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The Scrum Master is a Junior Agile Coach

July 8, 2024

Seven years ago, Christiaan Verwijs and I wrote the article "The Scrum Master is a Junior Agile Coach" and explained why this is a myth according to the Scrum Guide. 

We decided to improve the illustrations of this series. Simultaneously, it offers a nice opportunity to inspect the state of this myth. Has anything changed, or is the myth still strongly present? 🤷‍♀️ 

First, let's explain the myth in more detail. 

In short, the Agile Coach addresses larger organizational issues, while the Scrum Master focuses on teams.

I'm not optimistic about the progress we (the community) have made. 😥 

The Agile Coach is still positioned 'higher' in many organizations. Especially within organizations that are used to ‘vertical growth paths.’ The Scrum Master is the junior, the Agile Coach is the medior, and the Enterprise Agile Coach is the senior.

Consultancy firms continue to encourage this thinking because it’s easy to match with their increasing hourly rates and expensive training programs. 

Notice the contradiction in these organizations' services: they advise clients to think in ‘horizontal structures’ that promote the teams' self-organizing capabilities yet implement a ‘vertical structure’ because it works well from a commercial and marketing perspective. 

As a result, both Scrum Masters AND Agile Coaches struggle. ❌ 

The myth leads to artificial boundaries between what Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches do. The Scrum Master is only “allowed” to act on the team's level. Therefore, creating the necessary Scrum-friendly culture is far more complex, decreasing the chance of a successful Scrum adoption. 

The Agile Coach is expected to “implement” the required organizational changes but fails because of limited experiences “from the trenches” and not knowing how to deal with “outside-in” change management.

So, should all Agile Coaches be fired? 🔥 

No, we do not mean to say that Agile Coaches are worthless. We do mean to say that the need for Agile Coaches diminishes greatly when Scrum Masters are allowed to perform their intended role. Scrum Masters should be enabled and supported to promote the empirical process at all organizational levels. If they can, and if they do, no other roles are necessary to help organizations generate valuable outcomes through Scrum.

Please note: 
👉 Scrum should not be a goal in itself. No matter what framework or methodology you choose, it will involve organizational change to some degree. The people in the best position to effect this change are part of the teams doing the work. They may have titles like Scrum Master, Kanban God, XP Dude, DevOps Guru, or no title at all: we don’t care.

Organizational change should be driven from the inside out by people who are truly part of the teams. In the case of Scrum, this person is the Scrum Master. 

What do you think about this myth? Do you agree? 
What changes have you experienced in the past years? 🤔

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