Agile Coach vs Scrum Master: The Difference Stated

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26th Nov, 2022
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19th Aug, 2019
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Agile Coach vs Scrum Master: The Difference Stated

Agile methodology is a simple, flexible, and iterative product development model with the distinct advantages of accommodating new requirement changes and incorporating the feedback of the previous iterations over the traditional waterfall development model. Agile methodology is the most popular and dynamic software product development and project maintenance model. Owing to its flexibility and robust nature with added benefits of a quick turnaround for the defects and design gaps identified in the later stages of software development lifecycle.  

Agile methodology is the new mantra for new-age product development or project management. Agile welcomes change and can incorporate the dynamics of the ever-changing world in the product development lifecycle at any given stage of development. Scrum is an agile framework that is widely used by teams and organizations across the software development world.  

As more and more product development domains and companies are implementing or transitioning to an agile methodology for their product development lifecycle or their project maintenance, the need for experts, advisors, and mentors in the form of agile coaches and scrum masters has increased than ever before. The industry is coming up with ways to cater to this demand by introducing agile coach certifications and scrum master training in a constant effort to enable teams to understand, implement and master agile.  

Scrum Master vs Agile Coach: Key Differences

The difference between agile coach and the scrum master can be well understood in the table below:

ParametersAgile CoachScrum Master
Purview and Ambit
The agile coach works as a coach and role model for agile principles and values for the entire organizationThe scrum master works as an agile coach for his team
Purview and Ambit
Plans and lays roadmaps for the future agile practices to be implemented in the organizationRemoves impediments and roadblocks for the team to achieve the desired results
Training Responsibility
Coaches the leadership team such as scrum masters, product owners and executive on agile principles and processThe scrum master coaches his team on agile principles and values
InterdependenceAgile coach coaches scrum mastersScrum master learns from the agile coach
Agile Implementation
Builds a culture of trust and transparency across the organizationImproves collaboration within the team to work as an efficient unit.
Agile Implementation
Implements agile values and principles across the organizationImplements agile principles and values within the team
Facilitate Review and Planning Meetings
An agile coach heads scrum of scrum meetingsScrum master heads daily stand up and sprint review meetings
Role Reversal
An agile coach can play a role of scrum master.A scrum master needs additional experience and certification to become an agile coach

What is Scrum Master?

Before understanding the role of a scrum master, let us first try to understand what Scrum is. Scrum is an agile framework largely used in software product development that enables software development teams to deliver incremental solutions in an iterative and collaborative manner. The important roles in the scrum team are – the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Product Development Team or simply referred to as Development Team.  

When implemented, scrum is divided into sprints – (which are usually two-week timeframes), in which the team collectively estimates, plans, tracks, executes, and reviews their work as an efficient unit. Within these sprints, the team divides the planned work in the form of user stories or tasks, which are essentially small units of work to be carried out by one or more members of the team. These user stories are usually discussed, designed, developed, and completed with the collective ideas and opinions of the team, thereby implementing the agile values of transparency and collective responsibility in every phase of the team’s work and impending success. 

Scrum master is often called a servant-master role, who strives to help all other roles within the scrum team by ensuring agile principles are followed and agile values are upheld. The scrum master will work as a facilitator, moderator, and reviewer within a scrum team to ensure seamless collaboration within the team. Scrum master does not work on user stories but removes all impediments to Development Team and Product owner, thereby ensuring the team achieves set goals in the most efficient way possible.  

Scrum Master Roles and Responsibilities

While the product owner decides what needs to be done in a sprint by finalizing requirements for a specific feature, the product development team finds a way to collectively design and develop the feature or enhancement which is planned by the product owner, and the scrum master facilitates smooth functioning of the team to get the desire results while ensuring the principles of scrum are effectively followed in day-to-day tasks performed by the team.

On day to day basis, the Scrum master will be tasked to conduct capacity and feature planning meetings – which are scheduled once in a spirit to plan the capacity of the team and features to be developed in the current sprint, daily scrum, or stand-up meetings - which are a short meetings that occur daily for the entire team to discuss progress, bottlenecks and to-do tasks for the day, feature/sprint review meetings – which are meetings that are scheduled at the end of the sprint to discuss, review and document the solutions, learnings and success/shortfalls of the current sprint. Apart from helping the product development team, the scrum master further helps the product owner with feature backlog and feature planning meetings to obtain, document, and maintain the information needed by the teams to design, develop, test and deliver a specific feature in a sprint.

The scrum master does not provide technical solutions or any form of functional guidance to the development team but is only tasked to ensure the smooth functioning of the team by eliminating impediments or bottlenecks to teams’ day to day activities and upholding Agile overview and Scrum. The scrum master builds a team and an environment in which the development team collaborates seamlessly and works as a unified force to achieve more than the mere sum of capacities all the members of the team put together. The scrum master enables the teams to learn and perform as an efficient unit, while learning from their past experiences and delivering incremental, quantifiable value to the organization while measuring teams’ success and shortfalls according to the planned roadmap of the set goals and targets.  

The scrum master partly functions as an agile coach for his specific team – where he trains, facilitates but not commands, advises not dictates, helps but does not strongarm the team to function in accordance with the values and principles of agile. The scrum master is not a position of power or authority. In accordance with the agile values, the position of the scrum master is often described as a servant-leader, which means the job of the scrum master is to facilitate and help teams to perform well and to perform better as a collective unit.  

The annual salary of a scrum master is between $80,000 to $140,000 in United States of America.  

What Does an Agile Coach Do?

The success of the agile model is largely dependent on the implementation of agile principles and frameworks that guide and drive the product owners, the scrum masters, and product development teams in all phases and situations. The principles such as transparency, collective opinion and responsibility, knowledge sharing and celebrating success as a small, flexible, high-functioning unit are the foundation of agile methodology. This necessitates an expert to coach and mentor the individuals and teams in the organization while transitioning from other development models to using agile methodology. This job is done by a qualified agile coach who facilitates agile training, conducts workshops, and monitors the implementation of agile processes and principles following the agile values of various teams of the organization. The agile coach can also work as an advisor to resolve issues or conflicts between different teams of the organization.  

The agile coach further explains the benefits and processes of all the frameworks and principles of agile, so the teams can evaluate and choose the best frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, Lean, etc., for running day to day activities in the team. The Agile coach is further tasked with explaining the individual roles and responsibilities of all parties in the team. The agile coach is also responsible for ensuring that the teams understand and implement agile principles and frameworks while ensuring the teams reap the maximum benefit from the chosen agile framework, The agile coach’s role is advisory and the agile coach usually will not be a member of the development team.  

Roles and Responsibilities of an Agile Coach

The roles and responsibilities of an Agile Coach will be as described in the below points 

  • The agile coach should lead by example – by being an expert and a model for agile principles, values, and processes 
  • The agile coach should facilitate trainings and workshops on Agile Frameworks, Principles and Processes 
  • The agile coach will train the leadership teams such as product owners, scrum masters, and the executives about agile leadership practices.  
  • The agile coach will work on identifying and laying the future roadmap of implementing the next set of agile processes in the organization 
  • Build a culture with the values of agile – encouraging trust and transparency within the organization 

The salary of the agile coach salary is between $100,000 to $180000, and averages around $143,000 in United States of America.

Transformation of a Scrum Master into an Agile Coach

The transition of an individual from the role of the scrum master to the role of an agile coach is a gradual process. The experience of working as a scrum master is invaluable. It is a pre-requisite for someone to become an Agile coach, apart from other requirements like maturing and mastering the role of scrum master, undergoing necessary training or certifications in SAFe Agile such as SPCT [SAFe Program Consultant Trainer], on successful completion of which the professionals will be allowed to train SPCs [SAFe Program Consultants]. Apart from these, exhibiting leadership and training faculty qualities such as excellent communication, interpersonal skills, patience, and other soft skills are of paramount importance at the individual level for aspiring candidates who would like to transition from the role of Scrum Master of a team to the role of Agile coach who would play the role of trainer, mentor and role model of agile values across all teams of the organization. On a timeline front, a decade of professional experience and at least 5 years of experience as the scrum master is desired by organizations to allow the smooth transition of an individual from the role of the scrum master to being an agile coach. 

Progression of Agile Coach vs Scrum Master

Conclusion

In conclusion, Scrum master is a role specific to a scrum team tasked with eliminating obstructions and bottlenecks to help the scrum team perform as a collective high functioning unit in accordance with agile process, principles, and agile values. 

Whereas an Agile coach performs an independent role of a subject matter expert (SME) for all agile frameworks, principles, and values and is tasked with training product owners, scrum masters and leadership teams in agile principles and values. An agile coach is expected to lead by example and be a role model for agile values of transparency and openness in the organization. If you are on your road to becoming Scrum Master, check out the KnowledgeHut Agile Overview course.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

1. Is Agile coach part of Scrum Team?

The agile coach will not be part of any specific scrum team. The agile coach plays an independent role of a subject matter expert (SME) on agile principles, frameworks and agile values across all scrum teams in an organization.  

2. Is Agile Coach higher than Scrum Master?

Yes. Agile coach trains and mentors the scrum master. It is often preferred that the agile coach should have an experience of being a scrum master in a team. So, Agile coach is higher than Scrum Master. But Agile coach is not essentially a management position. So, the scrum master might not report to his/her Agile coach. 

3. What an Agile Coach should not do?

Agile coach should not solve problems in the team instead equip teams to solve the day-to-day problems and complete tasks. 

4. Can Scrum Master be an Agile Coach?

Scrum master is a part of a scrum team, but Agile coach is an independent role across teams. Scrum master can become Agile coach after obtaining necessary experience, training, and certifications.

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