A Medium follower asked me a few questions recently:
What’s the difference between a Scrum Master and agile coach? How can they both be involved in Scrum? Why is it seen as a natural ‘progression’ to move from Scrum Master to agile coach?
These are popular questions, and I’ve run across many–maybe too many, in fact–who have answered them in varying ways. Maybe I should add my answers to the pile. After all, I often describe myself as “a confused soul who can’t decide whether he’s an agile coach or a Scrum Master.” Before I begin, my philosophy today is a simple one:
The name of a thing is not the thing. Forget titles. Forget hierarchy. Focus instead on those around us and the value we create for those we serve.
So What’s the Difference?
It depends on who you ask. For me, the better question is why the difference? Why is it necessary? What value does the distinction add for those around us? The conclusions that I’ve arrived at are many. Here’s a few:
- We humans crave validation. We want to know that the work we’re doing leads to some positive outcome for ourselves. Constructing hierarchy from Scrum Master to agile coach is one way of achieving this.
- “Scrum Master” assumes all we know is Scrum. However, any good Scrum Master borrows techniques from wherever s/he can find it: lean, XP, biology, systems thinking, Cynefin, scaled approaches to name a few. In this way, I suppose, rebranding ourselves as an agile coach makes it clear to others we know more than just Scrum.
- Agile coach sounds more authoritative than Scrum Master. For consultants, this could be especially important. After all, we should be appropriately compensated for the value we provide our employer, right? And somewhere along the way, organizations began putting greater intrinsic value in those with the title of agile coach. Of course, that leads us to an interesting question, and one that I don’t have the answer to:
What confluence of events occurred that led to agile coach outranking Scrum Master?
I feel it couldn’t be as inane as how one title sounded next to the other. Or was it?
How Can They Both Be Involved in Scrum?
Frankly, however makes sense. However works for the team. Whatever benefits those involved. Again, the name of a thing is not the thing. Just by claiming to be an agile coach doesn’t make it so, and it certainly doesn’t bestow us with some mystical talents by placing “agile coach” on our business cards. So forget titles; all those are simply human constructs anyway. Learn about what works from those in our ever helpful community, try it, tweak it, and make it work for you.
But You Didn’t Answer the Question.
I guess you’re right. So what’s the difference between Scrum Master and agile coach? Let’s define Scrum Master since that’s straight forward. From the Scrum Guide:
The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.
It goes on to explain more, and I’ll leave it to you to read on. I’ve also tried putting myself in the shoes of my 92 year old grandmother, explaining what a Scrum Master does. You can find that here.
So how about agile coach? How is that defined? Hell if I know. There’s no standard definition. Some claim to be one long before I think they should. Others–like myself–still feel uncomfortable calling themselves an agile coach. I suppose the best I could do is offer what seems like a sarcastic answer:
One who embodies and coaches others in embracing an agile mindset.