Consultancy, an Agile Anti-Pattern?

As part of looking for my last few opportunities, I became concerned about the number of “agile coach” roles that I saw advertised at consultancies. First of all a confession: I used to work for a consultancy, but recently I decided not work for one ever again. I was feeling pressure to act in a way that didn't align with being a Coach.

So I decided to jot down why I had reached this decision.

How Coaches and Consultants fit in

A Consultant is great for:

I don't think there is a problem per se with consultancies, they have a big part to play. Often where organisations don't have the specialist skills required to work on a particular problem, or where the problem is not their core business. In this case it seems reasonable to hire a consultancy, who bring in a team with the knowledge and experience required.
Helping teams and the business as a whole perform better

A Coach is great for:

The coach role is quite different. These are individuals with the experience, knowledge and skill needed to bring out the best from others. Coaches work primarily in organisations who need help to bring out ideas from their people, not to create them. Coaches can help in areas even where they are working in a business core business areas.

Motivations for Coaches and Consultants

What motivates coaches:

In my view coaches should have primary motivations:
  1. to help teams and the business as a whole perform better. 
  2. to make themselves unnecessary

What motivates consultants:

Apologies to anyone who works for a consultancy, believe me there is nothing wrong with you or the organisation you work for. However I suspect that coaches provided by consultancies inevitably are motivated differently:
  1. to help teams and the business as a whole perform better
  2. to maximise the billable value of the consultancy contract 
  3. to make the consultancy necessary
As you can see the primary aim is the same the following 2 motivators are different. 

The Agile Manifesto for Coaches and Consultants

The Agile manifesto for Coaches

The motivations are aligned with the Agile manifesto when coaching a team as follows:

The best architectures, requirements, and designs 
emerge from self-organising teams.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how 
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts 
its behaviour accordingly.

Build projects around motivated individuals. 
Give them the environment and support they need, 
and trust them to get the job done.

Nothing controversial so far? Well, while I worked with consultancies I learnt something about how consultancies work, so I thought I would have a little fun with the idea.

The Agile manifesto for Consultants

I think there are some different guiding principles for consultancies. This view is meant to be slightly tongue in cheek so please don't be offended. The consultancy principles include:

The most profitable architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from the products we have used before, own and/or support.

At regular intervals, the consultancy asks the team to reflect on how 
to become more effective, then considers how this will fit into their preferred "agile" approach and any follow up work opportunities, and adjusts the process accordingly.

Build projects around motivated client senior executives. 
Give them the sales pitch and charts they like the look of, schmooze some more
and do anything to make sure they sign the next purchase order.


Perhaps we should consider this as an addition to our organisation manifesto.

We seek out, create, implement ideas originated or recommended
inside the team over those created outside the team.

We consider what ideas our team have for all aspects of the business before we consider outsourcing our creativity.

We hire hire individuals to become part of our teams 

before we hire organisations


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