In the early stages of an agile transformation, organizations often bring in agile coaches to assist, under the theory that most of the impact of an agile transformation is at the team level, and the coaches will help the teams through these changes.
Nothing could be further from reality.
Indeed, if one asks experienced agile coaches themselves, one gets a pretty consistent response - and a vehement one at that:
In the words of Jason Little, Organizational Change Facilitator at Leanintuit,
“The impediments teams run into are mostly a result of organizational problems. Things like when the team doesn't have autonomy to make a decision, or ‘project budget' is preventing them from buying a tool they need, or how performance mandates encourage functional groups to be opposed with each other (e.g., QA is measured on running test cases and finding bugs while development is measured on not producing bugs - or worse, lines of code produced)."
According to Doug Depew, Agile Coach at SolutionsIQ,
“There are different levels of impediments: Transformation and Team level. Most Transformation impediments are management level related. Team impediments can be organizational, management level, environmental, and/or dependencies on other departments or external organization dependencies. All of them need to be addressed for any transformation success. The managerial ones are the hardest to resolve if not dealt with at the executive level.”
According to Sunil Mundra, Principal Consultant at ThoughtWorks,
“Team level impediments, if any, will dominate in the short run, and management level impediments dominate in the long run. And management level impediments are the major cause for the team/s not being able to sustain the Agile adoption.”
According to Dave Nicolette, well known agile evangelist and speaker,
“Most impediments are management level. Organizational structure, functional silos, numerous narrowly-focused component teams, management hierarchies around roles instead of cross-functional teams aligned with value streams or projects, employee performance evaluations that pit people against one another and discourage collaboration...you name it. Pursuant to the "weakest link" analogy, if we introduce good technical practices at the team level it usually has no visible impact to overall delivery performance, because the technical teams are not the weak link in the software delivery chain. If teams have to spend 99+ % of their time waiting for things, then it makes little difference exactly how they do their work during the remaining 1% of their time. People (managers, mostly) assume that they need to bring in coaching and training at the team level because that's where the programmers live, and it's the programmers who write the software. Therefore, they reason, a software problem is a programming problem. So, they often try to solve the wrong problem.”
Sue Ryu, agile coach and former Accenture Consultant:
“The big impediments are at the management level - they are the ones that need coaching more than the teams. They ask for transition but they often do not realize that the transition involves everybody including themselves. They often ask for benefits of implementing agile/scrum without putting the time and efforts that go into making great agile/scrum team.”
Why, then, do organizations simply bring in agile team coaches? That approach is why most organizations undertaking an agile transformation go through the typical lifecycle of trying a team level approach, and then after some years of frustration step back and take a more holistic organization change approach.