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Why agile coaches should practice consulting

Consulting is a great practice for agile coaches

Having worked as an agile coach collaborating with consultants and also having worked as a consultant collaborating with agile coaches I wanted to share some insights.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone complain…

Agile coaches are “all care but no responsibility” source: anonymous delivery lead

What this is implying is that coaches sit in the “cheap seats” providing opinion but have no accountability for delivering outcomes. All I can say in responsive to this is any agile coaches that have ever worked in one of the chapters I was leading were never able to avoid responsibility; quite the opposite actually. Having come from a consulting firm into an agile coach lead role a few years back I brought a value delivery mindset as I assembled a team of 12 senior agile coaches. We co-created an agile coaching handbook that clearly articulated how we were to operate as a chapter (you can grab a copy of the handbook here). It was very much an internal consulting model.

So what is it about consulting as a practice that agile coaches could learn from? Here’s a list of what comes to my mind; consultants are:

  1. brought in to solve a clear problem (they have sponsorship to change things)

  2. capable of solving the problems they are brought in to work on

  3. expensive hence are expected to provide shortcuts to solve complex problems

  4. expected to have high emotional intelligence and ability to build rapport (they’re not rude or unkind)

  5. expected to deliver tangible outcomes and will have their performance objectively measured against these

  6. not expected to be around for long and need to show value fast

  7. can ignore politics more than an employee; hence can cut-through bureaucracy

  8. can make bold recommendations without fear of upsetting the status quo

  9. can call out the elephants in the room when no one else is brave enough to do so

Wait I can hear all the agile coaches screaming at their phones or computers as they read this list saying

“agile coaches do all those things too Niall!” source: anonymous upset agile coach

Of course agile coaches can be doing all these things on my list but I think consultants are held to account more so.

Having just returned to consulting after three years navigating internal politics as an in-house agile coach I’m finding it refreshing to be able to do all the things on the above list. Of course the flip side of being a consultant is you need to know your stuff and be able to solve complex problems, deliver value fast, within very challenging environments and usually after your client was unable to resolve the issue themselves.

My take away point is for agile coaches out there to put a level of rigour onto your work (even if no one is watching) and hold yourself accountable to get stuff done (observable tangible stuff). At my current employer Beaker & Flint we pride ourselves on always getting things done whilst doing all the behavioural coaching work. So try an experiment and for your next agile coaching engagement take on the persona of a consultant; be clear about the problem, outcome and deliverables from your work. Try using the handbook I’ve provided and see how you go!

good luck,


p.s. come join in the conversation in the agile coaching community I host or sign up to my little email list for ideas and insights around agile and coaching.

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