What is an agile coach?

By | October 3, 2013

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”.

A coach with agile written on it

Is this 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…

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