Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches

2023 03 01 head

Scrum is the most popular agile approach used to develop digital products.

The Scrum master role is well-documented in the Scrum. There are probably more than one million of certified Scrum masters in the world.

To differentiate themselves from the numerous Scrum masters, consultants call themselves agile coaches.

Quite a fancy title.

Does a difference exist between a Scrum master and an agile coach?

A Scrum master is a type of Agile coach. A Scrum master works to implement Agile on a team level, while the Agile coach works on the Agile transition of the whole company.

— Vyras Butkus

I suggest that you study again the Scrum when reading the above quote. Here the guide statement how a Scrum master should support her organization.

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption.

  • Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization.

  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact an empirical approach for complex work.

  • Removing barriers between stakeholders and Scrum Teams.

Agile Coaches Profiles

Here are some profiles of agile coaches. If you read the Scrum you understand these profiles are facets of the Scrum master role.

A Scrum master is always an agile coach [1, 2].

2023 03 01 agile fluency model

Team Coach

We have experienced that despite the remark made by my manager, the teams will do their things, teams still need help to grow their agile maturity and business impact.

Therefore, we distinguish the role of the Team coach. The team coach works close with the team citee:[clean-code,clean-coder], PO [3] and the Scrum master [4, 2]. The team coach helps the different teams to identify improvements. He supports the scrum masters in their ambition to help the teams forward [5].

She is the advisor to empower the team to reach focusing fluency in the agile fluency model.

I expect a professional Scrum master to possess the above capabilities. Teaching, coaching, and mentoring the Scrum team to grasp agility is one of her main responsibilities. Scrum masters in an organization shall exchange ideas and tips through a community of practice.

Delivery Coach

The delivery coach has a strong focus on optimizing the flow of the development process. She is the advisor to empower the team to reach delivering fluency in the agile fluency model.

In order to increase the delivered business value, the delivery coach identifies bottlenecks, replaces local optimizations for more generic solutions. She builds quality into the software development lifecycle.

She sits with the team to help them automate deployments and testing and to embrace development practices like BDD and TDD.

The delivery coach will also explain the importance of this to the leadership teams, so they support the teams towards their technical excellence.

I expect a technical Scrum master to possess the above capabilities. If not, he must hire a technical delivery coach to support his Scrum team. Most organizations cannot afford multiple coaches for one team.

Agile Counselor

The role of leadership is often seen as the biggest challenge in having a successful agile transformation. A leader sets the tone for the entire organization [6, 7, 8, 9].

Leaders should communicate what agility means for their organization and be an example by adopting agile values and practices.

The agile counselor does not focus that much on the development process as the delivery coach but aims to empower leadership. She has an eye for the health of the teams and will address bad smell with the leadership team. The counselor coaches the leaders on their agile mindset [10, 11, 12].

She points out, for example, when old-school thinking and behavior hurt on the performance and delivery.

These three profiles bear similarities with Adkin’s areas of mastery. Both distinguish between technical and transformational support.

The delivery coach has some commonalities with technical mastery, but rather than having a team focus, she will also act on leadership level to create awareness and commitment for technical excellence. While doing this, she plays a crucial part in the Agile transformation.

The agile counselor works with the leadership team, which requires business mastery as well as transformational skills.

A team coach preferably supports the team by offering technical support and coach on the process and Agile mindset. Being part of the coaches’ team, she will actively participate in the transformation as well.

Shall a Coach Be Savvy in Technology?

It certainly helps to understand the technology your teams are using. I assume it is quite challenging to be a soccer coach if you have no clue what soccer is and how it is played.

Realize that smaller companies can seldom afford an agile coach and also a technology coach for one team. So it is really helpful to at least be able to discuss technical aspects with your coachees.

So yes, a Scrum master shall understand the domain and the technology her team needs to create an awesome product. She does not need to be an expert, but certainly she should be savvy.

Do not believe what I wrote on this blog.

Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed. Lean thinking reduces waste and focuses on the essentials.

The Scrum pillars are transparency, inspection and adaptation.

Please postulate hypotheses, create experiments, and find out what is working for your product development teams and your organization.

I wish you happy and successful learning.

References

[1] J. Shore and S. Warden, Art of Agile Development, Second. O’Reilly Media, Incorporated, 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09JL2JW4V

[2] S. Ockerman and S. Reindl, Mastering Professional Scrum. Addison Wesley, 2019 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XTLNPTC

[3] D. McGreal and R. Jocham, The Professional Product Owner. Addison-Wesley Professional [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D5ZPJBY

[4] Z. Sochova, The Great Scrum Master. Addison Wesley, 2016 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/013465711X

[5] E. Derby, D. Larsen, and K. Schwaber, Agile Retrospectives. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2006 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0977616649

[6] M. Balle, R. Priolo, and D. T. Jones, Lead with Lean. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075GTQHFX

[7] M. Ballé, F. Ballé, and J. Liker, The Lean Manager. Len Publishing, 2009 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1934109258

[8] M. Ballé and F. Ballé, Lead with Respect. Len Publishing, 2014 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1934109479

[9] F. Ballé and M. Ballé, The Gold Mine. Lean Enterprises Inst Inc, 2005 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0974322563

[10] M. Poppendieck and T. Poppendieck, Lean Software Development. Pearson Education, Limited [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HEL13HW

[11] M. Poppendieck and T. Poppendieck, The Lean Mindset. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2013 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0321896904

[12] M. Poppendieck and T. Poppendieck, Implementing Lean Software Development. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006 [Online]. Available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0321437381