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The Difference Between Agile Coach and Scrum Master


Difference between agile coach and scrum master

Agile started as a new practice and a new way of approaching project management in the early 2000s. And twenty years later, it has become the de facto way of working for many teams and organizations. With the adoption of Agile, came new positions that helped streamline the Way Of Working. Two such major roles are – Agile Coach and Scrum Master. Here we will clarify a common question:  What is the difference between Agile Coach and Scrum Master? Let’s find out by first looking into the evolution of Agile over the years.

Agility remains a concept and will remain so through its’ eternity, while many use this word as a practice, a tool, or a methodology and as per their convenience. 

One other word which got synonymous with Agility is “Scrum Master”. Agile and Scrum practice became so popular that many started using them interchangeably. Also, many thought that both mean the same. Agile got popular with Scrum Master or vice-versa. The founders of Agile started advocating Scrum practice which is one of the easiest to adopt. In fact, many still think that to inculcate Agility in your teams and organizations, you must need a Scrum Master. 

Not necessarily. 

Agility has moved on, and now, there are numerous Agile practices and many different roles that Agility requires so that the teams and organizations can become truly Agile. Moreover, the reason for so many practices in Agile is that you require a different method or practice or option as per your different situation. One size or one practice may not fit all. 

Why The Discussion On The Difference Between Agile Coach And Scrum Master?

With the advent of so many practices, many thought leaders in the Agile space are now prophesizing that an Agile Coach is what the teams and organizations would need rather than a Scrum Master. 

In fact, PMI acquired Disciplined Agile in 2019 with the same belief and a lot of research backing that Agile Coach is what the teams and organizations need in this VUCA world. Disciplined Agile is a refreshing toolkit that leverages the many Agile practices to give the best solution as per the context. The Disciplined Agile toolkit is designed to make you a Coach and PMI offers a certification called Disciplined Agile Coach Certification. 

But do you really need an Agile Coach, or just a Scrum Master is enough to bring about Agility for your team and your organization? 

And that’s a big question that everyone is asking – What is an Agile Coach? Is there any difference between Agile Coach V/s Scrum Master? Or is it just a marketing gimmick to promote different terminologies? 

Let’s figure out. 

What’s a Scrum Master? 

The Scrum Master role was designed to be part of a Scrum team. The Scrum Master can integrate the many other roles so that the team can focus on what they have to deliver. So, the Scrum Master became the “Servant Leader” who serves the Team, the Product Owner, and the organization and stakeholders to help the entire team achieve their planned iterations. 

The Scrum Master is primarily an INSIDER role in a team: a Facilitator, a Servant Leader. 

The Scrum Master responsibilities will include but not be limited to: 

  • Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate – Communicate the vision to the team and product owner and ensure the goal is understood.
  • Impediment solving that is, anticipating, identifying, tracking, and removing any impediments that the Scrum team faces or might face. 
  • Servant Leader – Serve the team, ensure the team has its focus on doing the job, and give the necessary ingredients – water and fuel.
  • Manage and drive the Agile process that is, the scope and timeline of the entire project.

However, the Agile Coach, in a nutshell, is way different. 

What is an Agile Coach? 

The Agile Coach is primarily an OUTSIDER to the team. 

The focus of Agile is to help the teams improve the WoW – Way of Working. The Agile Coach is a PROBLEM SOLVER. 

The scope of the Agile Coach is on the team, the interdependent teams, and can go even at the Organizational level. 

The Agile Coach is a Superset of all Agile Scrum Masters, Team Leads, or any other roles. They carry extensive skills along with some great experience in solving problems within the teams, across the teams, and across the organizations. So typically, Agile Coaches work with Scrum Masters to help them improve their way of working and solve problems in their teams to deliver better effective outcomes. 

Some of the top responsibilities of an Agile Coach are: 

  1. Make the teams self-organizing, self-learning and self-improving 
  2. Use different coaching techniques and tools to create improvement backlogs for the teams and help them improve with the use of different toolkits and practices 
  3. Work with the leadership and management team to set proper expectations and a proper roadmap 
  4. Internalizing the Agile mindset 
  5. Introducing Change in a Strategic Manner 
  6. Working with other enterprise coaches and Leadership for Agile Transformation 
  7. Training teams to exploit Agile tools and strategies in the correct way
  8. Measuring the impact of the improvements identified and implemented 
  9. Providing support to remove any obstacles in the path of the agile transformation as well as the development process

The Agile Coach is a multi-skilled professional with years of experience behind him/her. The Adkins Coaching Competency model nicely elaborates the Agile Coach skills. 

The diagram below is a good representative of the Adkins Coaching Competency Model. 

Scrum Masters will be needed, but what will be badly needed are Agile Coaches. Agile Coaches will be needed now more than ever, as many organizations are embarking on the journey of Agile transformation. 

I have tried to put the differences between these 2 roles of Agile Coach and Scrum Master in a tabular manner. Have a look: 

What is the need of the hour – An Agile Coach or A Scrum Master?

The Scrum Master is a passive role. But what many organizations today need is a wholesome coach who can take the organizations on the path of Transformation and Agility – the need of the hour and absolutely for future survival. As per PMI’s recent survey, there is a high scarcity of Agile Coaches. Moreover, many organizations rely on Scrum Masters, who are not equipped to bring organizational Agility. These Scrum Masters need to be trained, coached, and upgraded to the Agile Coach, which in itself is a journey. 

The future organizations have no way but to embrace Agility and that too, in a quicker way. Therefore, a sudden surge of demand for Agile Coaches can be seen for the next 3 years. 

There are many practices, frameworks, and toolkits that exist to bring in organizational agility and make you a coach rather than a scrum master. It is time for organizations to take the plunge for Agile coaches if the goal is Agility. 

Prothoughts offers all Disciplined Agile Certifications including Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC). It is the only one in Asia, Middle East, and Africa to provide a DAC Certification course. Check out the details here. 

Happy to hear your comments on Agile Coach V/s Scrum Master and your experience in both these roles. 

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