Why Is The Value Of Agile Coaching So Elusive?

As much as I tire of hearing people decry the value of agile coaching to enable agile ways of working, I’m more tired of people trying to formulate and then proclaim a set of metrics as the golden standard for measuring the value delivered by agile ways.

A set of metrics such as:

  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Faster time to market
  • Higher quality
  • Lower cost
  • Higher revenue
  • Higher employee morale
  • Lower attrition
  • Higher productivity
  • Higher self worth
  • Greater collaboration
  • Greater autonomy
  • Greater alignment
  • Greater empowerment
  • Better decision-making
  • Less noise, more harmony

A mixture of…

  • Lagging (e.g. revenue) and leading (e.g. productivity) indicators
  • Tangible (e.g. monetized) and intangible (e.g. relationships) value

These metrics may be all valuable indicators of success, yet how will you know which to focus on? And how will you measure each?

Trying to focus on all of them can be overwhelmingly exhausting. It would be tantamount to a shotgun approach where you’re bound to hit something. But, will it be the right something for everyone?

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Or, in the language of Lean thinking, value is seen through the eyes of the Customer and measured by what the Customer will pay for. Value represents worth, usefulness and importance to the Customer.

To me, there is one sure way to find out what to focus on – ask the client or Customer.

What’s valuable for one organization may not be as valuable if at all, for another organization.

How much would you pay for a priceless painting? A lot more if you weren’t starving.

The challenge is that everyone uses a different value measuring stick. If we keep trying to standardize the value of agile ways and agile coaching, we’ll keep missing the mark.

And, when the desired value is realized, how much of it will be attributable to coaching and how much of it will be the result of something else in the system?

  • Market shifts?
  • Organizational changes?
  • Personal epiphanies?

What if we provided no coaching at all?

Would the outcomes have been the same? My answer would be no. The presence or absence of a coach or any individual for that matter, will impact the number and nature of possible interactions or relationships leading to a universe of possible outcomes. The outcomes may be different but who’s to say whether one outcome is better than another? The Customer.

Why is the value of agile coaching so elusive? I see three reasons:

  1. It’s hard to decide what is valuable and what is not
  2. It’s hard to measure accurately and in isolation
  3. The value realized may be just as attributable to other factors beyond coaching

So, what can we do about it?

  1. Start with the Customer in mind
  2. Ask the Customer…
    • What are your objectives?
    • What would you like to accomplish for your business? For your team? For yourself?
    • How will you know whether you’re making progress?
    • How will you know when your objectives have been realized?
  3. Ask yourself…
    • Where and how can I, as a coach, help?
    • How will I know whether I’m helping?

Of course, this presumes the Customer knows what their aspirations are. This isn’t always the case. And, even when they do know, what they thought they needed or wanted may change over time. In either case, they may not know it until they see it or better yet, feel it.

In the meantime, a simple test of whether you’re adding value or not as an Agile coach is to ask the Customer whether they would like to have more of your time. If they answer “Yes”, then you have your answer. If the answer is “No”, then perhaps it’s time to move on.

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