This year there's an increasing interest in Agile Coaching. Sessions about the role of Coach have been popping up in agile conference programs around the globe. Agile2009 even dedicated a stage to sessions on Coaching. Our book on "Agile Coaching" is the first book dedicated to explaining how coaches work with Agile teams. Meanwhile, Lyssa Adkins is also working on a book, "Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and Project Managers in Transition", which should be out in the summer of 2010.
Yet, despite the burgeoning Agile Coaching movement, there's not much written about how the role of Coach fits into the Scrum framework. It's easy to see why people are curious. There's no Coach role in Scrum reference books, such as the Scrum Alliance Scrum Guide---although if you do some digging you'll see Coach was included in the original SCRUM pattern language. Yet what's puzzling is that Scrum Alliance's certification program includes Certified Scrum Coach, as an advanced level qualification on your "journey to mastery". To qualify, you have to demonstrate significant coaching experience with client references. But how is a Scrum Coach different from a ScrumMaster?
In our "Agile Coaching" book, we focus on how to coach a team in a vanilla flavor of Agile rather than getting sucked into the specifics of the Scrum framework. So you may be surprised to learn that I often coach Scrum teams and ScrumMasters. Last month, Christoph Mathis invited me to share my experiences on "Being a Scrum Coach" at the Scrum Gathering in Munich. I was delighted to find there was a whole track dedicated to "Coaching & Continuous Improvement". This panel session was the first time I was put on the spot and asked "What's the difference between a ScrumMaster and a Scrum Coach?" that's when the seed for this blog post was sown.
Last week, the same question came up in an OpenSpace session for Agile Coaches and that gave me the extra nudge I needed to write up my thoughts. I've posted a photo that shows some points in our discussion here.
I'm sure you'll agree that a ScrumMaster needs coaching skills to perform their role well. I'd add that you don't need to be a ScrumMaster to be a Scrum Coach! Coaching skills are like good fertilizer. In my experience, it makes sense for you to spread these skills around the team. The ScrumMaster is not the only person who needs to absorb them. My goal, as a coach, is to encourage the team to become self-coaching rather than continuing to rely on any one team member to be the coach. So for me, a coach is a transitional role until the team grows their own coaching capability.
When you take this perspective on board, your next question is "Does an experienced Scrum Team continue to need a ScrumMaster?" Surely, once they've got experience under their belts in applying Scrum, the need for a ScrumMaster disappears. Let's revisit to the responsibilities of the ScrumMaster. Are there any important aspects that can't be absorbed by the team?
Naturally, Scrum continues to evolve and over the years the role of ScrumMaster has been described in different ways. Ken Schwaber compares the ScrumMaster to a "sheepdog" who guards the team from interruptions, they're often the first point of contact for anyone outside the team. A ScrumMaster also focuses on removing impediments. Maybe it's down to personal coaching style, I'd never do either of these activities as a coach. My rule as an external coach is never to do any tasks for the team. I want to avoid creating any dependency on me. Instead, I teach the team to notice and respond to impediments and interruptions themselves.
As Mike Cohn reminds us there is no end state when transitioning to agile. Adopting Scrum is just a beginning to your team's Agile journey and a team doing "Scrum by the book" is not the end that ScrumMasters or Scrum Coaches are working toward.