I was fortunate enough to be the MC at the Happy Melly Exploration Day event in Waterloo recently and was asked this question that I think deserves some exploration.

I do have a question for you about transitioning from Scrum Master to Agile Coach. I heard opinions that say that it’s just a title, and that in fact Scrum Masters often do very similar things to coaches anyway. I agree that this can be the case in some companies, but my observation has been that Agile Coaches usually get a wider mandate and hence are able to better foster overall organizational growth. Also, Agile Coaches could potentially coach more than Scrum. And, here I have limited evidence, but I think there is usually a salary difference, too. So I’m curious about your take on it. What are the biggest differences between Scrum Master and Agile Coach?

 

It is true that Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches do similar things, however at different levels. It is also true, as you state, that Coaches to get a wider mandate, not only to coach the executives but SM and teams as well. You are seen as the overall expert, answering questions, reviewing sessions, providing feedback and guidance and helping to plan the journey. What are the next steps? What training is necessary? Who should be trained? What do you do about a SM that isn’t performing? About a team?

There is a salary difference, but that depends on the expertise of the Coach, the industry, and the mandate.  It can be a pretty wide range, and that again depends on the maturity of the organization that is hiring you as companies new to the agile process might not place as much value on the role as it deserves.
The biggest differences are what you are expected to do. A Scrum Master works with “A” team. An Agile Coach works with ALL teams, AND executives AND other teams/groups. A Scrum Master ensures that the team is following the Scrum process, doing the ceremonies and behaving the right way. An Agile Coach helps to define what is to be done, how, who does it, when, why, how it fits in with the organization, change management, people management and interactions between agile teams and other parts of the organization (like Dev Ops, Hosting, Build teams, Education, UX/UI, etc).

The main difference is the level that the two are operating, single team or enterprise.