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Often, you can read articles about the difference between a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach.

Sometimes, I enjoy participating in this conversations, I even been invited to a Meetup about the Agile Coach role, because of my position on the role regarding the Scrum Master.

So, if roles are so different, are they both necessary for your teams? For your company?

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Scrum Master vs Agile Coach

As I have already expressed in previous articles, I think a Scrum Master is an Agile Coach who has, in addition, to make the team to learn Scrum (but not only that).

In the difference between the two roles often mentioned, there is that the Scrum Master has to focus on the team, and only the team, whilst the coach is closer to top-management and to organization’s vision.

So, what about the Scrum Master for the organization? What about higher instances of it?

First, one can notice that the description of the role of Scrum Master does not mention that it should be restricted to the team:

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

EVERYONE. Not “by helping the team” but “by helping everyone”.

And it’s even more clear after:

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.

So, I think that saying that the Scrum Master role is restricted to the team, is a mistake and a lack of knowledge.

The Scrum Guide even has an entire paragraph about “Scrum Master Service to the Organization”.

➡ For the rest of this article, I will use the term Scrum Master (and its definition) to designate “this agilist person who is in a self-organized team”, even if the team does not use Scrum or is not a technical team.

Scrum Master Service to the Organization

This part of the guide has an interesting point concerning agility at scale of an organization and the role for its transformation , often attributed only to the agile coach:

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including: Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

See? You don’t need a complicated agile at scale framework that cost 32 millions dollars or to make all your managers certified, you have a solution here: To allow Scrum Masters (and not only them) to collaborate to help the organization to evolve.

Decentralize your agile coaching

Isn’t putting an agile coach to “control” the agility, like putting a technical architect to design the whole application architecture that will be pushed to teams, in place of let teams to self-organize in order to find the best solution regarding the context (which have been explained before)?

Do you have such a lack of trust in your teams to take good decisions that you think you have to put someone to control them?

Let me remind you of one of the agile manifesto principle: “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams”.

Why would it not be valid about organization transformation?

One could tell me (and certainly will) that it is important to have this role of coach for, as technical architect, make a decision in case of disagreement between Scrum Masters about a transversal decision.

But… the time you think you save by stopping the discussion, you will loose it into the decision’s application that will be enforced to non-conviced people. There is other ways to avoid endless discussions, we’ll talk one day about decision systems.

So, what should I do with my agile coach? Throw it away?

Of course no. Maybe you should stop differenciate it from a Scrum Master. Both roles are agilists for their team, and beyond.

Scrum Master is a role that a coach will endorse to support a framework, to equip themselves with tools. A good Scrum Master is therefore an Agile Coach with additional skills.

I wanted to troll a bit, I could say that a Scrum Master should be more paid than an agile coach, so why it’s the opposite today in France (at least)?

Could it be because 99% of “Scrum Masters” (notice the quotes) — usually from big consulting companies — are, in fact, “Scrum-Clock-Master“? 😱😱

Agile Coach (or “the agilist”) of the top-management team has no difference with “agilists” from other teams — who are, often, Scrum Masters.