Why Agile Jobs Are Vanishing, and What to Do About It

To a leader in 2008, Agile felt like a way out of a crisis. Today, focusing on Agile feels like a distraction from a crisis. There will come a time, though, when the deeper Agile ideas once again can be a differentiator.

Big companies are eliminating roles like Agile Coach and ScrumMaster. In this episode, we look at why that might be happening, what to do if you’ve fallen victim to the layoffs, and why there’s still hope for the future.

If you’re a business leader who wants to go deeper with agile ideas in your company, or like many of our current clients, wants to explore what’s next in a people-centric, high performing organization, please reach out. And if you’ve got job openings, let us know so we can share them with our network of people ready to make a difference.

Episode transcription

Peter Green

I taught a small Certified Scrum Master class this week. I first took a certified Scrum Master class from Ken Schwaber in 2005, almost 20 years ago and it was transformational for me and for my team. And I’ve been teaching my own version of that class for over 15 years now, and for most of that time, I would regularly have 16 people in a smaller class and more than 30 in a big class. But over the past two years, registrations have slowly declined. And this week was the smallest class I’ve ever taught for a CSM.

Now, this isn’t some “woe is me” situation. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the right skills, experience, and opportunity to effectively teach Scrum Masters how to help their team and their company for a long time. It was definitely a blessing economically and it was fulfilling work, since the Scrum Master job is one of the first that seemed to directly tap into a human-centric focus on team building as a full-time job.

Those efforts made a big impact for Adobe, where I was working at the time. I trained hundreds of people in Scrum, which laid the groundwork for a business model transformation that, over the next several years, took the company from 6 million to 26 million customers, increased revenue by 575%, and grew the company’s market cap from $13 Billion to $269 Billion. I’ve been able to help dozens of other organizations, from small startups that were later acquired, to helping jump start innovation in market leading brands that had begun to stall.

Richard Lawrence

Yeah, and I’ve seen—and continue to see—some real organizational transformations. Like actual cross-functional teams collaborating to provide lots of value to customers. Product owners, product managers casting vision and getting teams working incrementally towards meaningful outcomes. Leaders focusing on clarity, capability, and systems rather than micromanaging. And I’ve seen a lot of Scrum Masters and coaches adding value in that context.


But, like all things, that season seems to be coming to an end. Every participant in that small class I taught this week came from a company where they had eliminated the job titles of Scrum Master and Agile Coach. And we hear the same thing from many of our long-term clients who have benefited from a deeply agile approach to teamwork and to the business in general. Other trainers and consultants who we talk to seemed to report the same thing.


So, in this episode, we’ll share why we think a lot of those jobs are going away, our advice for people who have had agile coach and Scrum Master jobs, and are thinking about what to do next, and why we still see some hope for the future.


Let’s start with why these jobs are vanishing. For those of us that have experienced the benefits of successful agile teams, it’s easy to think “Wait! don’t throw this stuff away!” We see a lot of this sort of uproar on social media. Is Agile really dead or dying?


Well, let’s zoom out and look at why agile was so successful for so long in the first place. The Agile movement in the early days brought a few major ideas to the software development and IT world that made things work better:

  • Work iteratively and incrementally
  • Review work and update plans frequently
  • Try to improve little by little during the work rather than just doing a big post-mortem at the end and ignoring the results
  • Work in more-or-less cross-functional teams
  • Treat people well and you’ll get good outcomes

In the early 2000s, those were pretty revolutionary ideas. And helping them stick in a particular organizational context required someone focused on the change and on the human parts of putting it into practice. Hence the importance of Scrum Masters and coaches.


As you shared that list, Richard, I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but the items went in order from what I would consider the most fully widely adopted to the least. Like, almost everyone in software and IT works iteratively and incrementally these days, most are reviewing work frequently, and many of them even updating their plans based on that review. And it seems like everyone is at least trying to improve little by little through retrospectives. By the time we get on that list to things like working in cross-functional teams, it’s a little more hit or miss. Most people know they should, but many organizations haven’t figured out how to do that reliably.

And when it comes to the idea that treating people well is not just the right thing to do ethically, but also a key contributor to an improved bottom line, this seems to have the lowest level of adoption. Looking at the last two years, we see big companies laying off thousands of people while raking in huge profits. We’ve seen a lack of trust and a lack of transparent communication drive mandatory back to the office policies. And as a result, we’ve seen employee engagement drop back down from its all-time high in January of 2020.


Right. So today, some form of those ideas have become pretty widely accepted as business as usual. Not as well as many of us would like, especially the items towards the end of my list, but probably as well as the current incentives and structures in most companies can tolerate. There are certainly outliers, and some of our best clients still have a focused emphasis on improving across that full spectrum of ideas and beyond. But large corporations seem to have decided they’ve basically gotten what they needed from the agile movement, and they don’t need roles dedicated to that anymore. The change agent roles now feel unnecessary to a lot of business leaders. Hence all the layoffs and the elimination of job titles like Agile Coach and Scrum Master

As interesting as our analysis of that trend might be, it’s not particularly actionable for many of our friends whose jobs have been eliminated. For our listeners in that category—and we’re thinking of a few in particular that we’ve known for a long time— we’ve been really sorry to hear about the layoffs. Those of you we know or have interacted with in person, just know that we’re here for you if you need anything from us, please feel free to reach out.

We also stay on the lookout for good agile related jobs on LinkedIn, and they’re still coming across our radar. We repost those when we see them, so check out our social feeds for that. And if we can connect any of you with people in our network, please let us know.

We know this is a tough time, but we’ve also observed how talented and resilient you all are. We’re confident something even better will come your way soon. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to recharge, refocus, and emerge from this even stronger!


As you look for what’s next, one piece of advice that I’ve found useful is to focus on what differentiates you, what sets you apart. It’s usually a combination of things. You may not be the best in the world at one thing, but the combination of being really good at a handful of things that layer together brings a unique combination of gifts and strengths to any potential role.

We’ve noticed that good Scrum Masters and Coaches developed capabilities in at least three areas: process, product, and people. And most of us tend to gravitate toward one of those three areas, which suggests some possibilities for your next opportunity.


Right. For the process people, the systems thinkers, the flow creators, we’ve noticed that when agile job titles are eliminated, they’re often replaced with new job titles that have pretty similar descriptions to the process-focused parts of the agile roles. The most common example of this that we’ve seen is a role called “delivery manager,” so that’s one thing to search for. Many of the coordination needs in organizations that are not operating in fully cross-functional teams are still in very high demand. So, while it might hurt our hearts just a little bit, there are still many openings for project and program managers, sometimes we see listings for TPMs or technical program managers. And one SAFe role that seems to persist in large organization is that of the RTE or the release train engineer.

For the product people, the vision casters, the strategic thinkers, the vertical slicers, all of the product related roles seem to be going strong, and some even getting stronger. Product Managers, Business Analysts, Product Ops, and Innovation or Growth leads are some terms to search out. Especially if you’re willing to jump into a more junior role, these can be fantastic and fun new opportunities to lead where you’ve coached before. It’s worth pointing out that in some organizations, Program Managers do the job we’d expect Product Managers to do, so don’t overlook that in your search.

And for the people people, the engagement maximizers, the EQ experts, the mentors and developers, the job that needs you most is people management. In our last episode we shared data that shows that 80% of a person’s experience at work is determined by their relationship with their direct manager. If you have any experience managing people, we urge you to consider finding a management role where you can make a big difference for your people. Of course, great people managers should have technical capabilities in the skill area their reports are trying to develop, which may be a constraint you’ll need to work around. But keep your eye out. The world needs better managers, and you are uniquely qualified to make a positive impact there.


In times like these it’s easy to get cynical and assume the only option is to take a step backwards into a role we thought we’d grown out of. The good news is that so many of the job descriptions of those roles have absorbed so much of the goodness of the agile movement. And, frankly, a lot of the agile jobs have picked up a lot of things that are not particularly agile. So, it’s worth looking at some of those options with fresh eyes to see how you could make a positive impact.

I’ve been a coach through some economic cycles now. And something’s different with this one. In 2008 and 2009, the Agile ideas were still new enough that hiring an Agile Coach felt like a way to make it through difficult economic times. Now that the basic Agile ideas have in some form made it into the mainstream of software development and IT, for leaders who feel like “Well, we’ve got what we’re gonna get from this Agile stuff,” I can see how a coach role doesn’t feel like a differentiator in this current economic downturn. It feels like an easy role to cut because it’s not obviously and directly connected to revenue.

That said, I think there’s still a big advantage for companies who really, deeply adopt human-centric, complexity-aware work systems. And I believe good coaches will be seen as valuable again when cash flows improve in the next few years.

To a leader in 2008, Agile felt like a way out of a crisis. Today, focusing on Agile feels like a distraction from a crisis to a lot of leaders. There will come a time, though, when the deeper Agile ideas once again can be a differentiator.


Ideas from the Agile movement had a big impact on how business was done. Like all movements, the parts that can be absorbed have been absorbed and are now considered business as usual. We dedicated agilists can protest that there’s still so much further to go, and that’s true, but we can’t force anyone to do anything. Who knows what the next big trend will be. Whatever it is, it will succeed only when it is helping businesses improve their bottom lines in some new and more effective way.

We founded The Humanizing Work company on the core belief that when you shape work to accommodate the core needs of people, your business performs better. If you’re a business leader who wants to go deeper with agile ideas in your company, or like many of our current clients, wants to explore what’s next in a people-centric, high performing organization, please reach out. And if you’ve got job openings, please let us know so we can share them with our network of people ready to make a difference.


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