I recently read a blog in which the role title of Agile coach was ridiculed because it was just ‘rebadging of the Scrum Master role’. I couldn’t disagree more.
At Enfuse we have both the Scrum Master and Agile Coach roles. For us, the Scrum Master must be able to coach their team in how to be more Agile. That’s a given. But we don’t expect normal Scrum Masters to be experts in organisation transformation. That’s where the Agile Coach comes in.
An Agile Coach is typically a more senior role for when an organisation needs someone to coach them on how to get the right infrastructure, processes, tools and people in place to be Agile overall, not just for a specific product or project. The Agile Coach doesn’t need to run stand-ups, support a product owner or coach individual team members (although they can do all of these things). The Agile Coach needs to look at the overall organisation structure and culture, assess the value stream for getting things done and coach the organisation’s management on how and what they can do to further embrace Agile.
Here’s a real example. We recently kicked off an Agile transformation project for a client. It was a small team at first – an Agile Coach, a Scrum Master and a Product Analyst (to support the client’s Product Owner). The Scrum Master and Product Analyst were tasked with getting a pilot ‘Agile project’ off the ground and successful in terms of its use of Agile. Meanwhile, the Agile Coach provided support to the team but was primarily focused on looking at the wider organisation and potential use of Agile. They started pulling together a centre of excellence to hone Agile skills and experience in the organisation, and to establish standard approaches and templates which would work in the organisation. The Agile Coach provided training and guidance to the senior management on what Agile is and how it might be applied. They looked at upcoming projects and identified where Agile could be more effective that the defacto waterfall approach being used, and even challenged where a more product centric approach could be taken across a number of projects. In short, the Coach was doing a transformative role, whilst the Scrum Master was responsible for doing Agile on the ground.
Now clearly there are overlaps between Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Scrum Masters need to remove impediments to help the team perform, and quite often those impediments can be deep rooted in how the organisation is setup. So yes, the Scrum Master might get involved in doing some level of transformation, but it is normally at the tactical level to help their team get on with the job. The Scrum Master isn’t looking much beyond that. They’re not really looking at the enterprise picture – they are looking at their product or project and how to help it to be more successful.
One last point – never hire an Agile Coach who hasn’t been a Scrum Master. The Agile Coach is someone who has experienced Agile at the coal face. That is key.