Watch for the Bait and Switch

The company had been burned. We were discussing a proposal with the company’s leadership, when suddenly  one of them asked, “Am I talking to the people who will be delivering the training?”

The manager called it “bait and switch…”

“WindmillsPlantation-TurksAndCaicos-pic03” by KimCarpenter NJ is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When we asked why they asked the questions, they said that they had previously been working with a company who convinced them of their competency on the phone, then sent a different, inexperienced person to do the training. We told them how much we appreciated, and how rarely, we get asked those kinds of questions. I wish this was the first time we had heard this, but even within my community of people I know, I can point to several instances of agile training companies selling training and then sending someone with no prior training experience at all to deliver the training.

Agile or not, business is still a business and most businesses are amoral and work in their self-interest. Why would they do otherwise?

What can you do about this to protect your financial and political investment?

Ask some of these following questions:

 Question 1: Am I talking to the people who will be doing the training or coaching? If not, can I? 

This differentiates the companies who are consultative from the start vs. those with dedicated sales staff. I’m all for people playing to their strengths, but it is an acknowledged issue that the typical sales compensation model leads to salespeople driven to “close the deal” whether or not you’ll end up getting quality service later. My first “ah-ha” moment was at a very successful consulting company I worked at. I was responsible for delivery to customers. The best salesperson told me, after hearing my lament at lack of resources to deliver what he was promising to customers, “It’s my job to sell. It’s your problem to deliver.”

Question 2: If not, can I have the names of will be doing the training or coaching?

This separates the companies who have fulltime coaches and trainers from those who don’t. Consider that a consulting business that does not carry salaries of fulltime employees is a low-risk, high-reward business model. Heck, it could be a 20-something millennial at Starbucks with a laptop sending emails and making calls. In that common model, an agile consulting shop sells services, then quickly tries to go out and find trainers and coaches who can deliver. LinkedIn makes finding those candidates easy (and has a business model around that).

The drawback of a vendor like that is lack of predictability, consistency, and quality of services for you. Think about it – typically the best independent trainers and coaches are busy, expensive and selective and have the earned benefit of typically working directly with customers or a network of respected, trusted and value-added colleagues and partners.

If an agile training company tells you they need to check schedules and get back to you, that means they don’t have access to their pool of subcontractors’ calendars. If their trainers and coaches were fulltime employees, of course, they could see their calendars – we do so all the time to schedule meetings!

Worst case, they should at least be able to limit it to a small handful of candidates. For an agile company provider asking you to commit to them and sign a contract with, and yet they truly have no idea who will be inside your company to work with your people? That would scare the beejeezers out of most management. Works great for the vendor, doesn’t work great for you.

One executive, after talking with several agile consulting companies said, “They’re all just fishing from the same pool. When I ask for specific trainer names, I’m hearing the same ones.”

Question 3: Ask for “right of refusal” or “upon approval” of trainers and coaches in the contract, and ask them to “submit candidates for review” and approval.

When you review the candidates they submit (and involve some of your peers, stakeholders or those who will be served by these trainers or coaches), I would ignore their resume and go right to their LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn is public and transparent, so it’s much harder to shape the truth. Far too often I see someone’s LinkedIn profile show them going from an unrelated role like “Librarian” to suddenly becoming an “Agile Coach.” Look for logical progression in roles that advance up to Agile Coach or Trainer.

The Scrum Alliance won’t progress members to Certified Team Coach (CTC) unless they have two years of Scrum Master experience. In training, students ask us all the time for real stories from the trenches. Stories are the most impactful, convincing and trust-building means of introducing change, new ideas and building support and buy-in. But how could we tell those stories if we hadn’t spent time in those ScrumMaster, Product Owner, or coach roles (as well as developer, manager, project manager roles)?

Since management often doesn’t have a deep understanding of what coaching is, and typically not trained in agile, it’s hard for them to evaluate a candidate. An objective criterion of peer-reviewed and vetted experience, such as the CTC makes it easier to trust an independent organization. Also, the CTC is the only Scrum and Agile coach certification that requires, and vets, experience. Other certifications only suggest that one “should” have the experience, and they don’t review or vet the candidate.


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