Should we hire full-time or contract agile coaches?

In 2013 I wrote an article about the advantages and disadvantages of contract project managers.

Competent agile coaches have been in high demand for many years due to the large number of companies across multiple industries who are going through agile transformations.

Scrum asserts that the role of the Scrum Master includes coaching activities and this is fair in small contexts, but in larger organizations early in their journeys to greater agility, a Scrum Master is likely to find they have limited capacity to effectively coach stakeholders beyond members of the development team and Product Owner.

In such situations, a delivery team might try hard to be more agile, but functional managers, executives and other internal and external stakeholders might not be supportive of this transition. Applying Theory of Constraints principles to this situation, a coach would want to identify the primary bottleneck and focus their efforts there.

But should you hire them full-time or on contract?

While all the considerations from my earlier article apply to the role of an agile coach, here are a few more which should be considered before making any decisions.

  • Full-time staff tend to go native. Putting aside those truly Quixotic people who tilt at windmills regardless of how long they have been told by others that this is a futile pursuit, for most, after spending sufficient time within an organization, they find it harder over time to continue to challenge the status quo. Complacency is cancer to coaches, and a fixed duration contract reduces the probability of this evil.
  • Contract coaches can be very pricey. Even for companies with deep pockets, the cost of a role which doesn’t directly contribute to value delivery can be hard to swallow. While some companies will establish separate funding at an enterprise level for covering coaching costs, those that don’t will need to find some way to justify those costs at the department, value stream or project level. This might encourage these companies to overwhelm the coaches with multiple delivery teams which will keep them busy but won’t necessarily achieve desired outcomes. It will also discourage use of the coaches for “non-billable” activities which are often more strategic than their contribution to any one project.
  • Having full-time coaches might prolong the journey to sustainable agility. Coaching as a service is valuable on an ongoing basis, but focusing this on a single role might result in teams using that role as a crutch rather than being truly able to “fish for themselves”. A greater sense of urgency emerges when we know that our coach has an expiry date.
  • You may not be able to afford good full-time coaches. A good agile coach is worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have the Midas touch and the fully loaded costs of a team of competent agile coaches might be more than they can afford. This is especially true in the first few quarters of a transformation where the benefits of increased agility are still insufficient to cover their costs.

While an agile coach is not mandatory, the support a good coach provides can accelerate the journey through an agile transformation. The best choice for many companies might be to staff a combination of full and contract coaches to make the journey as pleasant as possible.

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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