Monday, August 12, 2013

Coach or Consultant? Agile or not? What am I?

I am: a Software Development Consultant who specialises in Agile techniques

Or maybe: I am an Agile Consultant who specialise in Software Development.

There was a fascinating thread on Twitter this morning started by Marcin Floryan when he asked: “What are your views on a difference between coaching and mentoring?”. Tweets were coming thick and fast from John McFadyen, Rachel Davies, myself with George Dinwiddie and Andy Longshaw bring up the rear.

For me the difference between Coaching and Mentoring is the different between non-directive coaching and directive coaching. i.e. a true coach is non-directive. Using this definition an awful lot of what passes for Coaching - both in software teams and sports - is actually closer to Mentoring.

Of course things aren’t always that clear and as John pointed out the Coaching industry doesn’t agree on these definitions itself. And sometimes mentoring takes on coaching dimensions. And in fairness sports coaches might not recognise that distinction and it might be that what some people call “Agile coaching” is actually based on sport coaching rather than business coaching.

Still it got me thinking about why I increasingly shun the title “Agile Coach” and bill myself as an Agile Consultant. Hence the statement above. I used to call myself a coach but in the last year I’ve slowly backed away from that term.

I say consultant not coach because while I have studied coaching a little and read excellent books by Whitman and Downey on coaching I’m conscious of what don’t know about coaching. I’m conscious about how much time and effort real coaches put into becoming coaches. And indeed being an opinionated sod I don’t think I can practice true non-directive coaching.

Thats not to say I don’t use coaching techniques, I do but thats not all I do. I give advice, I’m directive - particularly when I first engage with software teams.

Anyway, I know lots and lots of software development - both technical and management - and I can’t help feeling that my clients don’t get the value of my knowledge if they employ me as a non-directive coach. Besides, very few clients I meet want me to be non-directive: they want my knowledge.

So perhaps I am: A Software Development Consultant who specialises in Agile techniques and uses some coaching techniques. (And is prepared to go off-piste and work with non-software teams if you ask nicely.)

But then the word Consultant is pretty nebulous and - in my opinion - abused a lot. The dictionary on my Mac defines Consultant as “a person who provides expert advice professionally.” Thats a definition I can associate with. The thesaurus gives synonyms as “adviser, guide, counsellor; expert, specialist, authority, pundit; informal ace, whizz, wizard, hotshot.” I’m happy with them too.

And to complicate things the work Agile is even more difficult to pin down. The name “Agile” now has a lot of problems. I openly use the term when I’m marketing myself but as soon as I’m inside a company I often find myself distancing myself from “Agile”. Defining just what is agile - and more importantly what is not agile - is increasingly difficult. Hidden away on my website is an unfinished piece “What is Agile?” that says more.

Actually I’d like to have nothing to do with Agile, what we refer to as Agile is really just the best way we know to develop software. Its not about Agile its about Software Development. But try Googling for that, introduce the work Agile and it narrows the field considerably.

Then there is Lean and Kanban. I am - because I paid for it - a Kanban Coaching Professional. You have to respect the way Kanban University has sidestepped the issue of what is coaching by not designating people as a coach but rather a coaching profession.

But is Kanban Agile? A few Kanban people shun the word Agile and the Agile community. Does that mean I should say: “Agile and Kanban” or “Agile and Lean”. (Actually I think the “Kanban is not Agile” tendency has declined recently, it was a growth phase Kanban went through and I think most people accept that while Kanban is not Scrum it falls under the broad Agile umbrella.)

Which would make me: A Software Development Consultant who specialises in Agile and Kanban techniques and uses some coaching techniques.

A bit of a mouthful.

So what am I?

I know a few things about software development. Some people agree with my views and a few people even pay me money to coach/consult/mentor/train/advise them on the subject.

I think many of the things I know about processes in the context of software development can be extended to related domains in technology and elsewhere. But what is the limit? I don’t know.