Why Employing Agile Coaches next to Scrum Masters Is Unnecessary

TL; DR: Agile Coaches next to Scrum Masters?

Often, when organizations employ agile coaches and Scrum Masters, we can observe that agile coaches work at an organizational level. In contrast, Scrum Masters work in a tactical role at the team level in a “delivery manager capacity,” which defies the Scrum Guide’s concept of accountabilities.

However, if you take Scrum seriously, this approach has no upside. Here are my eight reasons for empowering your Scrum Masters to work with the organization.

Disclaimer: I acknowledge, though, that “agile coach” is a helpful keyword for positioning yourself as an agile practitioner; potential employers and clients search for this term.

Why Employing Agile Coaches next to Scrum Masters Is Unnecessary — Berlin-Product-People.com

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The Origin of Separating the Roles of Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters

The Agile journey is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Different organizations will require different strategies for effective Agile transformation, given their unique circumstances, culture, and history. Moreover, the goal of adopting Agile and Scrum is not about implementing a new set of practices or roles but rather about fostering a culture that values collaboration, responsiveness to change, and continuous improvement to reap a competitive advantage. After all, we are not paid to practice Scrum but solve our customers’ problems within the given constraints while contributing to the organization’s sustainability.

The puzzling question is why adopt an approach — here: separating both roles — which has no upside but probably many downsides? Some reasons for this attitude may be the following:

  • Lack of Agile Understanding: Misunderstanding of agile principles often results in organizations defaulting to existing management styles and splitting roles, contradicting the Agile Manifesto’s principles of valuing collaboration and responding to change over following a plan.
  • Fear of Change: Distinguishing between agile coaches and Scrum Masters can reflect resistance to the culture shift that Agile introduces. Consequently, some organizations transitioning from traditional practice may retain existing hierarchies and roles. They inadvertently create a distinction between agile coaches and Scrum Masters, contravening the Scrum Guide’s intention of flattening hierarchies and promoting self-organization.
  • Scaling Misconception: When scaling Scrum, organizations often employ agile coaches to drive organizational change, while Scrum Masters work with individual teams. Contrary to the Agile Manifesto’s emphasis on individuals and interactions, this practice can stem from an erroneous belief that large-scale change requires distinct roles and accountabilities.
  • Misinterpretation of Roles: The Scrum Guide defines the Scrum Master as a servant-leader for the Scrum Team and the organization. However, organizations may mistake this as a tactical role focused on the team level rather than understanding the broader strategic implications, including coaching the organization in Scrum adoption.

In my experience, most issues that prevent a Scrum team from becoming good at what they do — here: creating value for customers while contributing to the organization’s sustainability — originate at the organizational level. You will fail as Scrum Master if you do not consider that and limit yourself to the tactical team level.

Maybe, it is just collateral damage from the growing popularity of SAFe®?

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Eight Reasons Why Employing Agile Coaches next to Scrum Masters Is Unnecessary

Here is my list of why employing Agile coaches next to Scrum Masters is unnecessary if you take Scrum seriously:

  1. Process Over People: Employing agile coaches could lead to overemphasizing processes and methodologies, whereas the Agile Manifesto emphasizes the importance of valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  2. Overlap of Responsibilities: There may be some overlap between the responsibilities of agile coaches and Scrum Masters, leading to confusion and potential redundancy in their roles.
  3. Internal Coaching: Organizations can consider developing internal coaching capabilities among existing Scrum Masters or other agile practitioners, making it unnecessary to hire external agile coaches.
  4. Resistance to Change: Introducing agile coaches to the organization could lead to resistance from existing Scrum Masters, who may perceive the new role as a threat or challenge to their accountability.
  5. Expertise Misallocation: Agile coaches possess extensive knowledge of agile methodologies and practices; however, their expertise might be unnecessary if the organization already has a firm grasp of agile practices and employs highly proficient Scrum Masters.
  6. Organizational Maturity: If the organization has already reached a high level of agile maturity, introducing agile coaches may have a limited impact on further improvement.
  7. Limited Scope: An agile coach may be unnecessary if the organization is relatively small or has few Scrum teams. The Scrum Masters can effectively manage the agile transformation and continuous improvement efforts within their teams.
  8. Cultural Mismatch: If the organization’s culture does not align with the values and principles of Agile, introducing agile coaches may not be effective in driving meaningful change, as the coaches could face considerable resistance and barriers to implementing agile practices.

How Can We Overcome the Separation of the Roles?

Addressing this anti-pattern requires a strategic, transparent, and educational approach from the Scrum Master. Here are some things you can do to overcome the separation of agile coaches and Scrum Masters:

  • Educate and Advocate: Demonstrate the value of the Scrum Master’s role beyond the Scrum team level. Use the Scrum Guide and Agile Manifesto as reference points to highlight how the Scrum Master is an agent of change that promotes agility throughout the organization.
  • Build Alliances: Collaborate with agile coaches, sharing insights and knowledge. The aim is to blur the distinction and foster mutual respect. Make them allies, not competitors, in the pursuit of organizational agility.
  • Create Visibility: Use Retrospectives, Scrum Reviews, and other events to showcase team achievements and articulate the role of the Scrum Master in those successes beyond their contribution at a tactical level.
  • Engage Leadership: Influence organizational leaders to recognize and value the strategic role of Scrum Masters, comprising coaching leaders or inviting them to participate in Scrum events to see firsthand the benefits of the Scrum framework.
  • Seek Outside Help: If internal efforts are not working, consider bringing in an external consultant or trainer to provide an objective perspective and share insights on best practices from other organizations.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the Scrum Master’s role is not confined to a tactical level. They are change agents, promoting and supporting Scrum by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values, within teams and the broader organization. Confusion about this role may indicate a need for more in-depth education about Agile and Scrum across the organization.

How do you handle these two roles? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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