The effectiveness of agile coaching – Part 1

Guest contribution by | 16.05.2024

Why the discussion about the effectiveness of Agile Coaching is important, why it is often misguided and a bold alternative

I recently had an interesting conversation with a colleague. She told me that in her current context, there was an argument about how best to measure the effectiveness of Agile Coaches. The management wanted to measure the benefits of Agile Coaches using key figures such as cycle time, throughput, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.

Agile Coaches cost money. Organisations pay attention to profitability. It therefore makes sense to consider the value of the purchased service. If Agile Coaches want to be more than just a decorative accessory, they must also ask themselves what value they add and how this can be measured.

However, the fact that Agile Coaches do not produce directly, but have an indirect effect, makes this consideration challenging. This is a good prerequisite for heated but not very productive debates.

In part 1 of this two-part article, I would like to take a look at the effectiveness of Agile Coaching and provide an explanation as to why discussions are often conducted “incorrectly”. In Part 2, I will then outline a way to evaluate the performance of Agile Coaches.

A typical scenario in Agile Coaching

Agile Coaching comes in different forms and flavours. In a typical scenario, an Agile Coaches works with a more or less cross-functional team to make it more “agile”. This team is embedded in an organisational structure and reports to a manager with budget responsibility. Formally, this person is responsible for the results of their area to the level above them and decides on the use of Agile Coaches (at least they are part of their budget calculation).

This results in three main parties involved in Agile Coaching: manager, team and Agile Coach. In my experience, these three parties often have different views on what Agile Coaching should bring.


The saying “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” reflects the mindset of many managers. Success is often measured using key figures.

It makes sense to apply these criteria to the use of Agile Coaches. A product owner with a past in a large management consultancy said directly when we met: “What’s the point of having an Agile Coaches? I’d rather use another software developer.”

Agile Coaches are overhead from a business perspective. They incur costs and do not create any direct, tangible value through their work, such as written code or implemented features. If successful, their work ensures that others create more value.

Based on this logic, it makes sense to use the improvement in the performance of these others – the coached team – as a measure of success.


For many teams in digital product development, Agile Coaches are a familiar part of their working environment. Team members expect support in applying agile methods and improving collaboration. Typical expectations are, for example, support with estimating or improving communication within the team.

Teams often also want Agile Coaches to moderate their meetings and thus make them more effective. It is also highly appreciated if the Agile Coaches take on tedious organisational tasks such as room reservations or managing tools.

Agile Coaches

Agile Coaches can be divided into two groups:

  • The first group is characterised by a strong focus on the correct application of agile frameworks such as Scrum, usually characterised by corresponding certification training.
  • The second group consists of people with a background in professional coaching – usually with appropriate coaching training in the background. These coaches see themselves (to put it bluntly) as process facilitators without their own agenda, who “open up spaces” and “provide impetus”.

When asked about success criteria, the first group refers to things such as process fidelity or maturity levels. The second group sees their success in the fact that people work in a more self-determined way and develop their personality.

So who is right?

Passionate debates about the motives of those involved

I often find that such a constellation leads to passionate debates about who is right and who is wrong. But that’s not all. The other side is openly or subliminally accused of having unfair motives.

From the teams’ and Agile Coaches’ point of view, managers become “micro-managers” who have to control everything and lack an agile mindset. Managers repeatedly come to the conclusion that employees are not willing to take responsibility or make a real effort. Agile Coaches would shirk their responsibilities and organise “hands-on ring games” instead of doing some real work. Agile Coaches are sometimes seen by teams as “know-it-alls from the ivory tower” with no connection to reality or even as “fulfilment assistants” for management.

Such disputes almost never lead to a constructive outcome. Either one side gets its way and imposes its point of view on the other, a lazy compromise is reached or the discussion petered out without results.

The function of mutual (pre-)judgements

I find situations like this exciting. If you follow systemic thinking, all behaviours, even the seemingly dysfunctional ones, have a function. They solve or avoid another, more difficult problem. What function could these mutual prejudices have?

One function could be the reduction of uncertainty and complexity: By applying prejudices, people can simplify complex social situations and divide them into easily understandable categories. On the basis of stereotypes, they can make decisions and derive actions without having to deal with the actual complexity of the situation. This can help to reduce uncertainty and increase the feeling of control.

A second function could be to protect against vulnerability: By relying on stereotypical understandings of the other, each group can protect itself from the potential vulnerability that might be associated with genuine understanding and co-operation. These preconceptions can serve as a kind of defence mechanism to distance themselves emotionally and protect themselves from potential negative experiences.

In any case, engaging in a right-wrong debate and imputing negative intentions prevents genuine engagement with the needs of others. Recognising positive intentions and legitimate interests would mean addressing the question of how these aspects can be taken into account.

Part of this process could also be an examination of self-images and images of others. And recognising that the criticism is not entirely unjustified. That doesn’t just sound exhausting, it is.

Interim conclusion and outlook

It hurts me when people get caught up in arguments about who is right or who is stronger. These fights take up energy that, in my opinion, could be better utilised for creative work. But how do we get out of this? Love one another! No, in the worst case scenario, this sticks a thick layer of icing over the remaining prejudices and makes mutual understanding even more difficult.

In my opinion, this kind of debate is the wrong way to go. But what could be the alternative? And how can the effectiveness of agile coaching be evaluated? Find out in Part 2 of this post.



If you like the article or would like to discuss it, please feel free to share it in your network.

Peter Rubarth is very happy about any exchange of ideas. You are also welcome to talk to him about how he can support you in the topic of Agile Coaching. Simply contact him on LinkedIn.

Peter Rubarth has published more articles on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Internal agile coaching

Internal agile coaching

t2informatik Blog: Internal agile coaching evolved

Internal agile coaching evolved

t2informatik Blog: The effectiveness of agile coaching - Part 2

The effectiveness of agile coaching – Part 2

Peter Rubarth

Peter Rubarth

Peter Rubarth is a Systemic Agile Coach and works as Senior Agile Coach for solarisBank AG. Great teams are his passion. For more than 14 years now, he has been helping teams and organisations find each other, remove obstacles and realise the full potential of agile concepts for themselves.