The team working on the Agile Alliance Agile Coaching Ethics Initiative has been working steadily over the last six months, and we have now published a draft Code of Ethical Conduct for Agile Coaching (Code) and a set of supporting Ethics Scenarios.
The volunteer team started by examining existing codes of ethics from other industries to understand the areas that such a code should cover, and then we discussed at length what ethical dilemmas we have seen in agile coaching and how they show up. We agreed on some important guidelines to help identify what we should include. These guidelines are:
- To be an ethical consideration a topic needs to be something that someone can do as soon as they sign up to the code. As a new agile coach, I can read the statement and apply this immediately in practicing my profession
- In order to be an ethical consideration, it must be something where there is broad agreement that it risks causing harm to myself, the profession or others if I do not abide by the statement
- These points must be applicable to people who are internal agile coaches, external agile coaches, and those practicing agile coaching as part of another role (for example a manager in an organization who is expected to also be an agile coach, or similarly, someone in the role of Scrum Master who is often taking on some or all aspects of agile coaching)
Our hope is that anyone taking on the role of an agile coach at any level in an organization will be able to use this code to help guide their behavior when faced with ethical dilemmas.
We ended up with a draft code with 18 points covering 9 broad areas:
- Confidentiality and information security
- Acting within your ability
- Introspection and continuing professional development
- Conflicts of interest
- Social responsibility – includes diversity and inclusion
- Ensuring the relationship is valuable for both coach and the client
- Agreeing on boundaries
- Abuse of power
- Responsibility to the profession
The full code can be downloaded as a PDF and is included at the end of this blog post for easy reference.
Having completed the draft, we released it for public feedback and have started to get some responses. One of the actions for the group over the next quarter is to take the feedback received and update the code where needed.
The next major activity we are currently busy with is to make the code actionable by writing up examples of ethical dilemmas we have seen and how applying the code will address the ethical challenges. We are calling these the Ethics Scenarios, and the current list of scenarios can be downloaded as a PDF.
Writing these scenarios takes time and deep reflection and conversations. We came up with some guidelines to help identify and write the scenarios:
- The scenario must be applicable to people who are internal or external agile coaches and those practicing agile coaching as part of another role (for example a manager in an organization who is expected to also be an agile coach, likewise someone in the role of Scrum Master who often takes on some or all aspects of agile coaching).
- The scenarios are intended to provide guidance for people undertaking agile coaching activities, working with individuals, teams, and organizations to guide the types of behaviors, advice, and approaches expected of them.
- Do the scenarios challenge fundamental agile values and principles – such as focus, courage, respect, commitment, openness, transparency, inspect and adaptation – or values and principles of the agile manifesto? If yes – include it! As agile coaches and our clients and organizations working towards agility, the agile values are our ethical compass as well.
- Does the scenario “divide and engage” us the contributors, so that we end up in a long, complex, diverse discussion. If yes – include it! We grow through challenge and through dialogue and help others grow by considering “challenging” situations.
- Does the scenario “relate” to our global readers in the agile community. Are these scenarios common and frequently faced in global and diverse cultural contexts/regions/company contexts? If yes, include them.
- Do we have some scenarios which may have a massive impact (high risk, high impact) on the reputation of the agile industry and our client’s reputation (organizational and personal)? If yes, include them. Black swan events that with good personal ethics and governance, we could help prevent.
The scenarios are going to be an evolving and living resource, and we envisage that over time many of these will be crowd-sourced from real experiences that agile coaches have had in the field.
Future actions/next steps
Following on from the work done so far, we have a number of actions for the initiative. These include:
- Updating the code in response to feedback received
- Adding more ethics scenarios
- Building out a more comprehensive web presence with the code and scenarios in a dedicated area of the Agile Alliance website or on their own domain
- Adding functionality to allow people to publicly declare their commitment to the code by signing it
- Publicizing the code through meetups, events, and conference talks
- Discussions with the various certification and education bodies to have them include the code in their education programs and/or certification
Code of Ethical Conduct for Agile Coaching
People serving in an agile coaching role are expected to act ethically, but what does that mean in practice?
The intent of this Code of Ethical Conduct for Agile Coaching (Code) is to provide guidance for people undertaking agile coaching activities, working with individuals, teams and organizations (irrespective of their role or job title) to guide the types of behaviors, advice and approaches expected of them.
Agile coaching is an evolving profession encompassing many disciplines including individual, team and systemic coaching, facilitating, teaching and mentoring, all applied with an open and deliberate bias towards using agile approaches to help address the client’s needs.
The intention of this Code is to provide an evolving single source of ethical guidance for agile coaching across the broad range of constituent disciplines.
This Code is not a legally binding contract that mandates what a person can and cannot do.
The complexity of agile coaching means that you will inevitably encounter difficult situations. This Code is intended to assist you by directing you to the variety of ethical factors that may need to be taken into consideration
Anyone who embraces the Code strives to act ethically, even when doing so involves making difficult decisions. They act courageously, even if there is a personal negative impact. This Code will help support you when these difficult decisions need to be made and you can provide it in support of your decisions to your clients. It supports you to communicate about your actions.
The signatories of this Code are multicultural, multigenerational, and affiliated with many different groups. We believe that the power of this movement is amplified when we set aside differences and lift each other up in pursuit of a better way. We commit to supporting each other in difficult decisions and courageous conversations.
This Code is supported by additional explanations in the Ethics Scenarios document, available on the Agile Alliance Agile Coaching Ethics initiative website.
As an ethical agile coach I commit myself to the following:
Confidentiality and information security
- I will protect information shared with me and won’t disclose it without agreement or legal reason.
Acting within your ability
- I will be open and transparent about my skills and experience and I won’t claim to have abilities or knowledge that I do not have.
- I will be honest with the client if I believe they need another form of professional help.
Introspection and continuing professional development
- I will engage in introspection and I will engage with a peer group or mentor to explore ethical and other challenges in my agile coaching work.
- I will seek to improve my self-awareness and effectiveness through professional development.
Conflicts of interest
- I will be transparent about any potential conflicts of interest with all who might be affected and I won’t act with dishonor.
- I will withdraw from the relationship if a conflict cannot be adequately managed.
Social responsibility – includes diversity and inclusion
- I will seek opportunities to bring different voices to the conversation and I won’t condone, allow or perpetuate discrimination in any form.
- By my action and inaction, I will strive to leave society better than I found it.
Ensuring the relationship is valuable for both coach and the client
- I will ensure that the relationship remains valuable and I won’t extend it unnecessarily.
- I will be honest about any perception of declining value.
Agreeing on boundaries
- I will ensure we have an agreed scope.
- I will work with the client to understand their needs rather than impose my own solution.
- I will not collude with an organization that is pursuing purposes at odds with the Agile Manifesto’s Values and Principles.
Abuse of power
- I will not abuse my power to influence others for personal gain.
Responsibility to the profession
- I will uphold the reputation of the agile coaching profession.
- I won’t condone and will challenge unethical behavior in other Agile Coaches.
- I will attribute other’s ideas appropriately and avoid the appearance they are mine
About the Authors
This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.