When did you realise that you had transitioned from scrum master to agile coach?
I will be honest, I am not sure I have admitted that to myself just yet despite being an agile coach for over a decade.
I have consistently played both roles within team environments.
It generally creates a storm in social media when you are asked the difference between a scrum master and an agile coach, but there certainly are differences between an experienced Agile coach and a deeply experienced scrum master.
The difference between a scrum master and agile coach.
A scrum master generally operates in the domain of scrum. They perform a role, as defined by the scrum guide, and whilst they facilitate, coach, teach and mentor in the same way that an Agile coach does, it is generally limited to scrum rather than a host of agile frameworks and approaches.
An agile coach isn’t necessarily interested in scrum.
They may well deploy scrum as a great solution to a specific environment but are just as likely to introduce LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), Extreme Programming, Kanban or any other framework as an opportunity to help the team achieve their goals and objectives.
A great scrum master will work across the organisation, including people outside of the scrum team, to help remove impediments and bring about change that helps the team progress.
An agile coach is more likely to be doing that, more frequently, and at a far more senior level – working with leadership teams and executives – than a traditional scrum master so there are a host of different skills and expertise necessary to thrive in the role as an agile coach.
My personal experience as an Agile coach.
I have worked, and continue to work, as a scrum master helping a single team adopt scrum, follow the rules and guidelines of scrum, and embed the scrum values, agile values, and principles into their way of thinking.
I have also worked across multiple teams, with multiple approaches, to help the organization achieve their goal of increased business agility. Some of those teams were scrum-oriented whilst others adopted a unique, custom-designed approach to achieving agility.
It is probably a decade ago where I was first called an Agile coach, by others within the organisation and agile community, and that engagement consisted of three (3) separate teams adopting agile in different ways.
One team was doing Kanban, another team was making things up as they went along, and the third team were adopting scrum. All three (3) were really, really good teams.
My role was not to enforce scrum. Instead, I was committed to helping the team experiment, adopt practices that helped them improve with each iteration, and facilitate events and workshops that helped the team evaluate their performance and decide on which elements could improve.
In essence, help them own and improve their process.
Each team were integrated with the other teams, which isn’t ideal given their different approaches and style of working, but nonetheless I was responsible for helping to make information sharing and communication available across teams.
It fell to me to help the teams organize and co-ordinate their efforts as well as collaborate effectively with other teams – both agile and non-agile teams – across the organization.
I was an agile coach in that engagement because I wasn’t a scrum master.
That is possibly the easiest way to define an agile coach versus a scrum master. If you aren’t doing scrum and you aren’t acting as a scrum master, you are more than likely an agile coach.
Over a decade of agile coaching experience.
So, to answer the question, I would say that I transitioned from scrum master to agile coach a little over a decade ago. I started to work with multiple teams, leadership teams and executive teams rather than at the single team level and I played a significant role in helping the organization tailor their policies and programmes to help achieve greater business agility.
Some of those programmes and policy changes impacted hundreds of thousands of people around the world, which was super rewarding for me as an agile coach and agile practitioner.
I found that changing my designation from scrum master to agile coach also helped me achieve a great deal more within the organization, outside of the team I worked with.
As a scrum master, people perceived me to be limited to the role of a scrum master and focused exclusively on helping the team adopt scrum. As an agile coach, people perceived me to be a specialist in agile and sought my help, insights, and recommendations on a myriad of problems and opportunities that have nothing to do with scrum.
So, whichever route you choose to go, be that a scrum master or agile coach, you are still largely concerned with how to help create an environment where others can excel. You are still committed to helping teams achieve agility and helping organizations achieve business agility.
You just go about it in slightly different ways and are perceived differently by other people within team environments and throughout the organization.
Become An Agile Coach
If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.
For more information on John McFadyen, visit https://www.johnmcfadyen.com or connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.
If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.
If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.
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