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Myth 8: The Scrum Master is a Junior Agile Coach

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Myth 8: The Scrum Master is a Junior Agile Coach

Give your Scrum Master some credit, and understand that the Scrum Master and Agile Coach are on the same team. After all, there are no "I"s in Ag— Oh, wait.

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Scrum is intended as a simple, yet sufficient framework for complex product delivery. Scrum is not a one-size-fits-all solution, a silver bullet or a complete methodology. Instead, Scrum provides the minimal boundaries within which teams can self-organize to solve a complex problem using an empirical approach. This simplicity is its greatest strength, but also the source of many misinterpretations and myths surrounding Scrum. In this series of posts we — your 'mythbusters' Christiaan Verwijs and Barry Overeem — will address the most common myths and misunderstandings. PS: The great visuals are by Thea Schukken.

Myth 8: The Scrum Master Is a Junior Agile Coach

Are you a Scrum Master and ready for the next step as Agile Coach? Do you need an Agile Coach to help facilitate organizational change while Scrum Masters focus on the Scrum Teams? Do you have experience as a Scrum Master and want to become Agile Coach with a 3-day course? Ever considered changing your job title to "Agile Coach" because it nets you a higher salary?

These statements exemplify the myth that we intend to bust today, the idea that the Scrum Master is a Junior Agile Coach. Or more simply, that the Agile Coach tends to larger organizational issues while Scrum Masters focus on Scrum Teams. In a way, busting this myth has been our mission over the past years. And one that we’ll continue to pursue, considering just how tenacious it is. We’ve written several articles, spoken at seminars, provided training and facilitated workshops; all related to explaining the purpose of the Scrum Master. In this blog post, we’ll share our view on this topic, and why this is a myth that requires very much to be busted.

This myth concerns us for a number of reasons:

  • It is based on a very poor and incomplete understanding of what it is that a Scrum Master actually does and should do according to the Scrum Framework;
  • It positions the Agile Coach as being higher in a traditional hierarchical structure, especially within organizations that are used to "vertical growth paths." The Scrum Master as the Junior Agile Coach is the mediator and the Enterprise Coach is the senior.
  • Consultancy firms and training agencies encourage this way of thinking because it’s easy to match with their increasing hourly rates and expensive training programs. Notice the contradiction with the services these organizations provide: advising clients to think in "horizontal structures" that promote the self-organizing capabilities of the teams, yet promote a "vertical structure" because it works well from a commercial and marketing perspective.

This myth leads to artificial boundaries between what Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches do. The Scrum Master is only “allowed” to act on a team level; therefore creating the necessary Scrum-friendly culture is far more difficult, causing the change for a successful Scrum adoption decrease. The Agile Coach is expected to “implement” the necessary organizational changes, but fails because of limited experiences “from the trenches” and not knowing how to deal with “outside in” change management.Image title

Busting the Myth

Busting today’s myth is actually remarkably easy and requires only a simple reading of the Scrum Guide. As has been the case with every myth we’ve addressed so far, the Scrum Guide offers a clear description of the services that a Scrum Master provides to the Development Team, the Product Owner and the entire organization. This includes coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality, helping the Product Owner find techniques for effective Product Backlog management and supporting the organization in delivering high-value products through the empirical process established through Scrum. To make this happen, the Scrum Master works with other Scrum Masters, Product Owners and people within the organization.

The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master

Another useful perspective on the role of the Scrum Master is offered in the white paper “The 8 stances of a Scrum Master.” It captures the various responsibilities of the Scrum Master in eight stances that are closely linked to the Scrum Guide. The Scrum Master is:

  • An Impediment Remover that helps resolve issues that are blocking the team’s progress, taking into account the self-organizing capabilities of the Development Team;
  • A Facilitator that sets the stage and provides clear boundaries in which the team can collaborate. This includes facilitation of the Scrum events to ensure they’ll achieve the desired outcome and – most importantly – that the empirical process is optimized;
  • A Coach that helps individuals and groups to continuously improve in how they deliver valuable outcomes as a team or as an organization;
  • A Teacher that ensures that Scrum and relevant techniques are well-understood and enacted;
  • A Servant Leader that creates environments where teams can work effectively with stakeholders to create valuable outcomes;
  • A Manager that is responsible for managing (true) impediments, eliminating waste, managing the process, managing the team’s health, managing the boundaries of self-organization, and managing the culture;
  • A Change Agent that helps to enable a culture in which Scrum Teams can flourish – on every level of the organization;
  • A Mentor that transfers agile knowledge and experience to the team.

Scrum Masters should be aware of these stances and its diversity, knowing when and how to apply them, depending on situation and context. All with the purpose of helping people understand the spirit of Scrum.

Dealing With “Senior” Challenges

“A good Scrum Master helps a Scrum Team survive in an organisation’s culture. A great Scrum Master helps change the culture so Scrum Teams can thrive.” – Geoff Watts

Both the Scrum Guide and the "8 Stances of the Scrum Master" inform us about the challenges of a Scrum Master:

  • How to help people transition from plan-based approaches towards an empirical process that does more justice to the complexity of the work they do?
  • How to facilitate transparency, inspection and adaptation in a traditional "closed" organization?
  • How to coach organizations in truly collaborating with their Scrum Teams?
  • How to manage the boundaries of self-organisation in control-driven organizations?
  • How to offer a “safe to fail & learn” environment where experimentation?
  • How to promote a culture where Scrum Teams can thrive?

Being a Scrum Master means dealing with these difficult challenges and influence the organization’s culture in such a way that.

  • Team success is valued over individual success;
  • Continuous improvement and experimentation are promoted;
  • “Agile contracts” are encouraged;
  • Stable team composition is supported;
  • Behaviour is rewarded, not individual achievements;

It’s up to the Scrum Master to help create this Scrum-friendly culture. Thankfully, the Scrum Master is in a perfect position to do this, because (s)he can enable change from the inside out.

“The Scrum Master enables change from the inside out.”

Being part of a Scrum Team, the Scrum Master knows exactly what needs to be changed and why this change is necessary. They help teams uncover the impediments that are holding them.

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