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Scrum Master vs. Agile Coach: same in theory, what about practice?

More thoughts on the definition of the Agile Coach role

I previously wrote a post where I tried to sort out the Scrum Master and the Agile Coach roles. In this post I ended up comparing the Agile Coach role to the Scrum Master role, to the Enterprise Coach and to the Software Craftsman:

So, you don’t want to become an Agile Coach… How come?

What is this ‘Agile Coach’ role anyway???

My conclusion was that I wasn’t really sure what the Agile Coach role is in the end.

In theory…

Luckily I got insightful comments from the community!

The comments cited the book Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins.

I recently read Lyssa Adkins fantastic book — Coaching Agile Teams. One of the biggest realisations from it is that a scrum master and agile coach can be interchangeable terms for the same role.

Really, many thanks for this answer. I love this answer.

Yet, it’s only about theory. Now let’s have a look at what happens in practice

According to the marketplace…

While we made it clear that Scrum Master and Agile Coach are two names for the same thing, the market place makes clear differences between the two roles.

Scrum Masters are cheaper than Agile Coaches

Or, put it another way, companies are less willing to pay big money for Scrum Masters than they are for Agile Coaches.

The Agile Coach is to the Scrum Master what is the Architect to the Developer

This is the next stage in their career. Obviously this is a very basic point of view but shared by many companies.

Scrum Masters are usually restricted to their team while Agile Coaches are expected to take care of the company

On one hand this is completely overlooking that Scrum Masters are real change agents and are expected to provide service to the organisation as a whole. While this is very logical once the team is running smoothly, most companies are pretty much forbidding Scrum Masters to touch anything outside their team.

On the other hand it doesn’t make sense to cut Agile Coaches from the trenches as one of the best transformation tool is to leverage on successful teams into larger scale organisational changes. Yet that’s what a lot of Agile Coaches are asked for: just take care of the organisation as a whole.

Agile Coaches assignments are usually much shorter than Scrum Master’s

Directly linked to the previous point, Scrum Master are usually associated to teams and thus their assignments are longer since teams are long-lived.

This can be opposed to Agile Coaches assignments which are often short ones. Sometimes it is just about doing an audit or a training. Other times it is about fixing a specific issue in a team or in the company and there, again, it is a short term assignment.

Which behaviors are actually witnessed…

So far I mentioned factual-ish observations about the market place.

I’d like to focus more on how Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches think and notice how their behaviors differ.

This is what I have witnessed :

Most Agile Coaches helps team to reach a state of “just enough”

Once there, the Agile Coach consider his job done and starts looking for other challenges.

Most Scrum Masters are looking for excellence

There is always room for improvement in teams.

Getting the team to deliver high-quality increments at a predictable pace is just a step.

Focus on delivered value, too!

Change the mindset from feature factories to product development…

And so on.

Reluctance from moving from one role to the other

As we can see, companies are putting real constraints on the two roles. In practice and in most companies, being a Scrum Master and being an Agile Coach are not the same job.

As a proof, I know several Scrum Masters who simply don’t want to become Agile Coaches. While they want and feel able to help with the organisation as a whole, they don’t want to lose their connection to the teams, to the real doers.

They also prefer the longer assignments which often allow to bring durable changes at the mindset level — which takes time.

However, as obvious as it may seem, they would be happy to have their seniority and experience rewarded with a higher pay without having to stop being a Scrum Master… So what are they to do?

So, are Scrum Master and Agile Coach the same job?

I fully agree that it should

Yet I find it hard to say it is the case given the demands of the market place but also given how differently Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches think and behave.

What do you think? Is it just a rhetorical question?

Or is it the sign that something is rotten in our space?

Should we do something about it, then?

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