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I work with a team of 5 scrum masters each of which has one or 2 teams.

There is one agile coach.

The agile coach wants to “observe” all the ceremonies of my team. He wants to do this to “coach” me. He wants to drop into any ceremony when he has time.

I am against this because it erodes trust that I am trying to build with my team. It also reduces psychological safety within my team and it also makes it harder to maintain leadership in my team. I also don’t feel it’s of any benefit for my team.

Let’s assume he finds something coach worthy I still don’t think ceremonies should be public. He says all agile ceremonies are public.

I am also more experienced than him and he has not attempted to build trust with me so he has not built any foundation to coach me.

Under what circumstances should outsiders attend a scrum team’s ceremonies?

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    So, it's a sort of scaled agile? Around 5 Scrum Masters helping from 5 to 10 teams in total, and one agile coach to coach the Scrum Masters, a sort of a Scrum Master of the Scrum Masters? On a side note, one thing that stands out is the 5 times you mention "my team". It might be only the wording, but have you asked the team what they think about it? Are you conveying or assuming the perceptions of the team on having outsiders / this specific person around? As the question is framed, you may not be looking for an impartial answer, but for an echo chamber. – Tiago Cardoso Dec 6 '20 at 23:53
  • What are the other circumstances around this? Is part of his responsibility to coach you or the teams? If he is coaching you, have the two of you talked about what you would like coaching on? If there's an expectation that you and he are meant to coach the teams together, has that been discussed? – Daniel Dec 7 '20 at 3:58
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    It is also worth noting that the Scrum Guide has nothing to say about what events should be public or private. General consensus is that most events should usually be public to observation except for the retro, but all of that is just opinion. The Scrum Guide, however, does stress the importance of transparency to those doing the work and receiving it, so an argument could be made there. – Daniel Dec 7 '20 at 4:02
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    You write "harder to maintain leadership in my team." Combining that with multiple mentions of "my team" and "trust with me" it seems that you see yourself as the boss of the team. In a scrum team there is no boss, and no leadership. It's multiple people with different roles. As SM your role is to plan and facilitate scrum ceremonies, shield the rest of the team from outside disturbances etc. But you're not a leader of the team, the team is the boss of itself. – Polygorial Dec 7 '20 at 14:23
  • @Polygorial I agree that I am not the boss and if you were in my team you would see this. I totally disagree though that I am not a leader. The Scrum Master is a leader within the team. – user32613 Dec 8 '20 at 7:00
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I also don’t feel it’s of any benefit for my team.

You think there is no benefit in a coach? What are you, perfect? "Inspect and adapt" is the core of Scrum and you are flat out rejecting it. It would be good if you could embrace it instead. Let them do their jobs, think about their suggestions and improve your team.

Because let's be clear about one thing: there was no stray agile coach that followed you into the building from the bus stop one day when it was cold outside and you left the door open for too long.

Your bosses have decided to hire a coach.

You will be coached.

Or you will be out of a job. That's your two options.


From a purely Scrum perspective, there is two core values that come to mind here: Transparency and Respect. For most ceremonies, there is nothing to hide. It's work you do for the company, not your private party. The planning, the dailies, the review, all of them are just meetings for work, not secrets to hide.

One exception may be the retrospective, as members have a right to know who gets to know about the contents of that meeting. I have often seen something called the "Vegas Principle" used for retros: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Meaning: don't talk to people outside the retrospective about what happened in the retrospective. But if the coach attends the retrospective and adheres to the same principle, then it's still open and respectful.

Now, sometimes a coach can be disruptive. But you have no choice whether there is a coach or not. You can influence the rules by which they play. For example, the coach may not want to announce beforehand which ceremonies they attend, to actually get a valid picture of the current situation, instead of a staged ceremony where everybody knows "this is for the coach". But I think it would be absolutely okay to ask for some respect to not disrupt the meeting and to have even the coach be there on time and don't leave early. So if they attend, they attend like everyone else. No coming late, no leaving early.

Your coach should come to a team meeting before they attend any ceremonies to introduce themselves, explain why they are there and what they are going to do, so you don't have to do that the first time they attend a regular ceremony.

Under what circumstances should outsiders attend a scrum team’s ceremonies?

As needed. And the need for a coach has been established by your boss.

We often had people from sister teams attend dailies or plannings to communicate their state or offer help with their product we had to use. Sometimes we were requested for their dailies or planning to make sure they got it right and we could support them adequately. Sometimes a manager would attend, silently, just to see how the people they manage actually work.

I have attended other teams dailies just because I worked with someone on a problem in their teams office and the time for the daily came and it would have been super strange to go into the hallway, close the door and stand there until their daily is over. We may be different Scrum teams, but we should all be in the big company team. A daily is just work, no secret sauce you need to protect.

If your team is afraid of outsiders silently attending, then either your team needs a stronger self-esteem, or your company is doing something wrong that your team is afraid of performing their jobs publicly.

Either way that's a problem the coach could address. With your team or with your bosses. They paid a lot of money to them, so the incentive to listen to the coach is higher than the motivation to listen to you. Sounds silly, but that's the way managers think. Use that.

Embrace the coaching and use it to improve yourself, your team and maybe get some improvement done on higher levels that your own feedback cannot reach effectively. This is a chance, not a nuisance you have to dodge somehow.

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It depends on the event. People from outside the Scrum Team should, generally speaking, attend an event when they have something valuable to contribute to the team within the context of the event.

The only event that I'd have a strong objection to someone outside the Scrum Team attending is the Sprint Retrospective. In order for the retrospective to be effective, the team needs to be able to have open and honest communication. Having someone from outside the team can disrupt this type of communication. However, I'd still bring this up to the Scrum Team to make the final decision.

For the other events, I'd just defer to the Scrum Team. These events are for them, after all. For the Sprint Planning, I'd give equal preference to both the Product Owner and the Developers. For the Daily Scrum, I'd give preference to the Developers since they are the only required attendees. For the Sprint Review, I'd defer to the Product Owner.

If the agile coach is expected to manage, supervise, or coach the Scrum Masters, it does make sense that they should be able to get information about the Scrum Master doing their job. Otherwise, I'm not sure how the coach can effectively do their job. However, the Scrum Team as a whole is a self-managing entity that should own how their events are carried out, to the fullest extent possible.

I don't think that the argument about the events being public or not holds much weight, though. This person is within the organization. With the exception of the Sprint Retrospective, nothing that is said or done within any of the events should be a secret within the organization. This goes back to the ideas of openness and transparency.

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With regard to the daily scrum ceremony, the team should decide who attends because it is their meeting. If the presence of other people would be a distraction then that's a good reason for them not to be there. By the way the team may also prefer not to have the Scrum Master present. The SM's presence is not required unless the SM is also a developer, in which case she attends in the role of a developer, not as SM. It helps if the SM keeps a low profile during the daily scrum to avoid being perceived as the team lead or meeting chair.

For sprint reviews I'd expect the Product Owner to decide who should be there. The review is an opportunity to publicise the work the team are doing so it is not uncommon to have a wide audience for those events.

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Under what circumstances should outsiders attend a scrum team’s ceremonies?

There's no rule preventing somebody from attending, and - in theory - you're not discussing anything secret or dangerous that shouldn't be leaked to outsiders.

That said, it's obvious that you cannot allow outsiders to interfere with the ceremonies. Any questions they have, the input they want to give, and coaching they want to do must wait until the ceremonies are over.

After the ceremonies are over, they should be welcomed to give their feedback, which - assuming we're dealing with mature adults - will surely be positive and constructive and may help future procedures.

In your specific case, it's clear that the coaching should be done in private, with no other attendants around, so as not to erode the delicate trust you've built with your team.

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As an agile coach the first thing I would do is ask the Scrum Master and the team if they want me to be present. If they say no, that is the end of the story.

If they don't mind me being present then I may also ask them how they would like me to interact. Typically there are three approaches I suggest:

  • I interact freely throughout the ceremony
  • I keep quiet and then make some comments at the end
  • I say nothing through the meeting and then I speak with the Scrum Master afterwards to let them know my thoughts

I don't mind which approach is taken. I will adapt my style to suit the team. Sometimes my approach will change over time as the team and Scrum Master grow to trust me.

The key for me that for me to be an effective coach my input has to be welcomed. I will do whatever I can to make the team feel safe and my goal is to have them value my input.

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