Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

Over the years the roles associated with agile transformations has grown and changed. Fifteen years ago the only roles that existed were those that were associated with being within an Agile team – the Product Owner and Scrum Master. agilecoach

The Scrum Master role hasn’t really changed over this time – it has always been clearly in their remit that they are responsible for training, mentoring and coaching the team in Agile and for ensuring the Scrum process is understood and enacted. So how is it that about five years ago the role called ‘Agile Coach’ came about, and more importantly, what does it mean?

In Australia, partly the distinction was made initially not because it meant something different to a Scrum Master, but because a lot of organisations and transformationalists didn’t want to tie themselves solely to Scrum. This meant that a more general sounding name was needed and Agile Coach came about from that. Over time though, in my personal opinion, it has indeed changed to have some differentiation from the Scrum Master role.

The predominant difference I see between the Scrum Master role and the Agile Coach is not the responsibilities but the experience. Because anyone can do a two day CSM and call themselves a ‘Scrum Master’ there has been a gap of a lot of people who know only the very basics and those that know in reality, through practical application and experience what works and what does not. An alternative to look at it is the broad spectrum of Scrum Masters who are in Shu trying to mentor and coach a team without the skills to be able to do it, versus those that are in the tail of Ha, or even starting to hit Ri. What ‘Agile Coach’ gave us was a means to be able to differentiate between someone who had done a two day course and someone who had lived and breathed transforming teams for a few years.

If I was to put some clear differences into bullet points it would look something like this:

Scrum Master

  • Done a 2 day CSM/PSM course
  • Applied Agile to a single team, once or up to a few times
  • Reading the basic Agile books
  • Basic knowledge of values, principles, process, practices and techniques of Scrum, XP and Kanban

Agile Coach

  • Done potentially more certifications (or been mentoring, coaching and training teams for more than five years)
  • Been mentoring, coaching and training teams for more than three years
  • Starting to read most of the key Agile and Lean books
  • Applying knowledge from a variety of methods including scaling methods, lean and systems thinking
  • Uplifting capability of multiple teams through working closely with several Scrum Masters at once
  • Training, coaching, mentoring and advising not just teams but also leaders
  • Tries to resolve complex departmental waste issues

In addition to the two roles above, another one seems to have entered the agile vernacular in the last two years – that of an Enterprise Agile Coach. So lets take a look at my personal opinion of differentiates an Enterprise Coach:

Enterprise Agile Coach

  • Has led an agile transformation or whole divisions at one or more organisations
  • Has had a team of Agile Coaches working with them to undertake the transformation
  • Defines the organisation’s Agile framework and ensures that buy-in exists at all levels to the change
  • Has read most of the key Agile and Lean books, has started reading practices and techniques that are outside the Agile community including modern management, complexity, finance, metrics, behavioural and organisational change.
  • Training, coaching, mentoring and advises not just teams and leaders but high level executive and c-suite managers
  • Tries to resolve complex organisational waste issues including governance, finance and HR.

So in conclusion, for those of you that were confused about the difference in the roles, I hope this helps. If I have missed anything or you feel that according to your views I have mis-representated something than feel free to comment below. The responsibilities and experience levels noted above are purely my opinion and based on what I have seen and experienced around me in Australia and New Zealand.

5 thoughts on “Enterprise Coach, Agile Coach, Scrum Master: What’s the difference?

  1. I would tend to describe the differences between ScrumMaster and an Agile Coach in terms of the scope of the organisation that they are involved with (horizontally in terms of how many teams and products/initiatives) and the degree to which they are embedded with a given team (ScrumMaster) vs move to where the needs are (Agile Coach). Isn’t that more relevant in describing a role than the books that they may have read?

    This sounds like the ScrumMaster only works inwardly with a cross-functional development team. What about the ScrumMaster’s services to the Product Owner, to technical practice improvement and to the product / project community inc. business stakeholders and management to help them understand how to become aligned with the Agile approach? This ScrumMaster role isn’t only about training, mentoring and coaching the development team. That is likely to lead to local optimisation. It’s a capability building role that is relevant as long as there are capability improvements worth leading and investing it.

    Might a ScrumMaster need a bit more of what is under Agile Coach to assist in the ways described in the Example ScrumMaster Checklist?

    How does having ScrumMasters tie an org “solely to Scrum”? Scrum is a minimalist framework which, by design requires other Agile-aligned elements to be added. I think that such a rationale for no ScrumMasters could only hold if the organisation wants to avoid the most widely used Agile framework altogether.

    Re Enterprise’ Agile Coach, I would emphasise Flow through the Value Stream, Organisational Design and Leadership Style coaching.

    1. Hi Rowan, If I said that mentoring and training was only for the development team, then it was my error. I would have hoped I said the team which includes the Product Owner and yes naturally I would extend that to anyone with interactions with the team.

      Re: the “soley to Scrum”…. I am pretty sure I didn’t say that. In fact, I am pretty sure that I said Scrum Masters should have good general knowledge of XP and Kanban as well. Also not sure how we got onto the No ScrumMasters debate.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I’d call out that at a corporate level scaled agile.. beit SAFe or Nexus is aimed at a single product with a single product backlog, where as enterprise agile can have multiple products and P.O.s but a single roadmap.
    Typically enterprise agile leads to themed teams

    1. Hi Jonathan, Thanks for the comment, I agree that what I am describing is better known as enterprise agility. I feel that Enterprise Agility is more what organisations need than a scaled approach to Agile, just most of them don’t know the difference, hence the purpose of the post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: