The Hammer and the Pickle

I’m not sure everyone is aware of some of the greats who have come before us but there have been many in our software development space. One of them is Gerald Weinberg.

When I think of Jerry, I think of the phrase—standing on the shoulders of giants. His writing has had a profound impact on me and many others in our software and agile communities. If you haven’t heard of him, I’d encourage you to become more familiar with his timeless advice and wisdom. I believe I’ve heard him say he’d written ~100 books, so there’s a lot of wisdom available. Sadly, Jerry passed away in 2018.

A bit of Weinberg

I want to amplify two of Jerry’s Secrets of Consulting principles in this post:

First, there is—

The Law of the Hammer: “the child who receives a hammer for Christmas will discover that everything needs pounding.” 

And second, there is—

Prescott’s Pickle Principle: “Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered.”

I want to bring both of these principles into the world of Agile Coaching. I know, I know what could hammers and pickles have to do with coaching? Well, let’s see…


The Hammer

A current pet peeve of mine is that we (the agile coaching community) are overly emphasizing the coaching stance (professional coaching) when we’re training and certifying agile coaches. I know that the Scrum Alliance is doing this and I explored my concerns in this article. To the best of my knowledge, they have yet to rebalance their focus.

When you review the possible stances that an agile coach can and should be adept at adopting you can clearly see this as an example of Jerry’s—The Law of the Hammer. And to that end, I continue to encourage agile coaches to find more tools/stances for their toolbelts. That is if they want to be a more balanced, situational, and effective coach.

The Pickle

I’ve lightly discussed the phenomena before. And received some sharp rebuttals when it came to agile coaching. That is, external and internal coaches staying around in their client contexts so long that they become pickled by the culture.

A part of the pickling is that the coach loses self-awareness that they’ve become pickled. So, when confronted with the idea, there’s usually quite a bit of defensiveness. This is where having a coach/mentor can help with detecting any “pickling” and discussing options for how to handle it.

Bonus: here’s a WONDERFUL article by Brittany Moore that explores pickling in more detail.


Wrapping Up

Jerry, even though I never got the chance to personally know you, I genuinely miss you. I’m also incredibly grateful that you shared your wisdom with us in so many avenues.

I wrote this piece with two purposes in mind. First, to acknowledge Jerry and his contributions. And second, to challenge any and all agile coaches reading it to reflect on your state of hammered-ness and pickled-ness as a self-awareness experiment.

My spider-sense tells me there are quite a few of each in the world, but that’s really for you to assess…

Now I have to get back to my gherkin friends for a round of nailing.

Stay agile my friends,


About the Author

Bob Galen is an agile practitioner, trainer & coach based in Cary, NC. In this role, he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. He is a Principal Agile Coach at Vaco Agile, a leading business agility transformation company. He is also President and Head Coach at RGCG a boutique agile coaching firm. Bob regularly speaks at international conferences and professional groups on topics related to software development, project management, software testing, and team leadership.


This is a syndicated blog post as part of our Deep Dive Week – Agile Edition. Thank you to Bob for contributing this agile blog from

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