Scrum Mastery Is More Than Just Agile Coaching

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Scrum Mastery Is More Than Just Agile Coaching

While they may be different, the Scrum Master is equally as important in an effective Agile transformation as the Agile Coach.

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"An Agile Coach know more than just Scrum," said one consultant in a boardroom meeting, "he/she knows organization dynamics, executive coaching and other Agile practices like Kanban and DevOps," he continued.

"Stay silent, no need to correct him in this kind of forum," my inner voice said. "Take a deep breath."

I have seen many instances how the Scrum Master is perceived to have a more limited scope than the Agile Coach, have less knowledge about Agile than an Agile Coach, or only take care of the Development Team. In a worst-case scenario, I have seen how the Scrum Master is seen as someone who is inferior to and reports to the Agile Coach. Many enterprises create a hierarchy where the Agile Coach is the boss of the Scrum Master. These days, we often see more and more consultants in the market selling Agile Coach as a more superior role than Scrum Master.

I was curious and asked myself how did people or many consultants come to this perception. My curiosity lead me to do some research on how people came to the conclusion that Agile Coach is a higher rank than Scrum Master because from my personal experience helping enterprises in transformations, I do not feel that the scope of work of a Scrum Master is more limited than the scope of work of an Agile Coach nor does the Scrum Master have less knowledge about other Agile practices than the Agile Coach.

The Premise

Scrum Is Only One of the Many Agile Methodologies

Okay, I know Agile is not a methodology, but this is how many people see Agile. Agile is a collection of methodologies and Scrum is one of the many methodologies that fall under the umbrella of Agile. So the Agile Coach is seen as somebody who knows many Agile methodologies.

Scrum is just a framework that consists of core elements and is built on values and principles. To be honest, there is not much in Scrum; it is quite configurable to many different contexts. How Scrum is played and how the core elements are configured will be different from one organization to another organization. Scrum's core elements provide built-in feedback loops, provide a clear area of accountability, and increase transparency for product development in a complex environment. And those configurations and the strategy of how Scrum is played may end up like eXtreme Programming (XP) or DevOps or may even have Kanban in it.

As Scrum is only a framework, it can even be used at the executive level for managing business strategies or even enterprise transformations as written in the Agility Guide.

Scrum Master Is only Focused on Coaching at the Team Level

Many Scrum texts and trainings positioned the Scrum Master at the team level, bringing people to the conclusion that Scrum Master is a team-level role like a traditional technical leader. The Scrum Guide itself mentions that besides the Development Team and the Product Owner, the Scrum Master needs to also serve the whole organization in understanding Scrum values and principles.

In a Professional Scrum Master Course, we discussed how the Scrum Master needs to coach other parties in the organization like the executives, and even HR, on understanding Scrum values and principles to help organizations become more Agile. We believe that coaching the Development Team only leads to sub-optimal results. The Scrum Master also need to go beyond coaching; he/she must master other stances like facilitation, mentoring, teaching and servant-leadership, too.

Agile Is More Important than Scrum

"Agile is more important than Scrum," said one developer to me once. It made me wonder what made him think that you will lose agility after using Scrum. It turned out he has a bad experience from a misinterpretation of Scrum.

Agility is very important to Scrum and the end goal of Scrum is to help you become Agile in achieving your goals. Implementing Scrum should not make the organization becoming less Agile. Both of the co-founders of Scrum contributed to the Agile Manifesto, and they're behind the Agile movement. In many cases, I have found that what people see as Scrum is just the ceremonies, story points, velocity, and tools.

One of the principles of Scrum is continuous learning. By continuously learning, organizations should become more Agile from time to time. When organizations are becoming less Agile after using Scrum, we need to check whether the Scrum values and principles are being upheld in the organization. Many times I've discovered that the value of Openness and Courage is not held by everyone in the organization.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Scrum Values and Principles

I still remember when Ken Schwaber told me that Scrum is just empiricism, lean thinking, and bottom-up collective intelligence, so a Scrum Master should be the master of empiricism, lean thinking and bottom-up collective intelligence. It was a big slap in the face for me when he said that because at that time I'd been focusing on Scrum mechanics and ceremonies. That experience totally changed my perspective on Scrum. The core elements in Scrum as written in the Scrum Guide is to support these foundational thinking. The values in Scrum differentiate whether an organization is doing a mechanical Scrum or a professional Scrum. And when an organization is upholding the foundational thinking and living the values, it should increase organizational agility.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Empiricism

In empiricism, no assumptions are true until it is validated. In empiricism, there are no universal absolute truths. It is easy to make predictions based on assumptions. A traditional project management approach is based on this predictive thinking which often leads to a lack of transparency and dissatisfaction from team members and low-quality products. The Scrum Master is the master of empiricism. He/she is able to increase transparency in the organization using the core elements as a starting point, so assumptions and politics have no room in the organization. With his/her mastery in empiricism, he/she is able to help an organization grow their own Agile model rather than just copying and pasting other organization's Agile model.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Lean Thinking

Lean is about removing non-value added activities from the whole value stream. The Scrum Master often goes down the agenda to identify waste. Impediments are waste that Scrum Masters remove to ensure the Development Team always deliver increments. The events in Scrum have a clear purpose and are designed so that no other meetings that may lead to a waste of time and waste of creativity are needed during the product delivery. The roles in Scrum help increase collaboration and remove silos that may lead to wasteful hand-offs, multi-tasking, and approvals. Scrum Master use the core elements in Scrum and Lean thinking to continuously remove waste.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Maximising Bottom-up Collective Intelligence

The Scrum Master creates a psychologically-safe work environment so people can thrive. With his/her mastery, he/she creates a blameless work environment that will maximize bottom-up collective intelligence. Because one of the values in Scrum is courage, many times the Scrum Master needs to jump out of his/her own safety zone to talk to the management or even the executives so a psychologically-safe work environment can exist in the organization. It is easy to use top-down authority to tell people to do what we want, but it is not as easy to get people to do something using our influence. There are inherent cultural issues that the Scrum Master needs to navigate around so that he/she can maximize collective intelligence.

Scrum Master Is the Master in Scrum Values

When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone.
— Scrum Guide

The elements in Scrum are the manifestation of teams living the Scrum values. It is easy sometimes to focus on what can be seen. The mechanics and the ceremonies that the team is doing is more visible and apparent so we come to think that the whole purpose of Scrum is the ceremonies and the mechanics. The Scrum values are not easily visible; you need to live and observe closely within the organization, see how an organization thinks and really behaves to understand whether they actually live the Scrum values. The Scrum Master is the master of using Scrum values as a compass to identify the root cause of an organization's dysfunctions.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Agile Practices

Scrum is a frame-work. As with pictures, a good frame doesn't guarantee the picture inside would be beautiful. It just holds it in place. - Andy Brandt

Scrum is a frame that provides structure for agility. The 17-page Scrum Guide is barely enough to deliver great products. It is quite surprising to see many people just rely on what is written in the Scrum Guide then blame Scrum when Scrum does not work for them. The Scrum Guide is deliberately designed to be as thin as possible so that people can discover other complementary practices using their ingenuity. The Scrum Master is the master who maximise collective intelligence to discover Scrum complimentary practices that will increase agility inside the organization.

At Scrum.org, we help people to complement other Agile practices like Kanban and technical practices like test driven development & continuous delivery with Scrum. There will be more trainings for Agile practices that complements Scrum planned by Scrum.org for the future.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Many Roles

The Scrum Guide mentions some roles that the Scrum Master needs to play depending on the context and the situation. The Scrum Master knows when to be a coach, a facilitator, a teacher, a mentor and a servant-leader. It takes years to master these roles and know when to play each role effectively. Coaching is just one of the roles that the Scrum Master needs to play.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Coaching

Coaching, in short, is about unleashing awesomeness from each individual through self-discovery. Coaching uses techniques and tools to help individuals or groups of people discover the solutions to their problems. As written on Scrum Guide, in Scrum, not only does the Scrum Master coach the Development Team and the Product Owner, but the Scrum Master also coaches everyone else in the organization. The coaching body of knowledge is quite large. To be able to coach the whole organization, the Scrum Master needs to also master behavioural science, executive coaching, and organization dynamics.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Mentoring

Your greatest contribution in life is not something you do but someone you raise.
— Andy Stanley

While coaching is about unleashing awesomeness, mentoring has a different purpose. Mentoring is about passing down values to the next generation; it is about investing in other people's lives. Mentoring is about mutual learning. Not only does the mentee learn from the mentor, the mentor will also learn from the mentee. Unlike coaching that uses tools and techniques, mentoring brings personal life experience. A Scrum Master cannot be a great mentor if he/she does not have much experience to share and pass down to the mentee. A mentor also has a charisma that is able to attract others. This is what makes people follow the Scrum Master, not because he/she has authority (because the Scrum Master do not have authority) but because he/she has charisma.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Teaching

Teaching is one of the stances that the Scrum Master needs to master. Teaching adults is different and not easy to do effectively. When not done effectively, people get bored and do not own the whole learning process. I found one of the best teaching methods is the Montessori method, where it encourages students to select what they want to learn throughout the day. The Montessori method encourages failing forward and the tools provided in the school provide a self-corrective way for students to learn from their own failure with minimal teacher assistance. I stole many of the principles from the Montessori method to teach people about Scrum and other Agile practices. A Scrum Master is a master of teaching and knows when to be a teacher and when to stop being a teacher.

Scrum Master Is the Master of the Art of Facilitation

Facilitation comes from the Latin word facilis, which literally means "to render easy." So the goal of facilitation is to make tough discussion, whether that is brainstorming, negotiation or conflicts, easy and create a mutual outcome. At its core, the Scrum Master facilitates the events in Scrum. Outside of the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master may need to facilitate tough discussions with the executives or management and the customer. Effective facilitation should lead to increased understanding, increased trust, increased learning, reduced conflict, reduced defensiveness and fewer self-fulfilling and self-sealing processes. The Scrum Master is able to navigate in between organization politics in facilitating effective discussion. Therefore, poor decisions made by the group is partly the facilitator's ineffectiveness in facilitating. The Scrum Master is the master of facilitation process that leads to a shared decision that is owned by the whole group.

Scrum Master Is the Master of Servant-Leadership

Servant-Leader is the role that the Scrum Master needs to master, a role that I constantly fail to do well from time-to-time. In a world where people are focused on their personal agendas, being a servant-leader where the goal is to fulfill other people's agenda first is definitely not easy. As a servant-leader, the Scrum Master is selfless, humble, compassionate, open to his/her own vulnerability, and caring. His/her agenda is not for his/her personal glory but for the greatness of those whom he/she is serving. Being a servant-leader is not easy and a noble thing. I've written about servant leadership in Scrum here.


The Scrum Master is definitely not a role that is less than the Agile Coach. The Scrum Master does not have a smaller scope than an Agile Coach inside the organization. The Scrum Master should not be coached by an Agile Coach as the Scrum Master should have the same capability and knowledge as an Agile Coach. Perceiving the Scrum Master to be less than an Agile Coach is a misunderstanding in translating the Scrum Guide.

The Scrum Master is the master of other Agile practices that complement Scrum, such as Kanban, Lean UX, and DevOps. With his/her mastery, he/she is able to discover complementary practices that are able to increase organization agility. The Scrum Master not only provides coaching at the team level but also at the organizational level, helping the executives and other departments like HR and Marketing to understand the values and principles behind Scrum. The Scrum Master should know executive coaching, organization dynamics, behavioral science and whatever else that is needed to provide effective coaching at the executive level. But also remember that the Scrum Master is not only a master of coaching but also in other roles, like teaching, facilitation, mentoring and servant-leadership. The Scrum Master continuously learns to improve and fills in the gap in his/her ineffectiveness in providing service to the whole organization. The master is a humble one and mastery itself is a never-ending journey.

For me personally, there are still many things that I haven't mastered yet and there is still lots of room for improvement to be a master. How about yourself? Where are you now in your journey of mastery? Hopefully, this article inspires you to be an awesome Scrum Master and identify the gaps in being the Scrum Master. Don't forget to leave a comment below.

Other Resources:

scrum ,agile ,scrum mastery ,servant leadership ,scrum coaching ,scrum values ,agile manifesto

Published at DZone with permission of Joshua Partogi , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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