This article is directed to all who think that being a Scrum Master is inferior, and therefore think (ab)using the term “Agile Coach” is justified.

Note. A serious warning before you read on: If you consider yourself to be an Agile Coach and you are not up to digesting some painful transparency about your role, please stop here.

OK, so when you read this line, I have captured your attention, which means the agile community might be one small step closer to transparency. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I want to reward you with the management summary: “We should re-establish the title of Scrum Master to stop the proliferation of oblique role nomenclature. Our professionalism demands this from us; We need to practice the transparency we preach.

Last week I was running a series of interviews trying to find an experienced Scrum Master for a company I am currently working with. They want to scale, and as per my advice we started looking for an experienced Scrum Master to service their teams. We were looking for high calibre candidates. The Scrum Master I am looking for has to be experienced: A person who understands what’s not in the Scrum guide, has empathy, understands the trade off of “not now”, who supports the PO, can deal with 3 to 4 teams, a master in the art of “doing nothing”, a sheepdog that knows how to be loved and trusted and a little bit feared. In other words, I am looking for a REAL Scrum Master. My high standards do not seem to be a problem: Looking at the pile of resumes we got, I was baffled: mainly Agile Coaches applied for the job. 

Looking back at these candidates and the interviews, I observe that people think the Scrum Master title is too common, too ordinary, too inferior and most of all: too cheap. The title “Scrum Master” does not impress friends at parties. Neither does it resonate inside the Agile community, you’re “just” a Scrum Master, it’s a beginners position. Whereas the term “coach” impresses everybody and radiates seniority. 

Friends Agilists, we need to stop this. We need to practice what we preach. We have the obligation uphold transparency in the Agile community, we should not only leave it up to agile institutions to verify true knowledge and experience by certification (like scrum.org, scrum alliance, agile consortium, etc); We need to do more because we are agile.

Firstly, I want to call out to all people that HIRE: Hire a Scrum Master

You stop further deterioration of the title “Scrum Master” by recruiting a Scrum Master when you need one (i.e. don’t ask for a carpenter if you need a macon). You will waste valuable time interviewing them and waste even more employing them. Probably you were tempted to hire an Agile Coach because you experienced the people reacting are mostly Scrum Masters saying they are Agile Coaches, just upping their profile to be invited for the interview. The real Scrum Masters might not apply because your job request is not transparent. Or maybe the reason you are calling out for an Agile Coach is because Scrum says you need one Scrum Master per team and you think that is a waste. It’s easy to do the math: you will pay a bit more for only one Agile Coach, doing the work of two or three Scrum Masters. Here is some news: One Scrum Master can handle multiple teams. So next time hiring, you could try recruiting a Scrum Master and even better, include in your text that candidates using the term “Agile Coach” in their resume will not be invited.

Secondly I need to reach out to all who want to GET HIRED: Be proud of being a Scrum Master.

The title “Agile Coach” is not described in any Agile framework. If you are a rookie and you spiced up your cv to impress HR personnel or head hunters, I hope you will be (respectfully) roasted. The world of Agile Coaches is about money and status. Don’t feed the system with the idea that a Scrum Master is a job of no importance and Agile Coaches are a step up in the hierarchy. This attitude is unethical towards the agile values.

Instead, be open and say you are proud of being a Scrum Master. Show respect to the servant leader management role it actually is. Be courageous towards HR people and explain and teach the aspects of Scrum Mastership. Stay committed to offering opportunities for learning to the teams you dearly care about and to the organisation that employs you. If you are unsure about the complexity of the Scrum Master role, read the white paper by Barry Overveem: http://www.barryovereem.com/the-8-stances-of-a-scrum-master/

Finally, I need to reach out to the Agile community to eradicate this “Agile Coach” virus: Let’s institutionalise this title with proper certification ASAP. Find out more here: http://whatisagilecoaching.org/ and http://agilecoachinginstitute.com/

Am I free of blame? No. off course not. At times I found it troublesome to be a Scrum Master too. I didn’t understand the value of the role either. But after reading this blog, I agreed with myself to reword my linkedin profile title:  Roland Flemm. Scrum Master, LeSS Practitioner and Lecturer.

Coaching works great for change. Coaching is asking the right questions. It is not about providing answers. Every time you provide an answer to a person or team you take away an opportunity for them to self-organize, grow and learn. You take away an opportunity for them to take ownership of the change and get engaged.

In the role of the coach your task is to create awareness and responsibility. Your goal is to help them discover what needs to change, how to change it and to help them actually implement the change.

Illusion Of Control

“The illusion of controlis the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, for instance to feel that they control outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.”

An interesting research on this topic, by Langer, Ellen J. published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 32(2), Aug 1975, involves a lottery. People would either receive lottery tickets at random or were allowed to choose their own. Although the lottery is random, when people were asked to sell or trade their tickets, the people who choose their own numbers were less likely to trade their tickets then the people who received a ticket.

The interesting part of this research is that it shows that by having people choose their own lottery number the ticket became something of their own. The experiment showed that Illusion of Control encourages people to take responsibility for the actions they do. And that is exactly what you want people to do during the change. You want people to be the owners of the changes. And you need coaching to achieve it. People change at a much deeper level when people discover themselves what is best to do and decide themselves to take the appropriate actions to change.

Coaching on competences

In most of the companies I work with the development of hard skills is quite good. Often the necessary soft skills and behaviors required to work effectively and joyfully in teams are missing. In the Lean Agile adoption journey the people need to be supported in developing these soft skills. The coaching efforts should therefore focus on helping people develop specific competences. Some interesting competences in an Agile transformation are relational sensitivity, cooperation & teamwork, and results & performance accountability.

Relations Sensitivity

Relational sensitivity competence requires the following behavior:

  • Notices non-verbal signs and asks about them; 
  • Reacts constructively to verbal signs that are emotionally loaded; 
  • Shows empathy and understanding of others’ perspectives on issues; 
  • Is aware of irritations and reacts constructively; 
  • Gives feedback and demonstrates understanding of information and communication; 
  • Demonstrates understanding and acknowledgment of others’ interests. 
  • Cooperation & Teamwork 

Cooperation & teamwork competence requires the following behavior:

  • Provides feedback on team results; 
  • Values team results; 
  • Makes sure relevant information is shared among team members; 
  • Starts and actively supports improvement initiatives of teamwork. 
  • Results & performance accountability 

Result & performance accountability competence requires the following behavior:

  • Helps team members where needed, so the team succeeds; 
  • Assesses team members and oneself on keeping commitments and the manner in which the commitments are met; 
  • Takes accountability for one’s own work and the overall work of the team. 

In order to stimulate the coaching sessions you need some starting material. In life coaching, the coachee comes to the coach asking for help. Based on the questions of the coachee, the life coach starts to work. Sometimes the people involved in the change come to me with questions but most people do not. Those who are opposed to the change are especially unlikely to do so. You therefore need to create the need for coaching sessions. To have a basis for your coaching sessions, 360 feedback is used.

Competence coaching with 360 feedback

In 360 feedback people receive feedback from the people they work with, such as team members, customers and leaders. The feedback is on the person’s behaviors. A person receives feedback on the desired competences of relational sensitivity, cooperation & teamwork, and results & performance accountability. Based on the results of the 360 feedback you can start your coaching sessions. As a coach you discuss the results of the 360 feedback with the person and investigate what the person wants to work on. You then coach him during his change. The goal of the coaching sessions is to help the people to change their behavior so that they create and take ownership of the needed changes.