Taken from Marta Jasinka’s InfoQ interview with me about No Bull.

In the paper you point out that agile methods are being implemented in different ways. How does that affect the work of the Agile Coach? Can somebody outside the company, without deep understanding of the business and process requirements, help a team make a transition to a more agile way of working?

I think the method doesn’t matter for a coach with a deep understanding of agile and lean principles. That being said, the appetite to buy something called Agile has seen the market saturated with coaches making questionable adaptations to achieve corporate fit. So who knows? There’s no reliable way to know what you’re going to get when you hire a coach.

Transitions usually take companies to a ‘place’ where they’re doing Agile. What’s needed is for companies to get to a capability that continuously experiments and deploys accumulated learning to good effect for customers and stakeholders. What companies haven’t realized is that the benefits they seek by becoming more agile require profound change in people’s operating principles and beliefs. That can’t happen if the environment won’t support it. Having someone from outside the company to challenge ideas, assumptions and decisions and disrupt the status quo can be valuable. As they say, when everyone’s in the frame nobody sees the picture. That person will come to understand intimately the business and process and other aspects of ‘the system’. That person will become part of ‘the system’. But an agile coach isn’t a silver bullet. Every company is a unique context and change requires visible support and tangible actions from the people at the top. It’s never just a “fix IT” situation, despite what people often think.

The techniques for helping companies change are evolving. I see more references to Systems Thinking and perhaps even rediscovery of the thinking techniques from the Theory of Constraints. I also sense a maturing attitude that recognizes change as learning cycles. There’s a move away from teaching people to work differently towards learning with people and co-designing system changes. This is demonstrating an approach that balances inquiry and advocacy, which seeks to help people reveal beliefs and assumptions that drive their thinking, create awareness of context, encourage a willingness to experiment, and ultimately facilitate deeper learning. This just might win hearts and minds, and bring about the new thinking and different behaviours needed for change.