Agile CoachBut


In 2009 Dr. Jeff Sutherland, a co-founder of Scrum, spoke at Google about the ‘secret formula‘ that makes Scrum work. Jeff also described what he called “ScrumBut” a phenomena in which organizations/teams would say that they are doing Scrum, but under certain circumstances would not do particular things described in the Scrum framework.

As a result these teams/organizations do not experience the huge gains in efficiency that executives want and the founders of Scrum intended, though admittedly you may see slight improvements.

The message: “do Scrum all the way, and Scrum will work all the way.” You can’t drive a Formula-1 race car with most of the parts to get most of the speed. Neither can you do most of Scrum to get most of the benefit.

If you take away anything from the Formula-1, it will eventually explode or crash.

One thing you must do in scrum is work on a single story at a time. You cannot take that concept away and still be wildly successful. One thing Coaches must do to build hyper productive teams is build one team at a time.

Often times when organizations decide to implement Scrum their coaches stretched accross several project teams simultaneously. This coaching multi-tasking leads to a slew of symptoms I call Agile CoachBut which is characterized by coaches who are trying to build hyper-productive teams but are not able to because of a flaw in the strategic approach.

Agile CoachBut (ˈajəl kōCH-bət).


1. A person engaged only partially in developing hyper-productive teams.

2. A person who only makes observations, shows teams how to do things, but does not consistently create hyper productive teams.

3. In general one who uses the word “but” when asked “how are you creating hyper productive Agile teams?”

Symptom format:<I coach agile teams, but ><we have these unique circumstances><so I am not able to build hyper productive teams.>

For example:

“I coach agile teams, but I am not dedicated to 1 team, so I never really understand the fundamental issues the team is encountering.”

“I coach agile teams, but I am not co-located with the team, so I get up and walk to my teams when I need to talk to them or overhear conversations.”

“I coach agile teams, but I do not show teams what Agile feels like by having them actually do it, so I just make suggestions and try to persuade them to do Agile stuff.”

“I coach agile teams, but the culture and size of the organization is too large for teams to do all of the core practices right away, so I just try to get teams to do 1 or 2 things better each iteration.”

“I coach agile teams, but I do not have any real authority, so I exhaust myself trying to persuade teams to do Agile stuff instead of removing obstacles which is discouraging Agile adoption.”

“I coach agile teams, but I only guide, teach, and mentor, so I do not build hyper productive teams.”

In an interview with Brad Jensen, Senior Vice President, Airline Products Development at Sabre Airline Solutions. He was asked how he implemented XP at his organization. He laments saying :

“If I had it to do again; I would start with one team, make sure they really “got” XP, then have them teach the next team.”

You can only build hyper-productive teams one at a time.

A formula for building hyper-productive teams

1. Make each coach assigned to only 1 team as the Scrum Master. If team members resist, the Coach will attempt to educate them but in the end team members will do it the Coach’s way whether they like it or not. This allows the coach to spend the majority of time collaborating with management to resolve issues slowing the adoption of Scrum outside the team.

2. During this time the coach will identify and start pairing with an individual who exemplifies leadership qualities. This protégé is intended to become the Scrum Master.

3. The coach has strong influence on individual performance reviews / employment, just in case there is some overly strong resistance.

4. At a time when the team reaches hyper productivity (3-5 weeks), the protégé will take over as Scrum Master.

5. From there on out the coach guides, teaches, and mentors the team as needed, while he/she is repeating the process with a new team.

When you try to skip steps 1 – 4. It simply doesn’t work.

Josh Woodcock, PMI-ACP

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