Agile in 2018: Coaching

Coaching, self-organization, leadership, and business agility are the areas where I expect breakthrough innovations for agile to take place in 2018. In this first article in the series “Agile in 2018” I explore the state of practice of agile coaching and discuss what will agile bring us in 2018.

The InfoQ Culture and Methods editorial team, of which I’m a member, has published their trends report – January 2018. I’m quoting from this yearly agile culture and methods lookout and added my personal view below.


To support organisational change in the new ways of working, practices for coaching and mentoring have become important. Unfortunately, there is a lot of snake oil – the quality of the coaches and coaching varies a lot. The skills of this role will come under increasing pressure and good coaching will be a competitive advantage.

It may not be nice to say, but sometimes organizations get the coaches they deserve. Which is not a good thing. Organizations that don’t have a profound experience with coaching have difficulties selecting coaches that can bring the organization to a higher level. They often have wrong expectations of what coaches can do.

Coaches should help organizations to establish a suitable approach to coaching, one that fits with the organization and supports improvement in the organization. I’m hoping that in 2018 more coaches will have a discussion about this instead of offering a “standard” training and coaching plan.

One of the reasons many agile transformations fail is that organizations try to plan all coaching steps upfront and then expect that executing the plan will make them agile. That doesn’t sound agile to me. Planning is helpful, but your plans will change along the way as you are coaching. Embrace that change, adapt your plan.

Sustainable Improvement

I don’t think certification of coaches is a solution to solve the agile coaching problems. Taking an agile approach to coaching by coaching in small steps and reflecting frequently is what I recommend, which I already described in 2013 in Short-cycled Improvement. The results of agile coaching should be inspected and adapted frequently, just as any other agile practice. Coaches, eat your own dogfood!

For years I’m hoping for just-in-time coaching to take off, where coaches intervene using a pull-based approach with teams and organizations to serve their needs with focused workshops, feedback, and on-the-job suggestions for improvement. Agendashift and Kanban come to mind as pull-based approaches for doing this. I do this with my clients and it works, but I rarely see others do it; full-time on-site coaches who lead the transformation still seems to be the norm. I can only assume that for most organizations just-in-time coaching is still too radical.

Agile in 2018

Yogi Berra stated that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”. Coaching, self-organization, leadership, and business agility are the areas where I will focus on in 2018 as this is where I expect breakthrough innovations for agile to take place.

What are your expectations for agile coaching in 2018?

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Philippe

    The sad truth is that a lot of coaches are not able to provide just-in-time coaching !
    I too, found out that adapting to actual needs is the most effective way to coach teams. Sometimes, team don’t know when to call for help though …

    1. Ben Linders

      Thanks for your reaction Philippe, I recognize what you say!

      What worked for me to do just-in-time is to truly adopt agile values. Be open and honest, vulnerable, be yourself. Share what comes to mind and check if that helps. Provide suggestions, not recipes. Don’t worry about if you might fail, if you are really there to help people then you will give something of value to them.

      Making yourself visible and available for people and showing that you prepared to help them can lead to being asked for help more often, you can coach people by just being there.

  2. Charles Cain

    Agree completely with this Ben. Organizations and coaches that execute on a predetermined plan are not truly coaching, they are executing on a checklist. Coaching is about addressing a particular item in the moment, not executing that plan. What the organization needs will be manifest at just the right time and the coach should be listening acutely to the environment to pick up on that.

    Great post!

    1. Ben Linders

      Thanks Charles!

      I always tell coaches in my class to plan to be surprised. You will not know all answers, but you should be able to come up with ideas to move forward.

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