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Allan Kelly has held just about every job in the software world, from sys admin to development manager. Today he provides training and coaching to teams in the use of Agile and Lean techniques. He is the author of "Changing Software Development: Learning to become Agile" (2008) and "Business Patterns for Software Developers" (2012) and a frequent conference speaker. Allan is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 85 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

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

08.14.2013
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I am: a Software Development Consultant who specializes in Agile techniques

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

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

For me, the difference between coaching and mentoring is the difference 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. Sometimes mentoring takes on coaching dimensions. And in all fairness, sports coaches might not recognize that distinction.  It might be that what some people call “Agile coaching” is actually based on sports 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 I don’t know about coaching. I’m conscious about how much time and effort real coaches put in to becoming coaches. And indeed, being an opinionated sod, I don’t think I can practice true non-directive coaching.

That's not to say I don’t use coaching techniques. I do.  But that’s not all I do. I give advice and I’m directive – particularly when I first engage with software teams.

Anyway, I know lots and lots of software development – both on the technical side and in 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 specializes 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.” That’s a definition I can associate with. The thesaurus gives synonyms such as “adviser, guide, counselor; expert, specialist, authority, pundit, informal ace, whizz, wizard, hotshot.” I’m happy with those too.

And to complicate things, the word "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 distance myself from the term “Agile”. Defining just whatis Agile– and more importantlywhat is not Agile– is increasingly difficult. Hidden away on my website is an unfinished piece: “What is Agile?,” that dives deeper into this dilemma.

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. It's not about Agile, it's about Software Development. But tryGooglingfor that, then introduce the word "Agile" and it narrows the results considerably.

Then there is Lean andKanban. I am a Kanban Coaching Professional because I paid for the certification. You have to respect the wayKanbanUniversity has sidestepped the issue aroundwhat is coachingby not designating people as a coach but rather acoaching professional.

But isKanbanAgile? A fewKanbanpeople shun the word Agile and the Agile community. Does that mean I should say, “Agile andKanban” or “Agile and Lean”. (Actually, I think the “Kanbanis not Agile” tendency has declined recently. It was a growth phaseKanbanwent through, and I think most people accept that whileKanbanis not Scrum, it falls under the broad Agile umbrella.)

Which would make me:a Software Development Consultant who specializes in Agile andKanbantechniques and uses some coaching techniques.

That’s 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.

Published at DZone with permission of Allan Kelly, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)