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What is the difference between an Agile Coach and a Scrum Master?

A few years ago, I ran into the question: what exactly is the difference between an Agile Coach and a Scrum Master? What does an Agile Coach actually do? And does the practice match the theory? The answer I have found to it over the years is: 'It depends'. I'm happy to explain why.

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Team vs organisation 

Looking purely at the theoretical definition, a Scrum Master is responsible for introducing the Scrum framework to a team. The Scrum Master ensures that the framework contributes to delivering value for the customer. According to the theory, an Agile Coach is responsible for the adoption of Agile and Scrum across the organisation.

But: the Scrum guide states that the Scrum Master also helps train and coach the organisation. And that immediately brings you to one of the trickiest challenges a Scrum Master can face in practice.

Areas of focus for Scrum Master

A Scrum Master has 3 areas of focus:

  • guiding a team

  • coaching the Product Owner

  • helping in the adoption of Scrum in the organisation

How a Scrum Master divides his or her time and attention across these areas is not described in any booklet. So this varies from Scrum Master to Scrum Master, organisation to organisation, team to team and sometimes even day to day. If a Scrum Master has a successful team, he or she can mean more in the organisation. But does this suddenly change, because the team desperately needs the Scrum Master or the Scrum Master gets a second team under his or her belt, then the Scrum Master can do less outside the team.

Tasks Agile Coach

An Agile Coach acts as an overarching facilitator. He or she supports the organisation in its Agile transformation. In practice, an Agile Coach often has the following responsibilities:

Organisational transformation

Guiding organisations in embracing Agile values and principles. An Agile Coach helps define and implement strategies for Agile transformation at all levels of the organisation. These transformations can take several years and require continuous attention from one or more Agile Coaches.

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Mentoring and training

An Agile Coach is a mentor for teams, team leaders and managers. By providing training, the Agile Coach develops a deeper understanding of Agile and Scrum within the organisation. In addition, the Agile Coach helps translate theory into practice.

Executive coaching and leadership support

Agile Coaches support and coach leaders in developing Agile leadership skills. An Agile Coach helps create an environment in which Scrum teams can perform well.

Collaboration as an additional task 

Personally, I think creating a close collaboration between Scrum Master and Agile Coach is an important additional task of an Agile Coach. Since the Agile Coach often develops the change plans and the practical implementation lies with the responsibilities of the Scrum Master.

An Agile organisation needs both an Agile Coach and a Scrum Master to add value faster for the customer. The extent to which the Scrum Master can devote time and attention to coaching in practice varies from situation to situation and from person to person. It has to do with the maturity of the teams, but also with the experience and interests of the Scrum Master.

Continue to grow in practice

Are you a Scrum Master who wants to grow further in coaching and mentoring? And do you need practical tips & tricks? Then check out the practice-oriented Scrum Master Next Level training course.



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