It’s similar to going on a diet.
Countless articles address the differences between a Scrum Master and an agile coach, but not nearly enough advise on what Scrum Masters can do to advance their careers.
Most Scrum Masters learn about Scrum in a two-day course, so they wind up in positions where the primary benefit is on-the-job experience. With time, a Scrum Master can move into agile coaching.
Before that transition can take place, however, it’s important to understand what separates a Scrum Master from an agile coach. It’s similar to going on a diet.
If someone wants to lose weight, the first step is to choose a plan. Figuring out your strategy to shed pounds isn’t the hard part, though (aka Scrum). The real challenge is finding effective ways to shift your behavior to adopt a completely new lifestyle routine (aka agile coaching).
And that’s what an agile coach specializes in: Supporting effective and impactful change.
Although Scrum Masters and agile coaches both help teams improve the way they work, Scrum Masters tend to have a more narrow view on situations than an agile coach.
Here’s how a Scrum Master can embody the key elements of an agile coach to advance their team and career.
Key differences between a Scrum Master and agile coach.
While a Scrum Master knows Scrum, a senior agile coach can support agile transformation. Here are several contrasts between a Scrum Master and an agile coach:
Focus. The Scrum Master is typically focused on a team and its individual players, ensuring they know and practice Scrum. On the other hand, an agile coach typically works across an organization from software development and human resources to marketing and finance.
Knowledge. A second difference is that Scrum Masters know Scrum while agile coaches know agile. And agile coaches tend to have extensive professional coaching education while Scrum Masters are only at the beginning stages.
Experience. The Scrum Master is often an entry-level position that, with enough experience, can lead to agile coaching. Agile coaches typically make more money, have larger titles, and are dedicated to making bigger changes within the organization.
It’s important to remember that the Scrum Master and agile coach roles do not negate one another. If an organization hires an agile coach they will often have dedicated Scrum Masters and vice versa. Some of the most successful agile transformations will use both in order to achieve the total range of skills needed for a complete transformation.
True change requires a different way of thinking. Looking at the whole picture instead of one part of it.
Although Scrum Masters and agile coaches both help teams do the best work possible, Scrum Masters tend to have a more limited view on situations than an agile coach.
For example, a team could say, “We have a lot of bugs, and we want a software tool to track everything.”
A Scrum Master will say, “I have experience with this tool. Let’s implement it.”
A more experienced Scrum Master will say something like, “Let’s think about a set of tools, what the options are, and what are the benefits and disadvantages of each tool.”
And an agile coach will ask, “Why is it that you have so many bugs that you need a tool to track them?”
Because of their greater experience and wider organizational span, an agile coach can more easily identify the systemic causes of a problem.
As the Scrum Master and the team mature, the Scrum Master will better understand how external factors impact the group. With enough experience, the Scrum Master can become a real change agent for their organization by applying skills typically associated with agile coaching.
From there, he or she can make the decision to continue down this career path.
If I were to replicate that process now, it would be much easier simply because there is more support. Today, there’s a number of training and mentoring programs that can help you in your transition from Scrum Master to agile coach. The only thing left to do is take the next step.