Scrum Master vs. Agile Coach

I’m fast approaching the 10 year mark as a scrum master, and I honestly cannot remember what it felt like not to do this.  If I look back, I’ve had some pretty amazing coaches, mentors and trainers, and I’m incredibly thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve been given.

“So what’s next?” I’m often asked, especially during some of my not so recent job interviews.  What is life after scrum master’ing?  Mmm… I try to be cautious when answering this, because I honestly don’t mean to offend (…and then the big bad BUT sneaks out), BUT, I cannot help but notice that some of my peers, and fellow scrum masters have recently “converted” themselves, or dubbed themselves to be agile coaches.

This leaves me with so many questions… “How the hell did that happen?”  Probably being the most pertinent. So, perhaps I missed a memo, or some criteria by which you suddenly cross over into Agile Coach-hood?  I don’t know?  I wish somebody could enlighten me.

By all means, a scrum master’s job does involve some facet of coaching, but certainly you cannot just go from scrum master one day, to agile coach the next? I’m also pretty sure that a coach has some access to management, and coaching on that level.  And I don’t mean talking to management, just to raise issues and complain on their teams’ behalf.  I mean working WITH management, actively planning a transformation, or, at the very least, an improvement road map.

From what I’ve seen, scrum masters dubbing themselves as agile coaches are either bored with what they do, they need more money, and the scrum master salary bracket doesn’t allow for growth beyond a certain amount, or they feel like they need more recognition, aka STATUS in their agile community.

I know I’m sounding very harsh, and I’m sure that I’ll get some people who will totally disagree, but I can tell you that all those examples that I’ve used, I’ve actually encountered in the work place.

So… for those who are content being scrum masters, for now, how do you plan on growing?  Are you furthering your knowledge as a specialist, or do you need to move into a different (higher level) role to feel like you’re successful?

I’m curious to learn the true motivation behind the “coaches movement”, and also the prerequisites that you feel are needed to be dubbed a coach.


What I dislike about SAFe

Just like our relationships, I suppose?  First we fall in love with all the wonderful things that we’ve been longing for all along. And then, you start seeing the flaws…

As with any framework, it can only be as imperfect as the people using it.  It doesn’t matter how perfect the theory sounds, if it doesn’t work in practice, it’s not very useful.

After all, it’s not the perfection of the theory of the framework that we’re after, but rather the underlying values that drive our interactions in a meaningful way.

Because of the importance of those values and principles, I struggle to convey the message of agile in it’s entirety.

This is not unique to SAFe, but I find that there is more clutter which obscures the new learners from the true character of agile, and what it stands for.  People are fussing and panicking about not missing a step in the hugely choreographed “play”, and they forget to enjoy and smile.  I know it’s not that simple, and that every implementation takes TIME, but I cannot help but question if SAFe is the right approach when starting with an agile transformation.

We forget about the agile manifesto, the values, the principles… The core where it all started.  People start valuing their preparation & analysis over collaboration.  Others cannot keep up, and instead of ensuring that problems get raised they value cloak & dagger over transparency.

Like I said before, this surely happens with every type of agile implementation, sometimes?  I just found that these seem much more prominent in my experience during a SAFe implementation.




Step 2… what I love about SAFe

The one thing which I absolutely LOVE about SAFe, is that at long last, there is an official framework which involves business people.

This may seem like common sense, but I think it’s so often overlooked, as SCRUM is seen as an “IT”thing, especially in bigger organisations.

The most important thing about this, is that those business people understand the importance of their involvement, their dedication and their availability, while still trusting the teams to deliver at the best of their abilities.

Welcome to square one

It’s a new chapter for me in many ways, so I thought it apt to start a new blog. My dream is to share this blog with some of my favourite agile people.

Although I have been a scrum master since 2008, I’ve only just started learning about SAFe.  I’ve never been a fan, but let’s see what I can learn from this.

So far, I can tell you it’s pretty complicated,  seems difficult to coordinate all ceremonies and artifacts,  and it’s incredibly time consuming.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Things to consider before becoming a scrum master

So we’re recruiting for scrum master at my current employer, and have decided to train up from the inside first.  During a recent conversation a fellow colleague, who is possibly interested in the transition to scrum master asked me what does my job entail.

What a loaded question.

I’ve been a scrum master for almost 10 years, and to be honest, I’ve probably (slightly unknowingly) transitioned to agile coach.  My focus used to be very much with my teams, but turns out that that was only the tip of the ice berg.  I’m thrilled to be working  with an amazing fellow scrum master in helping our management team through coaching, and implementing small changes from a management level.

So back to the loaded question.  What is it that I do?

I could list a whole bunch of things that you could find in any text book, but the toughest tasks would be missing.  To sum it up in a cheesy one liner “I try to help teams, and individuals be better“.  In whatever sense that is necessary in order to have happier clients.   I’m a change agent. A coach.  This means that I sometimes bring up uncomfortable topics, and help teams deal with these sticky situations in a professional manner.  I encourage the values which are so close to my heart; honesty, transparency, courage, commitment, focus, respect.

I love my job, so I’m obviously biased, and can easily tell why someone should become  a scrum master. In the end, I thought it better to list 5 reasons why not to become a scrum master.

  1. Your work is mostly invisible. This might sound strange, but people don’t notice what is done behind the scenes.  I’ve recently skipped out on a few team ceremonies in order to ensure that other teams could continue their focus, and to try and prep their stories with product owners and stakeholders, so that the teams wouldn’t be disrupted unnecessarily.  Unless if I told my teams explicitly about this, they might have interpreted by absence as being uninterested in their work.  Removing impediments is another great example of invisible work. At times, no one will notice, because the impediment will be removed before it even hits the team.
  2. Managing vs. Leading.  Being a scrum master is about being a servant leader.  This means that you will not be put in your own cushy office and dictate work to teams.  Traditionally, this is what project managers did, and if this is what you’re used to, you’re in for a big surprise, or you will really suck as a scrum master.
  3. You’re happy with status quo.  If you’re happy to come in every day, do your job, and go back home, you’re probably not a great scrum master candidate.  You should constantly be questioning what you do, and how you do it, and encourage your teams to do the same.  You need to strive for continuous improvement, instead of just reacting to all the curveballs that are thrown in your direction.
  4. You don’t like negative feedback.  So many scrum masters expect this from their teams, but get really offended when they are given feedback.  Teach your teams that feedback is an opportunity to grow, learn and improve. It’s an opportunity to respond to change.  And remember to apply this to yourself first of all.
  5. You don’t like working with people. So you’ve figured that the scrum master role is all about process, and a little about facilitating.  So… not much dealing with people then?  You couldn’t be further from the truth.  Sometimes I feel like a bit of a shrink.  A sucky one, but still a shrink.  Having to deal, above all, with the complexity of human interactions, and understanding how people’s personalities impact on the way that they work, has been one of the most fascinating, rewarding, and frustrating aspects of my job. Helping each individual to find their place in the team. Gently coaching them to add value in a way that makes them feel valuable. Wow, that’s magic.
  6. You hate sticky notes. Well, this one is pretty self explanatory, but I’m still going to say it.  Scrum Masters should strive to make all things visible.  If problems, bottlenecks and hold ups are visible, and people begin to understand them, only then can we start to improve these issues.  If you prefer electronic boards over physical boards, any scrum master worth their weight in gold should at least raise an eyebrow.  I’m not saying that this is set in stone, but I’m definitely going to need some convincing as to why it is you think that electronic is better than good old fashioned sticky notes.