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From 50% Agile Coach to 100% Scrum Master

August 20, 2016

Today I changed my Twitter and LinkedIn profile. I removed Agile Coach and replaced it with Scrum Master. 100% Scrum Master. Although it seems a small change, it raised quite some concern when I suggested the idea a couple of weeks ago...

  • "You should stick with Agile Coach. As a freelancer, that's a far more popular job title."

  • "No, don't change it to Scrum Master, you'll get paid less!"

  • "Why don't you call yourself Scrum Guru? Agile Transformation Coach? Enterprise Change Agent?"

  • "At least call yourself a Senior Scrum Master or Chief Scrum Master!"

  • "All the cool stuff is done by Agile Coaches, as a Scrum Master you're stuck within your Scrum Team."

  • "Scrum is a hype, it can all be over within a year!"
But really, don't call yourself a Scrum Master, your freelance career will be doomed!

I will be honest, these concerns did give me some thought. Except for the last one. If Scrum is a hype than it's a hype that turned 21 recently. That's a pretty old hype. It should be possible to stick around for another 21 years. At that time Scrum will be 42, and it will officially become the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. :-)

Best case, the prediction of Gunther Verheyen will become reality:

The future state of Scrum will no longer be called "Scrum". What we now call Scrum will have become the norm, as the new paradigm for the software industry has taken over and organizations have re-invented themselves around it.

So why did I change my title from Agile Coach into Scrum Master? Let me try to explain it by using the values of Scrum.

1. Commitment

I want to deal with my personal frustration of the misunderstandings of the Scrum Master role, for example:

  • The Scrum Master is the secretary for the team taking all the notes and updating the Sprint Burn-down Chart;

  • The Scrum Master is the police officer supervising the Scrum rules;

  • The Scrum Master is the boss leading the daily Scrum and asking for status updates.

Instead, the Scrum Master should be considered as a…

  • Servant Leader whose focus is on the needs of the team members and those they serve (the customer), with the goal of achieving results in line with the organization’s values, principles, and business objectives;

  • Facilitator by setting the stage and providing clear boundaries in which the team can collaborate;

  • Coach coaching the individual with a focus on mindset and behavior, the team in continuous improvement and the organization in truly collaborating with the Scrum team;

  • Conflict navigator to address unproductive attitudes and dysfunctional behaviors;

  • Manager responsible for managing impediments, eliminate waste, managing the process, managing the team’s health, managing the boundaries of self-organization, and managing the culture;

  • Mentor that transfers agile knowledge and experience to the team;

  • Teacher to ensure Scrum and other relevant methods are understood and enacted;

  • Impediment remover solving blocking issues to the team’s progress taking into account the self-organizing capabilities of the Development Team;

  • Change agent to enable a culture in which Scrum Teams can flourish.

The role of a Scrum Master is one of many stances and diversity. A great Scrum Master is aware of them and knows when and how to apply them, depending on situation and context. Everything with the purpose of helping people understand and apply the Scrum framework better.

I want to commit myself to help individuals, teams, and organizations improve their ability to deliver valuable products. I want to commit myself to create environments where teamwork, collaboration, and fun can flourish. I believe the Scrum Master is a key player in creating these environments. I want to contribute by not only providing Scrum Master courses but also fulfilling the role myself. Lead by example. Practice what you preach. Eat your own dog food etc. That's the commitment I'll try to live up to.

2. Focus

I believe in focus. Create a compelling vision for yourself, translate it into tangible goals and focus on achieving them. That's what works best for me. Positioning myself as an Agile Coach didn't feel like focus. It felt like an empty shell. Every organization seems to be packed with Agile Coaches. Although I'm surely not against Agile Coaches, I just don't consider myself an Agile Coach. An Agile Coach should have sound knowledge of and experience with Kanban, XP, Lean and all the different scaling methods and frameworks.

Although I can pretend to be an Agile Coach. I'm not. I'm a Scrum Master. I want to be part of a Scrum Team. As a Scrum Master, I'm interested in other frameworks and methods. As a Scrum Master, I can offer organizations my opinion on these areas. But if a different approach suits an organization better, I'll bring them in contact with someone else who's got more experience in that area.

My focus will be fulfilling the role of Scrum Master. As a Scrum Master, I coach Development Teams, Product Owners and Organizations. As a freelance Scrum Master, I try to be redundant. Therefore I will also coach other Scrum Masters. Hereby trying to ensure sustainable use of the Scrum framework.

As a Scrum Master, I'll try to be a servant leader, facilitator, coach, conflict navigator, manager, mentor, teacher, impediment remover and change agent. Everything with the purpose of helping people understand the spirit of Scrum. Only with true focus, I believe it's possible to live up to the possibilities of all the different stances of the Scrum Master role.

3. Courage

True commitment and focus are only possible by showing courage. Courage to say 'no'. You need the courage to really choose. I choose to position myself as a Scrum Master. Therefore I say no to the Agile Coach role. The common denominator in everything I do is Scrum. I'll mostly write about Scrum, speak at Scrum events and provide Scrum training. I will be an active contributor to the Scrum community. Of course, I will search for inspiration at other Agile events like XP Days, everything with the goal of fulfilling the Scrum Master role better.

4. Respect

By being authentic I try to respect everyone I interact with. Respect others by showing them who you really are. Be open, authentic and have integrity. As Geoff Watts puts it:

A huge element of respect comes from having integrity. Integrity involves honesty, consistency, reliability and a strong moral code.

During my time at Prowareness, I once got awarded as 'Employee with the highest integrity'. Taking this description of integrity into account is something to be proud of. My goal is not to win 'integrity awards'. My goal is to be authentic. Always.

This is precisely what made me change my role description from Agile Coach to Scrum Master. As a Scrum Master, I feel authentic. Although the difference between both roles might feel fuzzy to some, it just didn't feel right calling myself an Agile Coach.

Choosing to be a Scrum Master is also a way to show respect to my customers. I can offer them an average Agile Coach or a good Scrum Master. I choose the latter.

5. Openness

For me, openness and transparency are self-evident. I'm transparent as a person: what you see is what you get. I'm also transparent about what I do. I will provide openness by sharing all my insights, mistakes and lessons learned as a Scrum Master. Not only the stuff that went well but also the stuff I've done wrong. Sharing these experiences will be done by writing, speaking and training.


So from now on, I will position myself as a Scrum Master. A 100% dedicated Scrum Master. I will fulfill this role as long as it enables me being authentic. Offering others an authentic version of myself with high integrity is the least I can do...


Writing blog posts has got a dual-purpose. Firstly it helped me structure my thoughts. By writing it down I force myself into a deep thinking process. Secondly, I share my thoughts with the outside world because maybe it's useful to others. By writing this blog post I've done myself a pleasure, it offered me clarity. The clarity I was searching for. I'm not sure if this article is useful to others as well. Maybe my distinction between Agile Coach and Scrum Master causes more confusion instead of clarity. If so, please mention it, maybe I can offer a bit more detail on parts that aren't clear yet.


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