The decline of the A word

Agile Coaching.

Oct 03, 2023  ·  Brenda Leeuwenberg

Agile Coaching

“Agile is Dead” seems to be the phrase of the day. Not really what you want to be hearing when Agile consulting is your bread and butter and you are fairly passionate about everything it encompasses - and know that fundamentally this sentiment is not founded on any logical reality. So I set out to explore how this has come about, why people are increasingly allergic to the A word, and how we can move forward.

Going Agile

Agile, despite being around for over 20 years, was hailed as the ‘new workplace craze’ in NZ back in 2018 - as the media went into a frenzy over the McKinsey led transformation of a major local telco. This was, in my opinion, the beginning of the death march of Agile - at least in NZ. Selective media reporting highlighted only the negative experiences of some people, and Agile became the fall guy for a lot of parallel change processes happening at the same time.

When the big consultancies take a ‘roll out the plan’ approach to a series of practices which are as much about how you approach work (mindset, culture) as how you do it (ways of working), you end up with a lot of misunderstanding and frustration. This was also the time when Agile Coaches were created from all kinds of starting points - many without very much, if any, experience working in actual Agile teams. Ultimately diluting the meaning of the role.

Because as most of us know, although apparently not those of us with millions of dollars to waste, McKinsey (or any of the big 5 consultancies) are absolutely not about Agile. They are typically about cutting costs, culling people, sharpening the business and ultimately, making more money for the business and for the consultancies themselves. All well and good to have these objectives if you’re up front about it.

Anyway, my investigation set out to look at the state of Agile - and Agile coaching in particular. Then I discovered this brilliant article by Anthony Mersino which pretty much sums it up.

The TLDR from his post is:

This article explores the possible reasons behind the recent trend of companies reducing or eliminating their agile coaching staff including:

  • Cost-Cutting: Some companies have made significant cuts to their agile coaching staff, either as a cost-saving measure or a reallocation of resources.

  • Agile Saturation: Agile methodologies have expanded beyond software development to various departments like HR, Finance, and Marketing. This ubiquity has led to a devaluation of the term ‘Agile.’

  • Temporary Nature of Coaching: Agile coaching should be a temporary arrangement. Once the team has ingrained the agile principles, the coach should gradually disengage.

  • Coaching Quality: The article points out that many agile coaches lack adequate training and expertise, contributing to a lack of standardization and quality in the profession.

  • Cost/Benefit Analysis: Organizations are increasingly scrutinizing the ROI of agile coaching. Many find it hard to justify the cost, especially if they don’t see immediate performance improvements.

Improvement and Mastery: The article suggests that agile coaches should focus on continuous improvement and work towards mastery of their skills to provide tangible value.

So there you have it - from the lens of what’s happening from an Agile Coaching perspective, all these factors are at play.

Agile never was a model for how to run your entire business. Agile never pretended to understand the intricacies of your bottom line. Agile is there to make your teams work together better, to improve communication and collaboration, to improve delivery - through the introduction of tools and techniques and shifts in mindset - that you can pick and choose from.

I like to think of Agile tools and techniques being like a field full of all kinds of flowers. You pick a different set of flowers for each room in your house - to suit the decor, the size, the vase. You select the tools and techniques that suit your team, your product, your business. There is no one-size-fits-all. It is not a cookie-cutter system. It is not the answer to everything. Never was, never was intended to be.

We need to still be looking at helping businesses with continuous improvement, we need to work in the broader context of business agility, and we need to focus on high performing teams.

All the things we love and believe about Agile are still relevant, but we’ll call it something else :)

What are you seeing out there?

The decline of the A word

Categories: Agile Coaching.