Scrum Master vs agile coach

If you have had any experience with agile, then you have probably heard of or met a Scrum Master or an agile coach. You may have one on your team or be about to work with one. If you are wondering what is the difference between a Scrum Master and an agile coach, this article will explain it clearly for you. So hopefully you can understand what each of them are and why they are different.

What is a scrum master

Scrum Master is one of the only three roles defined in the Scrum framework (and so as described in the Scrum Guide).

According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is “accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide”, and “accountable for the Scrum team’s effectiveness”.

So this is not a project manager or team lead, whose job it is to direct work and assign people to tasks. Rather, the Scrum Master works to increase the team’s ability to become empowered and self-managing. They are a servant leader rather than a manager role.

It is important to remember the “leader” part of that, however. The Scrum Master is meant to lead the team on their Scrum journey. They are not a team assistant or secretary! If their only activity is booking Scrum event meetings and taking notes, they are not being a Scrum Master.

A Scrum Master instead should be continually challenging the team. Asking difficult questions, posing challenging problems, questioning people’s assumptions. This is the way a Scrum Master will subtly improve a team’s effectivenes.

What is an agile coach

An agile coach is not defined formally anywhere. This is opposed to a Scrum Master, which is defined in the Scrum Guide. However, there are some generally accepted meanings of that role and its purpose.

agile coach scrum master
Agile coaches are a key part of an organization’s agile journey

An agile coach is responsible for improving the agile capability of an organization. They may do this in a number of different ways and with a number of different people and situations.

Agile coaches are often working closely with a particular team. But also working in a more subtle way with other parts of the organisation, including managers and senior executives.

And while an agile coach might be working with a team, they are not part of a team. They are not accountable for the delivery or success of a particular team or project or product. They are accountable for the overall agile capability of the organisation.

They may apply ideas from Scrum, Lean, Kanban, XP, or other frameworks to do this. They often employ ideas from concepts outside of the traditional agile curriculum (such as Systems Thinking or Design Thinking).

Scrum master vs agile coach

These two roles are not the same. You may be wondering what the differences are between a Scrum Master and an agile coach. The main differences are:

  • Scrum Master is part of a team – agile coaches often work with a team or teams but are not part of the team
  • Scrum Masters are accountable for the effectiveness of a team – agile coaches are accountable for the agile capability of the organization
  • Scrum Masters might know various frameworks but are expected to be specialists in Scrum – agile coaches are meant to have a strong background in many agile frameworks, probably Scrum but others as well.

The differences are not quite so clear-cut, however. If you read the Scrum Guide carefully, you will notice that some of the Scrum Master responsibilities are similar to an agile coach.

For example, the end of the description for Scrum Masters says:

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

– Leading, training, and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;

– Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization.

That sounds a lot more like an agile coach. What you will find is that over time, Scrum Masters become less focused on improving Scrum for their team, and more focused on improving Scrum for the organization.

So Scrum Masters become more like agile coaches over time. They may often improve and include other agile approaches and ideas along the way. Thus, eventually becoming something very much like an agile coach, or simple an agile coach. That is in fact has been my journey in my career.

So over time, the distinction between the two often blurs. You will often see people who start out as Scrum Masters, end up becoming agile coaches.

Which is better, Scrum Master or agile coach?

This question may come up, but I don’t think it is a good one.

As I have explained, Scrum Masters and agile coaches are different roles with different focuses and purposes.

A Scrum Master is part of a Scrum team and a Scrum team will not function (and will not even be a Scrum team) without an agile coach.

So you will usually find a lot more Scrum Masters than agile coaches at an organization. You should find one Scrum Master for every team (although sometimes less, since a Scrum Master might be assigned to two teams at a time). But you don’t need an agile coach for every team.

There is no hard and fast rule for how many agile coaches an organization needs, though some recommend one agile coach for every twenty developers.


Hopefully you can now see the important differences between Scrum Masters and agile coaches. That Scrum Masters focus more on a particular team, and more on Scrum, while agile coaches are focused more on the whole organization, and on overall agile capability. Do you have any more questions or comments (including disagreements!) with this? Please let me know in the comments! I will reply to every single one.

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