Organizations worldwide are rapidly adopting Agile for its flexibility, efficiency, and collaborative nature, which we can attest to personally after shifting to this method within DDIY.
When hiring for our agile team, discerning between a “Scrum Master” and an “Agile Coach” quickly became confusing.
After ample research (and a personal learning curve) I’ve parsed out the most important differences between the two roles to help you determine which you need.
Why We Like Toptal
Table of Contents
- Scrum Master vs Agile Coach: Key Differences
- What is The Agile Methodology?
- What is Scrum Framework?
- Scrum Master vs Agile Coach
- Key Differences Between Scrum Master and Agile Coach
- Do I Need an Agile Coach or Scrum Master?
- The Transformation from Scrum Master to Agile Coach
- Hire a Qualified Scrum Master or Agile Coach on Toptal
- Frequently Asked Questions
Scrum Master vs Agile Coach: Key Differences
|Scale and Level of Accountabilities
|Duration of Involvement with a Team
What is The Agile Methodology?
The Agile methodology is a flexible, iterative approach to project management and software development. It emphasizes collaboration, customer feedback, and small, rapid releases.
Agile breaks projects into manageable units. It adapts to changing requirements over time, encouraging continuous improvement and incorporating feedback. Agile's core principles include:
- Customer collaboration
- Responding to change
- Individuals and interactions
- Working software
What is Scrum Framework?
The Scrum framework is a subset of Agile methodology. It’s designed to facilitate team collaboration on complex projects.
It structures development in cycles of work called Sprints, typically lasting two to four weeks. Within these Sprints, teams work to deliver product increments.
Scrum emphasizes roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development Team), ceremonies (Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-ups, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective), and artifacts (Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Burndown Charts) to manage and streamline the work process.
Scrum's approach is highly iterative, allowing for rapid adjustments and continuous improvement.
Scrum Master vs Agile Coach
Back to basics, let’s define Scrum Master and Agile Coach for clarity:
What is a Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master is the heartbeat of an Agile team. They are the facilitators, ensuring that the team follows Agile practices and principles.
Their role is hands-on, working closely with the team to remove obstacles, provide guidance, and foster an environment where each team member can thrive and contribute effectively.
Core responsibilities of a Scrum Master include:
- Communicating the Agile process to team members
- Mentoring the Scrum team to better perform their dedicated roles
- Running feedback sessions to discuss obstacles within the team
- Organizing sprints of work
- Improving the team’s efficiency
What is an Agile Coach?
An Agile Coach, on the other hand, operates on a broader spectrum. They are the catalysts for organizational change, working not just with individual teams but across the entire organization.
Their role involves coaching multiple teams, guiding leadership, and helping to create an environment where Agile can flourish on a larger scale.
Core responsibilities of an Agile Coach include:
- Communicating the Agile process to multiple teams
- Developing standards and best practices to transition to Agile methodology
- Mentoring team leaders on the Agile strategy
- Planning and enacting the next step of the Agile process within an enterprise
- Leading the Agile transition within a company
- Helping team members understand the benefits of the Agile framework
Key Differences Between Scrum Master and Agile Coach
A Scrum Master focuses on guiding a single Agile team, ensuring adherence to Scrum practices, and facilitating daily tasks.
An Agile Coach, however, has a broader role, impacting the entire organization. They must mentor multiple teams, advise leadership, and foster overall Agile adoption (beyond just Scrum methodologies)
Here’s a closer look at the key differences between the two:
- Scrum Master: Professional Scrum Master (PSM) accreditation
- Agile Coach: Agile certifications like PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) or ICAgile Certified Expert in Agile Coaching (ICE-AC), strong leadership skills, and a detailed understanding of project management tools.
- Scrum Master: Team-centric, focusing on specific Agile practices.
- Agile Coach: Organization-wide, focusing on overall Agile adoption.
- Scrum Master: Facilitate daily stand-ups, sprint planning, and retrospectives.
- Agile Coach: Provide strategic guidance, mentorship, and leadership coaching.
- Scrum Master: Agile knowledge, team collaboration, and problem-solving.
- Agile Coach: The same skills as a Scrum Master, as well as excellent leadership/coaching and strong communication skills.
Scale and Level of Accountabilities
- Scrum Master: Accountable for the success of individual Agile teams.
- Agile Coach: Accountable for Agile adoption across the organization.
- Scrum Master: Deep understanding of Scrum methodologies.
- Agile Coach: Broad knowledge of various Agile frameworks.
Duration of Involvement with a Team
- Scrum Master: Often long-term with a single team.
- Agile Coach: Short-term engagements with multiple teams.
Do I Need an Agile Coach or Scrum Master?
Here is an in-depth breakdown of when to hire a Scrum Master vs an Agile Coach:
Why Hire a Scrum Master?
Choose a Scrum Master when your team is new to Agile and needs guidance on specific Agile practices and day-to-day support.
Here are some signs to hire one:
- Team-Specific Focus: Your team is new to Agile and needs guidance on implementing Scrum practices effectively.
- Facilitating Agile Processes: Your team requires a dedicated facilitator for daily stand-ups, sprint planning, and retrospectives.
- Obstacle Removal: To help identify and remove impediments that are hindering team progress and workflow.
- Enhancing Team Dynamics: Bring in a Scrum Master when your team needs support in improving collaboration, communication, and efficiency within the Agile framework.
- Project Management: Your team needs a leader who can manage the complexities of Agile project delivery and ensure timely completion.
- Training and Mentorship: Your team requires continuous training and mentorship in Scrum methodologies and Agile best practices.
- Small to Medium-Sized Projects: For smaller or medium-sized projects where a focused approach is needed, a Scrum Master can provide the necessary leadership and guidance.
- Building Agile Culture: Hire a Scrum Master to cultivate and reinforce an Agile mindset and culture within a specific team.
Why Hire an Agile Coach?
Opt for an Agile Coach when your organization seeks a broader transformation to Agile, requiring strategic guidance and leadership support.
Here are some signs to hire one:
- Organizational Transformation: When your organization seeks a comprehensive shift to Agile methodologies across multiple teams.
- Leadership Guidance: To provide strategic advice and coaching to senior management and stakeholders on Agile adoption.
- Scaling Agile Practices: For effectively scaling Agile practices beyond single teams to larger, organizational-wide applications.
- Broad Framework Knowledge: Ideal for organizations needing expertise in various Agile frameworks, not just Scrum.
- Cultural Change Agent: To lead the cultural change necessary for successful Agile implementation across the company.
- Multi-Team Coordination: When multiple teams need coordination and harmonization in their Agile practices.
- Long-Term Strategic Planning: An Agile Coach is suited for long-term strategic planning and continuous improvement of Agile processes organization-wide.
- Building High-Performance Teams: To develop high-performing teams and enhance overall organizational agility and responsiveness.
- Resolving Complex Challenges: When facing complex Agile implementation challenges that require seasoned expertise and a holistic approach.
- Continuous Improvement: To establish a culture of continuous improvement and learning within the Agile framework.
The Transformation from Scrum Master to Agile Coach
Many Scrum Masters naturally evolve into Agile Coaches. This progression requires not just experience but also a broader skill set and a deeper understanding of organizational dynamics.
Proper training and development are crucial for Scrum Masters to make an effective transition.
Hire a Qualified Scrum Master or Agile Coach on Toptal
In the Agile world, both Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches play critical roles. Understanding which role fits your current organizational needs is key to a successful Agile transition.
And when you're ready to hire, Toptal offers a pool of qualified professionals ready to lead your Agile journey.
Whether you're looking to streamline a single team's workflow or transform your entire organization's approach to software development, Toptal has the expertise you need.
With a strict application process, they accept only the top applicants to help you find quality talent.
Why We Like Toptal
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you change from a scrum master to an agile coach?
Yes, many Scrum Masters progress to become Agile Coaches with the right experience and training.
Is a scrum master or agile coach better?
It depends on your organization's needs. A Scrum Master is ideal for team-level support, while an Agile Coach is better for broader organizational change.
What are the biggest differences between a scrum master and an agile coach?
The main differences lie in their focus areas, responsibilities, scale of work, knowledge base, and duration of involvement with teams.
Where can I hire a scrum master or agile coach?
Toptal is an excellent platform for hiring qualified Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches with a proven track record.