A Leader’s Journey

The Path from a Scrum Master to Agile Coach

What does it mean to be a Scrum Master?  The Scrum Guide defines the role as someone who upholds the values and principles of Scrum, someone who helps the rest of the team understand Scrum theory, and who supports their growth and maturity as individuals.  Not everyone can perform this role as the skills required are not easy to learn or master. It’s not that being a Scrum Master is hard, however many people who take this path do so without a full understanding of what it means to be a Scrum Master.  

So, what exactly is a Scrum Master?  The Scrum guide states, ‘The Scrum Master is the servant leader for the Scrum team”.  So, what is a servant leader, and how can one learn to be a Servant Leader?

John Maxwell, an author of numerous books on leadership states that being a leader is being someone of influence.  What does this mean? Being someone of influence is someone who others come to depend on to help them grow as individuals and as members of a team.  The leader influences them in some way to unlock their own potential.

What is a Scrum Master if not someone of influence?  A Scrum Master undoubtedly has to be an expert in the Scrum Framework.  However, being the expert at Scrum, and upholding its values and principles is not enough.  A Scrum Master has to also master being a leader and a coach for the team he or she serves. The Scrum Master is a coach to the Product Owner, influencing her in ways to better her craft, so that she can get better at maximizing the value being delivered by the team.  The Scrum Master also strives to be a coach to the organization, helping and influencing leadership to change their behavior from a command a control mindset to one where they also practice servant leadership, and develop their leadership skills and become people of influence.  All this doesn’t happen after a two day certification class. It takes years to develop the coaching skills necessary to move from an expert in the Scrum Framework to a team coach, helping influence and shape a high performing team, to coaching an organization, influencing leaders to improve their leadership skills.  Many Scrum Masters will stay content in team coaching roles as it’s an extremely important one to fill, and many others will progress along a path to becoming an Agile Coach, someone coaching multiple teams, to an Enterprise Coach, coaching an organization.

The model, pictured below, from the Agile Coaching Institute visualizes the coaching modalities required to be a successful coach (and leader).  The coaching modalities are colored in red.

A Scrum Master, often called an Agile Team Facilitator, is someone who is an expert facilitator, no easy skill to master.  Professional facilitation courses are available to help new Scrum Masters hone their skills, and Scrum Masters are well served by honing their craft to become master facilitators.

What is Facilitation?  According to Sam Kaner, the author of the “Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision Making”, a facilitator “is an individual who enables groups and organizations to work more effectively; to collaborate and achieve synergy.  She or he is a ‘content neutral’ party who by not taking sides or expressing or advocating a point of view during a meeting, can advocate for fair, open and inclusive procedures to accomplish the group’s work”.

Facilitation, in my view, is something that takes years to master and can serve the individual if their career aspirations include coaching, teaching and mentoring.  All of these modalities require the person to be an excellent facilitator, as facilitation skills play strongly in all of them.

In my next Blog Post, we’ll explore ways you can enhance your coaching, mentoring and training skills, and also how these modalities depend on a strong foundation of Facilitation

For a Scrum Master, it’s important to work on facilitation skills, however, it’s not necessary to be an expert facilitator before taking on coaching, mentoring or teaching.  In fact, as a Scrum Master, you will be expected to mentor and teach your team, and to coach individuals.

How are mentoring and coaching different?  

ICF (the International Coach Federation) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.  When taken in an Agile context, the agile coach is there to partner with their clients in a thought-provoking and creative process to help them change their mindset and approach and influence people in their organization to work in more agile ways.  

Mentoring from an agile context is to share your knowledge and experience to offer your mentee’s choices and options from which to choose.  Choosing a mentoring stance is something that you gain with experience.

And finally, Training is something that a Scrum Master will need to hone and develop their skills in, as it requires equal parts facilitation and mentoring to deliver effective training that people will learn from and remember  

A Scrum Master has a lot to master besides knowledge of the Scrum Framework! It may seem daunting at first, however, the key is to embrace the role and hone your craft as a facilitator as this forms the foundation for all the other modalities that make for a great coach and leader.  

A typical path from Scrum Master to Coach may look something like this:

As a newly minted Scrum Master, you’ll be expected to focus your attention on the team and the individuals on the team.  You will be facilitating all the team ceremonies while honing your mentoring and coaching skills in the process. You will also be exercising these skills as you conduct workshops and more formal training for your team, and possibly other teams in the organization.  Don’t shy away from these opportunities; they will allow you to become better at being a Scrum Master, and a leader. Remember that leadership is nothing more than influence, and having a mastery of these coaching modalities allows you to wield considerable influence on the people you serve.  

As the team matures through your leadership, and as you mature as a Scrum Master, you will be ready to take on more of a leadership role for the organization.  You may focus on multiple teams as an Agile Coach, providing mentoring and coaching for new Scrum Masters, or other roles on the team. You may be conducting more workshops and training for the organization and possibly creating your own content for delivery.  

You will be developing mastery in one or more of the coaching domains as pictured in the coaching model, and will be developing expertise as a Business Coach, a Transformation Coach, or a Technical Coach.  Business Mastery is, as the name states, allows you to focus your coaching and leadership in Product Management, and other aspects that run the business. Transformation Coaches focus on all aspects of organizational change, while Technical Coaches roll their sleeves up, and work with technical teams to help implement DevOps, Continuous Integration and other technical enablers that help the enterprise accelerate delivery.  

Take advantage of coaching boot-camps available commercially, and attend local coaching meetups.  This will give you the opportunity to meet other coaches for mentoring and coaching opportunities.  Remember, the more opportunities you have to coach, the better you will be at it.

And finally, the picture above depicts Enterprise Coaches as the pinnacle of coaching from an agile context.  These coaches have mastered all the coaching modalities, are experts in lean-agile, and have mastered at least one of the domains pictured in the coaching model.  Enterprise coaches as master facilitators, and expert coaches who multiply their efforts by developing others to be great leaders and coaches.

So, go forth and become great Scrum Masters, as this role is the foundation to great leadership.  In my view, being a coach is being a leader of influence. You will be able to help your organization stay nimble and adaptable through your leadership and coaching influence.  

For more information, visit:

International Coach Federation
ICAgile Coaching Roadmap
The International Association of Facilitation

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