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Agile Coach = Agile Secret Police?

Paul Tyma, in a recent blog entry entitled "Agile Coach = Agile Secret Police" tells us "I don't get this new craze of a job of 'Agile Coach'. I mean, everything I've read about Agile and XP seems dead simple.

He's not the first to voice this opinion.  And, though not a proponent of Agile, Tyma has done XP, so perhaps there's a basis for his view that "an Agile Coach is not really a 'Coach' so much as a hall monitor or a secret police officer."  He also complains of inappropriate zeal: "It has all the makings of a religion."

The term "Agile Coach" has evolved in recent years to cover a number of roles, and a coach may wear multiple hats, for example:
  • Extreme Programming coach (engineering practices)
  • Scrum Coach (requirements, self-organization and team leadership)
  • Organizational Change leadership (working with management for Agile-friendly change)
A coach playing any of these roles would most likely also be spending a lot of time and energy on "people and interactions", which is not necessarily evident from this list; the general idea being that practices may seem easy but change is hard, so while a team starts out, they can benefit from some expertise, support and an outside point of view.  It's worth noting that some people who professionally play these roles don't use the title "coach" at all, preferring designations from "consultant" to "cat herder".

Paul Tyma is a software engineer and writer for JavaPro magazine, Dr. Dobb's Journal, and he speaks annually at the Software Development conferences, so he's a peer to Agile evangelists like manifesto signatory John Kern and IBM's " Practice Leader Agile Development," Scott Ambler.  It's unlikely that Tyma hasn't heard the pitch for "Agile Coaching" - he just isn't buying it.  His reasoning?
"I'm just a bit skeptical I need a 'coach' to make sure I'm standing up correctly at my daily meeting.  Some jobs appear only when business is good and are the first to go when times get bad.  If we assume that eventually, times always get bad - then I guess we'll find out if Agile Coach is one of those."
Fair enough - time will tell.  In the meantime a number of "coaches" have taken up the conversation in comments on that blog entry.  One, William, agrees that the role can be misused:
"I'm sure you're right that, in some organizations, coaches are in effect agile secret police.  I think that's foolish, and a waste of money.  The only clients I take on are ones where the team is interested in trying agile methods to see how they work for them.  Like my boot camp coach, I help people improve in things they care about improving.  You can create the appearance of change with externally imposed harrassment, but it's not real change, and you don't get the real benefits."
William goes on to point out that a coach can actually work for the team, countering Tyma's assumption that coaches are agents of management: "There's also something I can do that employees generally can't:  I can tell managers when they are the issue, when their well-intentioned efforts are screwing up the team.  I end up doing this quite a bit."

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