A conflict of interests

It starts in the usual way: You’re having a discussion with somebody from your current client and he/she tells you that agile practice X is bogus/useless/… and that that person is not going to use it/apply it/promote it to others. Now… what do you do?

Before you realise it, you are having a conflict of interests.

A conflict of interests - roles of an agile coach

It all starts with your roles: as an agile coach you are at the same time:

  • Coach, supporting reflection processes and not giving advices, finding the best question to ask instead of the best answer, focused on promoting self-organisation in the team and ensuring that people can take sound decisions. In the business coaching world sometimes we use the word “intention less” to describe the attitude of the coach as not having a hidden agenda w.r.t. the results achieved by the client.
  • Consultant and/or Evangelist promoting the principles and the practices of agile, being paid by your client, so the people of the company you are “coaching” get up and running with whatever form of agile as soon as possible. Compared with the coach role above, this is intention-full: we *do* have a goal we want to reach!

So here’s the question again: what do you do?

This is IMO a big problem in the way the role of the agile coach is defined (and the ScrumMaster has a similar issue as well…). The sport metaphor does not help here: when the football coach wants something, he just asks for it and the players will just do it – nothing we should use in agile coaching, I hope you agree…

Between the two roles I normally choose the coach hat, including the “intention less” attitude and… just wait… Wait for what? Well, a few things that might possibly happen:

  1. Something external will happen that will make that person change his/her mind. I believe in the agile practices and that, if implemented correctly, they work. Just wait until evidence will win.
  2. Something inside that person will happen and [s]he will then want to work on whatever was generating that “resistance”. Usually there are deeper reasons and fears why somebody does not accept something that seems just common sense. Until that person will decide to open up and try and solve the deeper issue, there’s nothing I can really do. While it seems a waste of time, in fact I’m gaining time by letting something happen in its own pace instead of pushing it and creating “resistance” (in the end nobody wants to be changed…). Until now I had more people opening up to agile than the opposite, so my personal statistic supports these two points…
  3. The person might be right: in that particular environment that practice in the way I tried to implement it cannot really work and needs adaptation. I might have missed some relevant detail and that person was simply trying to help me.
  4. Eventually I will give up: while I am advocating agility and bringing it to companies, it is not my role to brainwash people. If they don’t want to believe in what I am saying, they are simply free to have their own ideas. Should this happen, the “intention less” attitude is even more important in this case: if I take it personally, eventually this might have an impact in the rest of the team and make them think I am there to support my own agenda rather than helping them. Support your client’s people, even when they think differently. At least this is the way it works for me…
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