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The Roots Of Agile Suffering

July 5, 2021
Roots Of Agile Suffering
What Are The Roots Of Agile Suffering


After more than a decade of helping organizations travel on the path of Agility, it feels more like traveling on the path of Agile Suffering.

Agile Coaches like me often suffer as we complain that management doesn't get it, teams don't get it, my clients don't get it.

Agile Coachees seem to to often suffer as they complain the Agile Coach doesn't get it, management doesn't get it, teams don't get it.

I began wondering why this is so, and what might be the roots of this suffering. I might have stumbled onto something as I practice becoming a better coach by participating in the Co-Active Coach Training and Co-Active Coach Certification programs offered by the Co-Active Training Institute.


I learned that it is helpful for a coach to start a coaching session by getting clarity and alignment with the client about the topic or the agenda. This used to be called the "Little-a" Agenda. It could be something tactical like - 'I want to get a promotion.', or 'I am upset with my spouse.'

A co-active coach might be able to help the client discover transformational insights if they help connect the "Little-a" to the "Big-A" - the "Big Agenda" of the client's life purpose. Looking at tactical topics through the lens of how they are resonant or dissonant with the client's life purpose might help reframe their relationship to the topic and reveal new perspectives.


OK, so let's translate this to Agile.

Often, when an organization engages with an Agile Coach, the topic could be something like - 'I want to improve velocity, quality or time to market." this could be the "Little-a" of their Agile Agenda.

If we explore further, we may discover that there is a "Big-A" of their Agile Agenda, the resonant purpose of their organization - their quest to becoming an organization aligned with their mission, vision and values.

Helping the client(s) look at their "Little-a" Agile through the lens of their "Big-A" Agile might reframe some of their relationships with individuals, interactions, processes and tools. It may reveal new perspectives and choices that help them make resonant choices for their organization.


So what are the roots of a lot of the suffering in Agile Coaching and how is it related to these ideas?

I have found that one of the biggest root causes of suffering in the Agile Coaching industry is neither the "Little-a", nor the "Big-A", instead it is the third-A, the Biggest-A - "Alignment".

When my client or I are suffering the most in an Agile Coaching engagement, it is because our interpretations of Big-A Agile Agendas are misaligned.


Most often, the reason for this misalignment is that I did not do an effective job of creating transparency into...

  • My interpretation of "Big-A" Agile
  • Their interpretation of "Big-A" Agile
  • Alignment (or lack thereof) between our interpretations

So how can I inspect and adapt from this mistake? 

By being more effective at discovering the client's "Big-A" Agile Agenda!


My trainers in the Co-Active Professional Coach Training taught me a possible approach to discover the client's "Big-A" agenda - have an initial "chemistry session".

This would be one of the first conversations I have with a potential client to see if we are compatible and have chemistry. Either prior to the chemistry and / or during the chemistry session. In this session, I would explore some questions to discover both the "Little-a" agenda that caused them to reach out to me as well as their "Big-A" agenda that might be the over-arching context for a coaching relationship.

I was already doing this intuitively. Co-Active helped me elevate the context and provided better structure for these conversations.


I realized that I had been refining and using my own discovery questions over the past decade without calling them "discovery questions". And my list got turbo-charged thanks to three sources of co-Active wisdom...


Since the Agile Industry is familiar with canvas's I decided to convert my list to a canvas and am sharing it with you - The Coaching Discovery Canvas - v3.6

The Co-Active Discovery Canvas, v3.6

 The Coaching Discovery Canvas, v3.6

I recommend that you fill the form out in the suggested order, from cell 1 to cell 14. But if that doesn't work for you, surrender to your intuition, dance in the moment and go wherever you are called to go.

You can have your client pre-fill the answers prior to your chemistry session or you can help them fill it out during your session. Either way, it might help you serve your client better if you both have a shared understanding of their little-a and big-A Agile Agenda's and their inter-relationship.


OK, so what do you do if you discover that the client's big-A Agile Agenda is incompatible with your big-A Agile Agenda...?

In the words of Eckhart Tolle from The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment...

“When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power.

So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it.

All else is madness.”


I hope that this gives you some ideas to reduce needless suffering in the name of Agile. If would would like some help and need consider these resources…

Co-Active Coaching – For 1×1 Coaching

ORSC – For Team Coaching

Engaging With Us – Contact us to see if we can help you apply these ideas in your context – whether it be through a 1×1 coaching engagement, or through coaching at the organizational level.

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