The Extinction of Agile Coaching

Well, there are only 4 values and 12 principles…which of those do you want me to break?

I actually said that to a client once. Shockingly enough, they didn’t fire me on the spot.  I didn’t renew my contract many months later because I couldn’t see any evidence that this organization was interested in being Agile.

7-ish years later, and hopefully somewhat wiser, I’d have responded differently to their question: “We have tight deadlines, and we don’t want Agile to get in the way of delivering, what’ll you do?

Had today’s-me existed along side of 7-years-ago-me he’d have wondered why in the bloody hell a relatively newly minted Certified Scrum Master, was having an organizational-level conversation with a senior manager and director. Well, I was the Agile Consultant. I was hired because there was a smattering of agile-y stuff on my Monster profile, and my CSM designation was some sort of proof I had a clue.

I didn’t have a clue. Not even close. I was a full-on, Agile stick beating, CSM credential holding fraud with the best of intentions.

A recent Linked In forum post posed this question: 2020 – Agile Coach Extinction.

And it got me thinking.

I’ve spent the last number of years in the Agile and OD/Change spaces, have had almost 200 people through my non-certified workshop on change and I’ve noticed something.

Today’s Agile Coaches share a similar stance with most OD people I know.  That is, they share a similar people-first mindset, align with a growth-mindset, and generally get that change isn’t something you can plan for upfront.  The difference being, most Agile Coaches come from a software background, and have nowhere near the knowledge OD people have when it comes to organizational change concepts.

OD folks, on the other hand, bring the knowledge and experience, but are stuck working within the existing organizational constraints. That is, they’re forced to adhere to, or enforce, outdated performance management methods, they need to push change in order to meet objectives, and they suffer from being stuck near the bottom of the hierarchy where influencing leaders across the organization is left to whatever their VP is doing with their peers. Debates have raged on about whether OD is an HR function, or Change function and where they should sit in the hierarchy. Some believe they should report into HR, others feel they should report to senior leadership.

As Agile becomes more popular, there is temptation to hire a VP of Agile where all the coaches report into. How is using the same organizational design that got your organization into the mess you want Agile to dig you out of going to solve the problem? Jurgen De Smet said it best in a talk I saw him deliver: “For every blah blah problem, we create blah blah roles/title

So will Agile Coaching become extinct? Yes, it will.

At some point in the future, it won’t be necessary anymore. Many organizations will structure their organization differently by aligning people around the customer which will reduce the need for Agile coaches. That said, the scenario I describe will lead to a new set of problems that <some specialization/certification> will preach to solve. That’s the nature of business.

I think today’s Agile Coaches are the next generation of OD consultants. That is, provided the Agile community can stop disposing of the latest fads so quickly. Remember when agile assessments were all the rage? Then Kotter’s 8-steps? Then ‘being Agile over doing Agile?” Then Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose? Then Cynefin. Now Teal organizations, flattening hierarchy and killing performance management are front and centre with Agile practitioners who are looking for an edge.

That’s not a bad thing, that’s simply how Agile has incrementally picked away at organizational problems. As Agile Coaches hit the organizational wall, they learned coaching skills. Then they learned facilitation skills. Now they’re poking into OD concepts to help today’s leaders understanding the impact Agile has on the entire organization. OD folks have known this for decades, but they haven’t been able to navigate the whitespace as well as Agile Coaches can simply because Agile Coaching is still new enough that many don’t really understand what it is. That makes it a bit easier to navigate the ball of yarn that is today’s organizations.

What will replace Agile Coaching?

The Whitespace Worker.

What comes to mind when you hear the term Organizational Scrum Master? Or the Organizational Freelancer. These people are problem solvers. They are free to roam the countryside looking for teams, projects, departments and organizations that want help. They won’t be bound by the organizational design, and they’ll have enough knowledge and skill to know when to use which tool.

You could argue that titles and roles will disappear completely in some cases.

Over the next decade, the old guard will change. Tomorrow’s leaders are growing up in a world that knows only collaboration. People are searching more for meaningful work, and are less focused on climbing the corporate ladder than they used to be.

You could say that society as a whole is undergoing a transformation. A shift in mechanistic thinking to creative thinking and today, Agile Coaches are serving the role of bridging the old world with the new world, much like change agents manage the transition from the past to the future in solitary organizational transformations.

That said, the next decade will bring the emergence of many more Agile certifications, coach development programs and a stronger push from Agile into OD. On the other side, OD will take more Agile-related tools and practices to help them make organizational change more effective.

Either way, Agile and OD will continue to collide which is just completely awesome in my books!