Why do we need an Agile Coach? We have a Scrum Master


This topic was recently discussed on LinkedIn. Its a great topic and one that I want to get the Coalition’s input on.

Here is my take: IMHO, the Agile Coach role has evolved due to the slow and difficult journey of adopting an agile mindset. The world is full with great Scrum Masters but many of them are still on in the earlier stages of their journey(Shu state) and most of them need the experience to learn why we need to have a value driven approach.

Unfortunately, supply has been unable to keep up with demand. Almost all organizations are moving to Scrum, but a two day class is not going to reverse many years of plan driven thinking. It will take time, but they will get there with help of mentoring and coaching.

So…enter the Agile Coach, someone who probably started as a Scrum Master many moons ago and has been positively impacted by Agile. Therefore, they are passionate about it, preach it, study it, and continue to improve at the craft. They are not organizational saviors, leadership coaches, or program coaches. Instead they are seasoned Agile practitioners who have a mature mindset (Ha and Ri) and want to help others experience the same joy they get out of Agile.

Full disclaimer; I am a Agile Coach. My goal in every engagement is to work myself out of the job. I hope some day all scrum masters are agile coaches and the position starts to dissolve. This is the ideal state, but not today’s reality. Whats your take?


I suppose it depends on what the people are trying to achieve.

ScrumMaster has a defined role within a specific framework (Scrum). Agile coach does not… it’s a made-up thing.

Since we’re free to make up our own definition, I believe an agile coach develops teams by developing coaches, while also advising management on improving working conditions with agile. Meanwhile, team coaches assist (and mentor) the team directly in their journey to new heights. I shared my definition of an Agile coach when hired by my current company; they agreed on the “vision” and we’re moving the system towards this structure. I used this picture to visualize my definition with them (which is a reproduction of Lyssa Adkins’ view of an “Agile Coach,” as I learned from her).

This is just one way. There are many ways. “We don’t need an agile coach; we have a ScrumMaster” might be a valid answer in the context of a company.


I have some strange fascination with this topic. It comes up often in many different forms.

My take, scrum is a defined framework to implement code. Scrum masters are the facilitators of this on the team level.

Agile is a mindset that enables an organization to deliver value to the entire system. Agile coaches enable organization to change existing practices to emerge into a more agile mindset.

Any “coach” that is only versed in scrum, is really a scrum master. An agile coach should understand, and have been successful in multiple frameworks and transformations. Even further, good coaches should have failed in multiple frameworks to understand what situationally didnt work - not just what worked once. Agile coaches interact with enterprise leadership teams, coach them while still delivering value at the multiple team level.

I am falling out of love with the scrum alliance and the definition of coach they project. I think it is in line with what @zachbonaker is describing above. Perhaps it is a good way to go forward, it just feels more heavy than what is needed.


With all do respect @ryan I am struggling with this comment. I would define scrum as a lightweight project management framework that can be applied in any industry and we are starting to see that. The scrum master is a servant leader who helps their teams achieve their goals. Therefore, they have many different responsibilities such as motivator, facilitator, scrum champion, team protector, and impediment remover. Overall, they should be looking at the empirical data to drive continuous improvement. So I would say it goes beyond facilitation of code.

There is a section in Michael James Scrum Master checklist that is labeled “what am I doing to help my organization.” This is because Scrum Masters are true change agents, looking beyond the team and not accepting organizational constraints. This is why a scrum master is an agile coach.

I once worked in a small company with experienced scrum masters. We did not have coaches because they were not needed. Scrum Masters did the coaching. I believe this is how Ken and Jeff envisioned the role.

Two years ago, I had an engagement at a small company in which was new to scrum with no experienced scrum masters. I coached four teams and new scrum masters. My main focus was the scrum masters because they were going to be the coaches when I left. This is the only way a transformation can be sustainable after coaches walk out the door. I stay in touch with them all, playing a mentoring role, encouraging them to get involved in their community to improve at their craft and accept the role of change agent.

In my current engagement at a mid sized firm my title is team coach. I sit with the teams and work with them daily. However, I meet with leadership regularly and are providing coaching on all levels. I have made it very clear that the more we scale, the more risk we will accrue of not being able to sustain the transformation. We are reaching the tipping point of me being stretched too thin, so more coaches are on the way.

My point is context is everything. In the world of Agile at Scale, Lisa Adkins and the Scrum Alliance are catering to a real world problem and trying to provide direction on how to tackle it. And making money doing it:) I do think dilineating the different coaching responsibilities at the different levels is a good idea when in large enterprises and too heavy in small shops.

My final point is all agile coaches should be able to coach on all levels. The common theme in the answers above Is that coaches focus on improving the agile mindset of people, teams, and organizations. They can play different roles within the organization.


I was painting with a broad brush in my above comment - but I still believe it is fairly accurate. Scrum can be applied outside of software, this is true. But at its core scrum is a framework and agile is a mindset. They are different. Coaching a framework is different than molding an organizational mindset. Sure there are overlaps, similar to how a scooter is like a Tesla, but there are significant different degrees of complexity.

Without mincing words too deeply, we use the term “agile coach”. If people referring to multi-scrum team facilitation as scrum-coaches, I think I would have less of a point here :slight_smile:

An organization with effective team facilitators/enablers (scrum masters), team coaches and enterprise level coaching is a mature representation of agile working at scale in my opinion.


I have always viewed the Scrum Master as a facilitator part time and Team Coach full time. Facilitation is just a small part of the job. I guess even inside the AU we have different views which makes for good conversation on the coalition!


Alright bringing this up one more time as it has stirred some healthy internal debate amongst members of the AU. This is taken from lean from the trenches.

@ryan maybe this could make an interesting podcast topic!



Yes we are. That said, my focus is on software development, as I believe is the focus of most folks here.

Agreed, and while doing so, he/she also ensures the team “stays on the agile track.”

Yes, in an ideal situation (do these exist?). I don’t know about you guys, but I have had to work within many of the organizational constraints at my current and past clients. That said, I often describe myself as a “pragmatic idealist;” I have idealistic goals, and will push the envelope to achieve them (or get close), but I have to take a realistic approach and set realistic expectations. Why is a picture of a “log-rolling” lumberjack popping into my mind as I type this? :wink:

In other words, “it depends” :wink:

Not sure I agree here… IMHO a coach should have a broad set of skills, knowledge, and experience. He/she must necessarily be strong in his/her area of expertise, but should be able to provide coaching value in other areas. Core strengths, as well as the amount of value he/she brings to those boundary areas enhances his/her value to the organization.

That said, I’m not happy unless I’m challenged and learning new things, and the thing I get the biggest kick out of in my agilist role (whatever it may be at the time) is helping and empowering others. At the moment I’m a coach with much more experience at the team level than at the organizational level, but my current team-level+ focus in an agile organization transformation is allowing me to push my own boundaries upward. Wouldn’t surprise me if you guys take similar approaches.

(and apologies mccallam2 - I didn’t mean to “pick” on you - your post just inspired me to chime in!)



@Pete, I am glad that I inspired you and very happy you agreed with most of my comments😎


Yes … and … in my experience it’s also a question of mandate, power, politics (in short; agreements and expectation-setting).

Yes, asking a scrum master to coach, absent of training or perhaps natural inclination + experience seems, to me, likely to produce burnout or other sorts of pain. A coach dealing with multiple teams or the whole organisation needs people skills ( natural, self-taught, or learned) AND authority.

In absence of authority, an external coach can substitute courage and principles, daring to “ask forgiveness rather than beg permission”, and knowing full well that it may end in precipitous termination. This is the advantage of the outsider in a politically fraught environment: she dares to say unpopular things because she sees her role as temporary, and in service of the clie t’s agenda (not in service of the client’s agenda AND the mortgage AND piano lessons. You get the picture). The external coach charges more for the privilege (and to cover the risk) of speaking the truth in service of the client’s big agenda.

Otoh, I see the opposite pattern, too: system-thinking coaches, skilled with people and trained to work with the organisation, being engaged as “coaches” but restricted to SM activities and lots of restrictions. My sense is that the insecurity brought by the financial crisis encourages coaches to take these smaller roles anyway, in hope of being guerilla change agents in the larger org. I’ve been there, though: given the smaller scope agreement, there can be a congruence problem if the coach has a bigger, hidden agenda. And then, within that org, the question surfaces: isn’t a coach just a highly-paid SM? (Or PM, depending on job description).

Hmm. Still thinking…


Nailed it, Deb!

This is exactly my current environment (well, I’m not sure about “skilled with people” but I’m trying my best) despite my title as “Agile Coach,” whatever that truly is. As you know, it can be slow going to break down those barriers and full of impostor-syndrome feelings waiting for people to discover the message of your insights/observations. Further, it can be painfully stressful to realize the feedback messages from the system, recognizing the leverage is outside of your current environment.

Yet, my desire to remain local in San Diego for my daughter pressures me to take this “smaller role” for balance/stability… causing the passion for greatness and excellence to become a nuisance.

Your post is remarkable in how it resonates with me. Thanks for putting my scattered feelings into words, Deb!



I think the very early Scrum Masters were the original Agile Coaches. Before there was anything to compare to and no one even knew what scrum was, we led the way to really change organizations, that was the Point!!. I don’t think we even used Agile as a term much in the beginning. As CSMs were stamped out at a record pace and larger consultant companies jumped on the band wagon they needed someone to sell all these services and get these flacid SMs in the door so then at some point around then companies started coining, selling and adopting Agile Coaches. First it was just mainly Scrum and some of the development practices like XP and CI, It still is mainly Scrum or Scrum Butts. Our teams were doing DevOps before someone decided to start selling that term. I just refuse to say Agile in general much anymore. I took Agile Coach off my resume. Although I have implemented many things and at scale but mostly Scrum implementations. To me Kanban has been adopted more terribly than Scrum. The point is for the team to formulate your own processes not ignore it! But people think oh I will do Kanban cuz Scrum is so strict and then they are wondering what’s going wrong. They don’t even know how they are doing till its too late. Do I sound slighted?:slight_smile: I am probably silly for taking Agile Coach off my resume:) Just be careful because now the term Agile Coach has also started to be used as someone who does not have Scrum experience or will not use it at the position. I saw that somewhere recently:)