Agile Failures Teaching Organizations to Fish

There are two general consulting mindsets or postures today:

  • I am going to be the expert. You need to hire me for my advice and do what I say


  • I am going to teach you my expertise, so, you soon won’t need me anymore.

We lean towards the latter approach in our Agile Coaching practice.

It’s not that we don’t want companies to extend their contract with us by adopting a contrarian view. It’s just that we’ve (I’ve) found the latter approach to provide more long-term benefits to clients.

The struggle for me is teaching them to fish, rather than bait and cast the line for them. In all honesty, some clients are simply resistant to learning or taking ownership of the process. They say things like “I hired you to solve this problem for me.”

However, if they aren’t acquiring new skills or immersing themselves in the right mindset, then my teachings are unlikely to stick after the engagement ends. This is something many clients don’t understand. 

My goal when I finish an engagement is organizational sustainability.

To me, “organizational sustainability” means that our clients are independent fishermen. Following our engagement, I want them to call me only when it’s a situation they have never seen before or ask me a question as a mentor (vs. being “the expert”), kind of like which bait tackle should I use if I want to catch a new fish.

I want the entire organization to have continued curiosity towards perpetual learning. I want our clients to be capable of standing up a Scrum Team, leading a Community or Practice, or serving the organization in their continued Scrum adoption. 

I want our clients to do their own fishing, which is not easy.

I’m a strong proponent of the Dreyfus Model of Skillset Acquisition, which describes the learning journey from Novice to Mastery. My goal as an Agile Coach is to support our clients as they climb to an intermediate level. How I do that is by teaching, mentoring, facilitation, and coaching and what follows is their ability to fish. 

Recently, I failed in my desire to teach a client to fish.

There, I said it.

They wanted us to stand up a pilot group of Scrum teams and we happily did that. Once it came to roll out the next phase of teams, the client said ok here is your next group start tomorrow. I didn’t think the teams were ready, despite their insistence on starting. Then it hit me…I thought if I had done this correctly, they would have already started getting these teams ready to sprint and they would have already kicked things off. Simply by modeling everything I did in the pilot.

However, I realized they could not.

Upon reflection, I further realized we both played a part in the failure. Our client wanted me to solve the problem for them. I happily did that. Instead of taking the time to teach them in a way that would have empowered them to do the work the next time. Neither of us were aware of the implications. We just did what we were used to doing.

Due to this misstep, my engagement with this client will last longer than expected, which is not the outcome I want for any of our clients. However, I’ve learned from this. I’m shifting my focus towards teaching early, focusing more on creating organization sustainability, and seeing if they can catch a trout sooner than later.

But in the end, it’s a journey and we’re both learning to fish sooner and better. Now, if I could just find that worm…


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