaches talking than walking.
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Daniel Gullo 2012-11-28
Part of the mismatch in expectations for what an Agile Coach does vs. what a Scrum Master does is rooted in the foundation level learning:

"The ScrumMaster makes sure everyone (including the Product Owner, and those in management) understands and follows the practices of Scrum, and they help lead the organization through the often difficult change required to achieve success with agile development."

- The Scrum Primer

"Scrum Master Service to the Organization

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:
- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
- Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization."

- The Scrum Guide

The message in these two fundamental texts is that a Scrum Master is also an organizational level coach. Theoretically, a "good" Scrum Master will have qualities and skills that enable them to understand the organization as a system. However, in practice, this isn't 100% necessary to act as Scrum Master for a team.

An Agile Coach must understand how organizations work, how people learn, what enhances innovation and what kills it, and many other competencies that transcend team dynamics.

Thus, it might be time to revisit these baseline texts and include the notion of an Agile Coach who is an experienced guide to at the organization level, not just a "team coach".

Ganbarimasu-

Daniel
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Tim Ottinger 2012-12-11
Lousy coaching will always be a commodity, just like lousy programming.
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