Agile Coaches – Extinction Event?

BrontoFor years as I’ve been getting older, I often refer to myself as a “Dinosaur”. It’s not a bad analogy, as I’m getting quite old in the tooth.

I’m certainly not as technically astute as I once was, nor am I as mentally quick. And please don’t say that I was never all that quick.

But I read a blog post the other day from Jason Little that alarmed me. It brought the analogy home, as he is predicting the extinction of agile coaching.

Now this is where I earn my living, so I read his account with some fear and trepidation. Here’s a snippet from his post to illustrate a portion of his position:

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 would lead to a new set of problems that <some specialization/certification> would 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.

I understand

While I understand Jason’t point, I respectfully disagree with it.

I don’t see Agile Coaching:

  • going extinct;
  • becoming marginalized;
  • or merging with Organization Development practices and losing their identity.

I actually see agile coaching becoming more important and more distinct as a practice in helping companies truly become agile.

You see, there are “coaches” and then there are COACHES.

The world seems to be full of agile “coaches”. Everyone with a few weeks of experience and a ScrumMaster certification seems to be hanging out a coaching shingle and calling themselves a Coach.

And I believe this, lack of real-world depth and breadth of experience, has been going on for quite awhile.

Sidebar – To make this point

I ran into a Certified Scrum Trainer colleague at a Scrum Gathering and we were catching up on our travels. We started talking about the “state” of agile coaching and the dangerous trend towards coaches with limited experience. He shared a story about one of his students. They had been in his CSM class a few months before and had done well. A few weeks ago, one of his larger clients called him complaining about a “situation”.

They said that the coach they’d hired was severely under-skilled, bordering on incompetence. When they hired them, they thought they’d gotten a great deal for the low hourly rate. Especially since they had referenced my colleague as their coaching trainer and mentor. But now they realized it was a mess.

They blamed my colleague for poor training and preparation. But he told them that he’d only delivered the CSM to the student. That he’d never heard from them again. And that he couldn’t imagine how they had successfully presented themselves as even an entry-level agile coach.

He asked how they missed all of this in the interview. And the client basically admitted taking the candidate on face value and on their resume characterization. They then became quite embarrassed and took ownership of the situation themselves.

My colleague and I agreed that this was representative of one of our biggest coaching challenges today. Not extinction, but the lack of skills, experience, and perhaps even governance or standards in our coaching community.

Back to the point

I think Jason’s point is valid for inexperienced Agile Coaches. Ones that lack the experience and ongoing learning that keep them relevant and effective.

But for coaches like myself. Those that truly have a long history of experience, successes, adaptability, learning, and growth, I don’t think extinction is coming all too soon. Again, remember that I AM a self-admitted dinosaur.

I do see the relevancy of Organizational Development tools, techniques and frameworks in my coaching. I’ve seen that for a long time. But I’ve also seen the push for agile scaling, kanban, and lean chops over the past few years as well.

It’s just part of the natural evolution of Agile Coaching as the practice gets more nuanced and requires more skill and experience.

Wrapping Up

At the risk of blowing my own horn, I don’t think Certified Enterprise Coach, CEC-level coaches are running the risk of extinction. Nor do I think agile coaching in general is in jeopardy.

What I do think is an extinction event is two-fold:

  1. Coaches who over-amplify their real world chops or who blatantly misrepresent their experience and capabilities OR
  2. Coaches who don’t continuously learn, experiment, and adapt; who have gotten full of themselves and think their journey is complete.

Are both absolutely at risk of extinction. But in these cases, I think the event can come none too soon.

Now back to my Brontosaurus herd for nice afternoon of tree grazing…

Stay agile my friends,


Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. He is a Principal Agile Evangelist at Velocity Partners. Contact:

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