Agile Coach or (Agile and Coach)



I recently started thinking about job titles.  Working in Agile and the transformation environment  means you see a lot of differing titles, each with a given objective and sentiment for the role holder…


Scrum Master – Utilise and teach the benefits of Scrum

Delivery Manager – Agile aswell but please just get things delivered and quickly

Agile PM – Erm get stuff done and be agile about it


The most popular currently seems to be that of an Agile coach.  I’ve also got caught up in this craze. Seeing Agile Coach as a promotion from a Delivery Manager or Scrum Master.


I think this was wrong and does the intention and importance of the role a dis service.


Park that for a second.


I also saw a trend 10 years ago in the difference within the unified process between Business Analyst, Systems Analyst and Solutions Architect.  At the time Solutions Architect was not a job title it was a project role. So a BA could take on a SA role for a given project.  This in theory was alluding to the T shape that we seen in agile.  Solutions design and not just a collection of use cases of functional requirements.


Sadly its human nature for us to take everything literally and within a few weeks we were hiring the job title of Solution Architect, this of course unsettled alot of BAs as they saw SA as a promotion.


I also see this now with Agile Coaches, recruiters encouraged to hire Agile Coaches and not Scrum Masters.  Scrum Master is also a role and in theory not a job title, a team should choose the framework and processes that make them most efficient so with that said we wouldn’t have a Scrumban Master or a Xanpan coach.


That all said take the agile word away and you are left with a coach, someone who possesses the skill to coach others.  Coaching is an extremely powerful skill and has to be taught and refined.  I actually do not know very many Agile coaches who have had any real coaching training or experience.  


To me this makes for a dangerous misalignment of role expectation and ability. I have worked with some Agile coaches who whilst they live and breath agile and can help teams deliver from a coaching point of view they have destroyed relationships.  So the process of doing the work is great but the softer human side is eroded as they lack the expertise and self awareness required.


My feeling is that those with an understanding of agile principles and the ability to work with teams to deliver and continuously improve how the work is done is very different to coaching individuals and teams outside of the context of the actual backlogs.  How to be more effective as a group regardless of the domain or product.  Some individuals will want this support some will not.


Perhaps question if your delivery focused team based Scrum Masters or Kanban practitioners are part of the digital/IT/product organisation and your coaches are a learning and development function. Coaching is a fantastic investment if supported and delivered effectively.  Else it’s an exhausting waste of time for the coach.


Approaches such as Management 3.0 and the thinking behind teal organisations have far reaching implications for organsiations way outside of simple IT delivery.  An interesting future lies ahead.


What do you think?

One thought on “Agile Coach or (Agile and Coach)

  1. DE says:

    I agree with you that the career progression of Agile Roles is still evolving – much like previous eras. However, there are some references and ideas that we can use to build on – and these are the foundations of Agile coach role we are seeing.

    First there is the learning framework of Shu-Ha-Ri taken from the world of martial arts. Shu (novices) are learning the basics, Ha (practitioner) go beyond the basics and experiment to bend or break the rules! and Ri (Masters) are folks with lots of experience with many different techniques and frameworks in different situations.

    I see Scrum Masters who have worked with 1 team as Shu, 3 teams as Ha, and more than 5 teams as Ri, but this also depends on the experience and knowledge they show.

    When a Scrum Master is in the Ri stage, they can teach, coach and mentor other scrum masters and other people in the ways of Agile, and so to differentiate this wider scope and skillset, they can be titled Agile Coaches.

    There reference to consider is Lyssa Adkins seminal book “Coaching Agile Teams” where the role, values and stance of the coach in the agile organization is defined and explored.

    I am glad you reference Management 3.0 and the evolution of organizations (Orange, Teal etc) these indeed make the future of our industry, and possibly of all work – a very exciting place.

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