Save Your Money, Don’t Start With a Coach

Put your wallet down.

Look, I hear ya – you want to be better, but I bet you want to be sustainably better. I know your organization may want change, but I bet it wants lasting change. You hear good things about Agile or Scrum or Kanban or Kanscrum Scrumban, and you’re tempted to bring in an Agile Coach.

Here is where I try to convince you, counter-intuitively, to not hire me and my kind.

At least, not at first.

Let’s construct some points, one loosely building upon the other.

  • Agile is a mindset, one of continuous improvement, via quick feedback loops for both process & product.
  • A group’s mindset or set of beliefs is acted out in its culture, where I define culture as what a group does frequently.
  • Nobody, let alone a coach, is going to change the culture, let alone the mindset, in the short-term because the short-term is not enough ‘term’ for a group to say it’s doing anything frequently!
  • While the obvious effect of a coach is the short-term change to what a group does, the real value of a coach is the long-term change to what a group is.

You’ve heard this story. Coach comes into a group…

While changing what a group does frequently is not always easy, it can be made easier if the change is small, and particularly if treated as an experiment.

So if you are in a unique position in that you are a maker / individual contributor WITH Agile experience or interest, act as a “player-coach”: I’d like to think if you and your fellow developers come up with a small process improvement to try out, and y’all agree to check back in in a couple of weeks (or one), you can start practicing the essence of Agile RIGHT NOW. For free.

(Almost two years ago, I wrote the above, and then it sat in my ‘Drafts’ folder. I still agree with past-Merrill. Let’s see if present-Merrill can’t wrap this up so that future-Merrill can cringe at how he can’t stop going back to the lightly comical cuteness of referring to himself in the third person. But I am Merrill The Third, so am I always the third person?)


And then look at you: this practice means you’re doing Agile.

  • To do Agile well, you’ll likely need an Agile Coach.
  • To be Agile, you’ll very likely need an Agile Coach.

Start on your own, though, and hopefully you’ll see some benefit. In reality, ‘benefit’ is code for ‘more’: you’ll see some more. This is the ‘transparency’ and ‘inspection’ principles of empiricism, upon which Scrum is based. The third (ha!) empiricism principle is ‘adaptation’, and yes, while you yourself may come up with a small experiment to try, know that the Agile Coach embodies the experimentation mindset.

So before you bring in this expensive (…and well worth the cost!) (insert winkie-face here) guru of Agility theory & Agile practice, first try on the Agile for yourself – then you will better appreciate an Agile Coach coming onboard. Make tweaks to what your group does frequently – tweak your culture towards one of continuous improvement.

You’ll see more.

You’ll do more.

It may also hurt more short-term.

To then see even more, and do even more, and have it hurt less long-term, bring in me and/or my many talented Agile Coach friends.

Don’t put your wallet away completely. Insert another winkie-face here.