Agile Coaching –The Pickle Principle

Posted By on Sep 29, 2011

Ever heard of Prescott’s Pickle Principle? It states that “cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered” As an Agile coach, you are that cucumber bravely diving into a pool saturated with sodium chloride called “The Corporation”

In an Agile transformation context, it’s about the challenges the Agile coach faces when trying to be true with the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. It’s about being bombarded, day in and day out with those “We can’t do that here!”. It’s that organizational brine that slowly transforms the Agile coach from a change agent into someone who finds great and innovative ways to justify things like ScrumButs and Flacid Scrum.

There’s a saying that goes like this : As a friend, I love you just the way you are. As a coach, I love you too much to let you stay that way.  I am not saying that an organization can’t move towards Agile with a few (or many) “Buts” here and there. As coaches, we’d be quite bored (not to mention useless) if Agile values, principles and practices were fully adopted at a flick of a switch. What I am saying is that the Agile coach is not permitted to accept it – Fight the brine!

The symptoms

How can you recognize that you are being pickled? The main symptom is accepting concessions too easily. Some of the classics are “we can’t test this legacy stuff” or “we’ll create an implementation story and a testing story for the next iteration” At first you challenge the team but after a few iteration of trying, you accept it. You might even find yourself using that infamous «We can’t do that here!» You just might be right but that’s besides the point. We are coaches with a big visible agenda: Agile!

5 ways to fight the brine

 1- Agile Manifesto – Big and Visible

That’s our agenda. The 4 values, 12 principles and a full inventory of engineering practices. Keep the manifesto in plain site and it’ll help you go back to basics when things get fuzzy.

 2- Stay above the clouds

You’re not much good if you’re standing in the middle of the storm with everyone else. Stay above of the technical and business specificities. You risk getting tangled up in the details and start sympathizing. Teams don’t need your sympathy; they need to be challenged from day one to day n.

 3- Put on the Thinking Hat

From the get go, inform the teams and management of your stance. Offer them a presentation of the Six Thinking Hats and formalize the fact that you’ll be switching from green to black then green again.

From wikipedia:

Bad points judgment (Black) – logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch

Creativity (Green) – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes

 4- Keep a Beginner’s Mind

«In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.» – Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

When you first walked into XYZ inc. you had no “preconceptions, pre-conceived ideas or prior judgements” Always keep that sense of wonderment and keep asking those basic questions. Almost magically, on a Wednesday at 10:14 am, a team member will say : Hmmm, maybe we could test that. Magical indeed.

 5- Go to local and international gatherings
  • Agile Conference : Doesn’t get much better than that!
  • Scrum user groups, Coaching circles and Agile communities of practice : These are often free and right next door. If none exists in your area…Here’s your chance to start one!

Meeting folks with similar challenges but different solutions won’t only help you fight the brine but can help break Group Think with the injection of fresh new ideas.

How do you fight the brine?


  1. Change only happens when you avoid being pickled! | 21apps - [...] post was inspired by the gapingvoid Jar and the pickled principle post by Eric Laramée This entry was posted…

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