How different is an agile coach from a ScrumMaster? Are they interchangeable? Is a ScrumMaster always a coach, and a coach always a ScrumMaster (assuming you’re using Scrum)? These were just a few of the questions that were raised at this week’s LADG when we met to discuss “how to be an agile coach”.
Initially, you may think the answer is easy. Something like:
A ScrumMaster’s basic responsibilities are keeping the team’s (‘heartbeat’) meetings going, removing impediments, shielding the team from overbearing stakeholders, etc. They are a member of the team. They are like a guide. In theory, this role can be played by any member of the team.
A coach may work across multiple teams to help the team(s) improve themselves. The coach may help an organisation implement agile; working with ScrumMasters, Product Owners, teams, management, et al, to help them understand their roles. They aren’t a member of a team, but dip in and out of teams as necessary. They are more transient, and more like a psychiatrist than a guide.
But these definitions are very fragile. For example, many ScrumMasters also perform functions of a coach. Don’t both coach and ScrumMaster display the ‘shepherd’ characteristics referred to by Lyssa Adkins & Ken Schwaber?
And that’s the conclusion we came to: although some parts played are clearly ‘ScrumMaster’ and ‘agile coach’ functions, each team and organisation is so very different that it’s impossible to draw a perfect line between these two roles.
So rather than spend time trying to define a generic definition for each role, it’s probably best that you just define what YOU expect from your ScrumMaster and what you expect from your agile coach – if they are even separate roles.
A great resource on agile coaching is Lyssa Adkins’ Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition (Addison Wesley Signature Series)– I fully recommend this if you are interested in knowing more.
Think you can do better? Please feel free to leave your definitions in the comments…