Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Getting A Foot In The Door

A reader asks the following question:

I'd like to become an independent agile consultant, having seen the immense amounts of money available for very little effort. The trouble is that there seems to be a lot of other people with the same idea? How do I go about getting my first contract? Do I present at conferences so that people might think that I'm an expert or do I try to claim expertise in some field that I know nothing about, but no-one else claims expertise in? Will I stand more chance of work if I present a paper on a subject I know nothing about? Can you advise any suitable conferences to attend?

This is a very good question. How does one get start with being an Agile coach? How do you get a foot in the door of the organisation? What does it mean to get a foot in the door? Is it good for the organisation, like getting a free gift in a box of cornflakes? Or is it bad, like getting a Stingray barb in the chest? Here are some key tips for starting out:
  • The Humble Gaijin - you must not start preaching the word before inducting yourself into the world of Agile. In much the way that there are six degrees of separation between most people and, on average, two degrees between most actors and Kevin Bacon, so the Agile world has a similar ranking. If you have paired with Ward Cunningham, then you have a ranking of 1. If you have paired with someone who has paired with WC, then you have a ranking of 2, and if you have been in a film with Kevin Bacon, then you're probably not that interested in IT.
  • Conference attendance - once you have befriended someone in the Agile community, you need to invest in a conference - you need to get them to agree to let you co-present something, or at least help them with the presentation - perhaps you can hang the wallpaper that they're going to use for their next paper-and-strings exercise to demonstrate how to turn your well-educated team into a bunch of childish Blue Peter viewers.
  • Find a disciple - while at such a conference you have to network like hell. You need to find someone who is vaguely interested in Agile and you have to ensure that they know very little about it. Then you can begin the process of apparent reasonableness which suggests to them that the rewards of Agile can be brought to their company in such a way that their management will hear what they want to hear and perhaps promote this poor trusting fool in the process.
  • Blog like crazy - this blog is a good example. The more apparent sense you've written, the more people will apparently believe you. You can refer people to your website and even justify spending consultancy time updating the site "because it's for the benefit of the company". The blog will give you a mystique - especially if you register it with various off-blog communities, like or
  • Presenting a paper - a paper would be bad, but an online white-paper stating the flaming obvious and then relating it to some obscure Japanese martial art (incorrectly) would be useful.
Essentially, this business is about reputation. If you can find someone less famous than you, then they will assume that you have more reputation than you have - they can be the Jenna Elfman to your Kevin Bacon and you're in business. It doesn't matter that there are loads of clones of Agile-consultancy out there. The process is adaptive and while there remain software companies who think that their perfectly sensible processes can be improved on (and they always will) then there are bound to be suckers for your particular brand of self-indulgent common-non-sense. Remember the words of P.T.Barnum.

Oh, and conferences are always a good idea, my advice is XPDay, which is neither a day, nor about XP.


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