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24 October 2010


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I agree a good coach should have many coaching styles.
I agree the place where the team is as a whole, defines your coaching strategy.
I no longer agree that a directive style is by definition the best style for a team new to agile. (funny to write this as I have been saying this myself for a few years)
I think this also depends on what is the team's (companies) culture
on trying new things. Although team members might not understand agile, they might be ok with experimenting with new ways of working.

Rachel Davies

Yes, I agree with your comment about a directive style not always being best for a new agile team. Maybe see my earlier post 'Shu Ha Ri Considered Harmful' http://agilecoach.typepad.com/agile-coaching/2010/02/shuhari-considered-harmful.html



Dave Nicolette

IMHO the "directive" style can be a useful starting point for an inexperienced team, provided the coach's role includes helping the team learn to see the value proposition and think independently about the "new" ideas rather than just following practices by rote. The Shu metaphor can be taken too far with respect to the notion of muscle memory.

Personally, my goal in working with people new to agile methods is to guide them through enough experience that they can make their own judgments about whether and when to use agile methods. I want them to be able to make an informed professional choice. If they ultimately choose differently than I would do, it's okay as long as they're really making an informed choice and not just having a knee-jerk reaction against unfamiliar ideas.

Regarding the Shu-Ha-Ri thing; there's a saying that all models are wrong but some models are useful. Shu-Ha-Ri can be a useful model.

BTW, martial arts are not just about physical skills. They're about balanced personal development across physical, intellectual, and emotional, and spiritual aspects equally. By the same token, software development isn't just about values and principles. It has a physical aspect, too. Without applying proven practices like continuous integration, test-driven development with incremental refactoring, team collocation, and pair programming, you won't be able to deliver any better than you would with traditional methods, even if you have the "right" mindset. With that in mind, it's possible that the Shu-Ha-Ri metaphor actually has deeper applicability to coaching than meets the eye. Even so, it's only a model. (Camelot!)


I do think it's a hard and delicate balance. I was at a code retreat on Saturday and it was really clear to see that design is often an exercise in faith. The design will come when you've prodded it around for a bit, but you can't always see it. So, one type of directive is to ask your team to suspend judgment, to say, 'trust me, and let this one run'. And therefore, underneath the styles should be a dedication to building trust. That's obvious to you, Rachel, but not to everyone.

I liked this post. Good use of a simple model to get people thinking.

Trust is chicken and egg, of course, like finding space. Then, once you have it, your team will help you with your style. My mates always say to me, 'ok! I get it'. That's my queue to be less directive.



I find this a very useful model. Personally I find it too easy to slip into the mindset of "this is how xxx should be done", and the best defence about this is to have a model in mind that lets me adapt within that model.

Definitely something to keep in mind. How do you tell when to change styles though. As a team develops they will need to change coaching styles, Do you do a retrospective with the team about how the coaching is going?

Pawel Brodzinski

I completely agree with the model. This is something I learned the hard way - I was surprised that people expect definitive answers while, having some experience in the area, you can only say that there's no single good way of doing things.

The thing I didn't take into consideration is how familiar the group is with the topic. A simple question at the beginning "who knows that?" doesn't really help as you will see hands of both people who are experts and those who have just started learning.

The tricky part is when the group is mixed and you can't use single approach. I believe in this situations telling stories is a good choice. Beginners can treat story as a guidebook and experts would use it as a starting point for the discussion.

Yves Hanoulle

@Pawel: another way to ask the question is to ask people to spread out across a line to see how familiar they are. It has the extra advantage that people get up and move their body (always good to have blood stimultated)

Rachel Davies

Yves, I've found that this line-up exercise can reinforce existing hierachy and make people who are less experienced with agile feel exposed.

Fabrice Aimetti

Hello Rachel,

Your post is great. I've translated it into french :

Regards, Fabrice

Rachel Davies

Hello Fabrice,

Thanks for translating my blog post.

Best regards,


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