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Finally, Agile Coach might be a different trade than Scrum Master

I keep changing my mind about this.

I know this topic has been treated several times over already. (see links in the end of the article)

However I recently deep-dived into the Agile Coaching business, as a freelance to make it even more whole, and I found out that there are more to it than I initially thought…

Sure, as explained in previous articles, Agile Coach and Scrum Master are the same people, with the obvious exception that a Scrum Master is limited — by definition — to Scrum. (link at the end of the article)

Yet, that does not mean that it is the same job. Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters aren’t asked to do the same things, or not in the same proportion.

Not the same focus

For instance, I would expect from a good Scrum Master to fully master agile practices, and to be able to articulate them to the team and to stakeholders, with a strong focus on action. Things like…

  • Split User Stories
  • Run a Planning Poker session
  • Agile estimating and planning
  • Facilitate a team Retrospective
  • Build team spirit

This is all good and well. It is probably a good thing that an experienced Agile Coach masters all these too, yet the Agile Coach will probably spend more time on things like…

  • Create psychological safety
  • Coach stakeholders and managers on their new agile role
  • Facilitate a large-scale Retrospective
  • Bridge the gap between various departments in the company, including non-IT ones

The pattern is obvious: Agile Coaches tend to be solicited for higher-level jobs than Scrum Masters. Ironically, it also means they spend more time on more mundane stuff, like having people giving constructive feedback instead of yelling at each other.

In the corporate world, to stop bullying is actually quite hard.

Easier or harder?

Am I saying that Agile Coaches are any better than Scrum Masters? Nope. (even though the market is paying much more for Agile Coach — I let you decide on what that means)

Is the Scrum Master job easier, then? Well, it depends. If you come from an engineering background, then probably yes. You might find both easier and more rewarding to focus on practices and to develop deep relationships with a core group of people, while being an Agile Coach might be shooting you out of your comfort zone again and again.

Being an Agile Coach is actually very tough. Most rewards are long-term, like executive coaching or culture change at the company level. If you are a former Scrum Master, you might be nostalgic of the times where something like reaching the Sprint goal was such a joy. I’m saying it like reaching the Sprint goal was a simple, easy thing that is to be dismissed. It was not. It was a big achievement for the team. It is just not on the same timescale than most Agile Coaching stuff.

Scrum Master/team timescale is typically days/weeks while Agile Coach/company timescale is typically months/years.

And it gets even worse: a Scrum Master assignment is typically tied to a team, which is usually long-term, while an Agile Coach assignment is often very short, dedicated to a specific need. In other words, as a Scrum Master you get to be rewarded quickly and often while as an Agile Coach you might never see the results of your work. As I already mentioned: being an Agile Coach can be very tough.

But, hey, that’s part of the deal, right?

What do you think?

What’s your experience as a Scrum Master or as an Agile Coach?

Please share in the comments below! 👇

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