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When answering and discussing this question an new question came to mind, first some context:

The Scrum guide states that the Scrum Master services the organisation with:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;

From reading this article "the Scrum Master is not an Agile coach". I get the idea that the Scrum Master should only focus on the Scrum Framework and not other Agile practices, principles and values.

I tend to disagree, because I think Scrum covers only the project management part of "being Agile", but (for example) skips the important technical practices that make products Agile.

Organizational Agility is constrained by Technical Agility

In other words, when you are slow in making changes to your product, then it doesn’t matter how you structure your teams, your organization or what framework you adopt, you will be slow to respond to changes.

Can we successfully implement Scrum as a Scrum Master without also being an Agile coach? The Scrum guide states it is "Difficult to master". I think this is because it only handles the process and not the full cycle as Extreme Programming does.

Leading to the following question: Should the Scrum Master also be an Agile coach, or are they the same?

  • I think the main difference is scope. A Scrum Master is focused on implementation of Scrum for a team or project, while a coach is an advisor with a larger organizational scope and (ideally) a more framework-agnostic approach. – Todd A. Jacobs Nov 28 '17 at 5:43
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A scrum master is definitely an Agile Coach to a degree, but whether a separate role is required depends on the organisation. Within a single team the nature of the Scrum Master role is being an Agile Coach - instilling both the process of Scrum, but also the agile principles. In practice, this generally extends to those involved with the team as well. In a small organisation this might be all you need.

A good Scrum Master isn't just 'following the book' of scrum, but is instilling the agile principles. An Agile Coach is doing the same thing, however approaching the problem from all levels of the organisation, rather than just focusing on a singular development team.

In saying that, I don't like the concept of a 'Scrum Master' as a job title but instead a role. I'm a firm believer that Scrum is a temporary step in building a good agile team, who will evolve their own process. I'd much rather have an Agile Coach acting as a Scrum Master for a while, than someone who spent a day or two becoming a Certified Scrum Master restraining a team to using scrum for a long period of time.

I'll caveat this with the fact that I am an Agile Coach who is also acting as a Product Owner currently - so I break all the rules ;)

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This is one of those classic "It Depends" questions. One key thing here was said by SpoonerNZ "Scrum Master' as a job title but instead a role." There are no titles in Scrum or agile. In Scrum there are three roles, which can be completely unrelated to what HR says your job title is (I'm an Agile Coach, HR says my official title is a Senior Principle Technical Project Manager).

When I teach agile I spend some time talking about roles to try and help clarify this. Not just what the roles are, also how they relate and what their paths are.

Scrum Master: The SM's focus is on their individual team. They are there to help the team to reach their sprint goals and to protect the team from outside impediments. They tend to have a focus on a time horizon of the next 4-6 weeks (2-3 typical sprints). A scrum master can and often is an active part of the team as a developer or tester and even if they are not, they are measured along with the team on how successful the team is at making and delivering on its commitments (sprint plans). A good scrum master can grow into an agile coach, given the desire and space (not all scrum masters want to be coaches).

People Manager: While the SM is focused on the team, the people manager is focused on the individual. The people manager's time horizon is six months to a year, focusing on how the individual will grow to be a better teammate. If the company is progressive, they people manager is not measured on if the product shipped, they are measured on if their teams are growing and successful.

Agile Coach: An agile coach is not directly connected to the act of shipping product. Instead, their focus is on the organization. They are paid to help the organization be more Predictable and more Productive. And as agile coaches, they should be doing this by focusing on helping teams to be more engaged, happier and self-organized (Think Dan Pink's Autonomy, Master, Purpose). An agile coach can be a scrum master, however, this means they are splitting their focus, which breaks one of the core tenants of agile "focus".

  • I disagree that the Scrum Master should only be attached to a project for the first few Sprints. The SM is a defined role within the team, and should be present throughout the run-time of the project for the framework to function properly. – Todd A. Jacobs Nov 28 '17 at 5:39
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    I didn't think I was ever advocating a scrum master not be part of the team. I was more addressing what a growth of a scrum master can look like. Often an SM will grow into a Scrum Coach/ Agile Coach role and new Scrum Masters will rise from within the teams they were part of. There should always be someone with the role of SM on a team. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Nov 28 '17 at 17:28
  • I was responding to the sentence "They tend to have a time horizon of 4-6 weeks (2-3 typical sprints)." Do you really think Scrum Master churn every six weeks is reasonable? Perhaps it's worth clarifying the answer with the intent from your comments about the growth path, as opposed to (as I read it) an inherent limitation on the role's lifecycle or place in the process. I really like the distinctions you're drawing between the different types of coaching roles, and my intent is to help clarify for future visitors. – Todd A. Jacobs Nov 28 '17 at 17:51
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    The Time Horizon is how far out a Scrum Master is looking. They focus on the next 2-3 sprints and helping the team to that time window. Their focus is not looking at long-term strategic and people concerns like architects and managers should. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Nov 29 '17 at 23:28
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I think the answer is fairly straightforward: In an ideal situation, they shouldn't have to be. Either the team already understands and adheres to the principles of Agile, or else they have an actual, dedicated Agile coach. This would allow the Scrum Master to focus on their own tasks.

Of course, in a non-ideal situation, where the above is not possible, the Scrum Master. being already effectively a Scrum Coach, is a decent pick should the responsibilities of an Agile coach need to be foisted onto someone.

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They are not the same, and definitely a Scrum Master within an organization can not do Agile Coaching.

Main activities of the Agile Coach within a company is:

  1. Coaching or assisting when a project starts, defining the perfect methodology regarding project.
  2. Making different training about Agile methods etc.

Based on experience a professional company has its own Agile Coach. For example, in our company we have like 10 Scrum Masters on different projects, and an Agile Coach with his main duty is to up the company's Agility competencies, and he is assisting projects at different stages.

Based on theory, a perfect way is that when Scrum Master is assigned to just one project.

  • But how does the Scrum guide "Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;" fit in your story? Don't get me wrong, I think your setup makes total sense and it can clearly (and maybe should) be two separate roles. Still Scrum says this is also the job of the Scrum Master. – Niels van Reijmersdal Nov 9 '16 at 15:28
  • I will better say that a Scrum Master should "Lead and coach a team WHEN NEEDED", removing impediments, servant leader and so on etc...I advise you to take Scrum Guide as a base, as a general framework to use as a guidance in Scrum day to day activities, implementing real Scrum, in other words "a framework that helps us not to deviate from basics". – Andy Duffrey Nov 9 '16 at 15:51
  • Scrum Guide says "The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team." – Andy Duffrey Nov 9 '16 at 15:51
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I think of agile coaching as an activity rather than as a role.

If you have somebody with agile experience they can pass it on. If it just so happens that the Scrum Master has that experience and that they have the time to spare, then it makes sense for them to coach.

It would be just as valid for another team member such as a developer or a Product Owner to coach; but only if they had the necessary experience and the available time.

Equally, if no team member has the experience or the time, then perhaps a full-time agile coach would be more appropriate.

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