A company that is starting its agile journey often asks whether they need to hire an agile coach or a scrum master

The quick answer is that it depends largely on the specific needs and scale of the organization, as well as its current understanding and implementation of agile. 

The truthful answer is that, in an ideal world, scrum master and coaches as distinct roles would not exist. At Agile By Design, we tend to not get hung up on agile methodologies, because we view agile as a more of a mindset, versus a practice with a strict set of rules. As such, we encourage organizations to not get caught in the rigidity of titles but to focus on the essence of each role's contribution to the Agile ethos—adaptation, value creation, and continuous improvement.

But we don’t yet live in an ideal world. Too often, the reality of organizational structures and project complexities often necessitate specialized roles to address specific needs for guidance, coordination, and expertise in implementing Agile effectively.

Until then,  we will dive into more details on what distinguishes an Agile Coach vs a Scrum Master. We will explain the roles, highlighting their distinct functions, skills, and impact on Agile transformation, allowing your organization to effectively leverage these roles in its journey towards true agility and beyond.

What Is a Scrum Master?

In comparing an Agile coach vs a Scrum master, let’s start with the definition of a Scrum master. 

More than just overseeing processes or facilitating, the Scrum Master is a servant-leader dedicated to ensuring teams embrace and effectively apply Agile and Scrum principles. They focus on removing obstacles, coaching on Agile values, and aiding team self-organization, thereby fostering a culture of adaptability, continuous improvement, and collaboration aimed at delivering customer value.

Acting as a liaison, the Scrum Master promotes agile understanding and adaptation across the organization, advocating for a mindset that embraces learning from failures. The  actual value of a Scrum Master lies in their ability to guide teams and organizations towards achieving greater agility and effectiveness in response to change, making them essential to any agile transformation journey.

The term "Scrum Master" originated from the Scrum framework, a specific approach to agile project management. Over time, as agile methodologies have evolved and expanded, some practitioners and organizations have felt that the Scrum-specific terminology may not fully encapsulate the broader set of responsibilities and the versatility required in various agile environments. 

At Agile By Design, we see the term "Scrum Master" as a relic of Scrum and think the term "Agile Delivery Lead" might be considered more appropriate in certain contexts. Here’s why:

1. Framework-Specific Language:

"Scrum Master" is a role defined within the Scrum framework, which focuses on facilitating Scrum practices for development teams. This title is closely tied to the rules and rituals of Scrum, such as sprints, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives.

 Because it is so closely associated with Scrum, the title "Scrum Master" can imply a limitation to only those environments where Scrum is practiced. It may not resonate well in contexts where teams use other agile methodologies like Kanban, Lean, or XP (Extreme Programming).

2. Evolving Role Beyond Scrum:

As agile practices have matured, the roles within these frameworks have also evolved. Agile roles now often encompass responsibilities that go beyond the traditional Scrum framework, addressing more comprehensive aspects of project delivery, team dynamics, and organizational change.

Modern agile roles often require a blend of skills in coaching, facilitation, project management, and leadership across various agile methodologies, not just Scrum.

3. Why We Prefer “Agile Delivery Lead”

  • Inclusive and Flexible: The title "Agile Delivery Lead" suggests a role that is responsible for leading agile projects regardless of the specific methodology being used. It implies a more methodologically inclusive approach that is adaptable to various agile frameworks.
  • Focus on Delivery: This title emphasizes the role’s focus on delivering results, aligning with business goals, and ensuring that the team efficiently produces high-value outputs. It shifts the focus from merely facilitating meetings and processes (as a Scrum Master might) to actively leading and driving project success.
  • Leadership Connotation: The term "lead" in the title reflects a leadership position within the team and the organization, which can enhance the role’s authority and responsibility in driving agile transformations and fostering a culture of agility.

4. Organizational Context:

  • Cultural Fit: Organizations seeking a more holistic and flexible approach to might prefer "Agile Delivery Lead" to better communicate the role's importance and scope within the company.
  • Adapting to Change: As organizations grow in their agile maturity, they often recognize the need to adapt their language to better reflect their evolved practices and culture. This can help in aligning the team's perception of the role with the organization’s goals.

In summary, shifting from "Scrum Master" to "Agile Delivery Lead" can help organizations to portray a role that is not only methodologically agnostic but also more aligned with broader objectives of agile project management and leadership. This change can foster a perception of the role as more strategic and integral to the organization's success in agile initiatives.

What Are the Two Behaviors of an Effective Scrum Master?

At  Agile By Design, when we compare an  Agile coach vs Scrum Master, two pivotal behaviors stand out:

1. Facilitating Agility and Adaptation

An effective Scrum Master hones in on fostering agility within their specific team. This involves not only ensuring the team understands and follows Scrum practices but also adapting these practices to the team's unique environment and challenges.

An effective Scrum Master acts as a catalyst for change, encouraging the team to embrace an agile mindset of continuous improvement, responsiveness to change, and customer-centric value delivery.

2. Servant Leadership and Empowerment

Another key trait of an effective  Scrum Master, is their dedication to servant leadership. Servant leadership means putting the team's needs above their own, actively removing impediments that hinder team progress, and supporting the team in achieving self-organization and empowerment.

An effective Scrum Master empowers the team by facilitating decision-making processes, ensuring a collaborative team environment, and coaching team members in personal and professional growth within the agile framework.

These behaviors underscore the nuanced roles within Agile methodologies, highlighting the Scrum Master's focus on facilitating team-level agility and serving as a cornerstone of support and empowerment for their team, distinct from the broader organizational focus of an Agile Coach.

Agile Coach vs Scrum Master Comparison

Distinguishing between an Agile coach and a Scrum Master involves understanding the depth and breadth of influence each role exerts within an Agile transformation journey.

Both roles effectively implement Agile, yet they serve distinct purposes and operate at different levels within an organization that include:

1. Scope of Influence

To understand the difference between a coach agile vs scrum master, let’s talk about each of them separately. 

An Agile Coach has a broad scope, focusing on the organization as a whole or multiple teams across different stages of Agile maturity. They are responsible for facilitating the adoption of Agile principles beyond the confines of specific frameworks, such as Scrum. They often work to instill a culture and create a mindset that embraces adaptability, learning, and continuous improvement across the entire organization.

On the other hand, a scrum master operates with a narrower focus, primarily concentrated on a single Scrum team. Their main goal is to ensure that the team effectively adopts Scrum practices, principles, and values. They work closely with their team to facilitate Scrum ceremonies, remove impediments, and help the team improve its processes and performance within the Scrum framework.

2. Depth of Engagement

Agile coaches will work with one or more teams while also  engage with organizational leaders to foster a holistic agile transformation. This involves coaching at both the strategic and tactical levels, often addressing organizational structures, processes, and culture to enable broad-based agility.

Scrum Masters, in contrast, engage deeply at the team level, focusing on the practical application of Scrum. Their work involves day-to-day interactions with team members, guiding and supporting them in their agile journey, and ensuring that the agile practices are not just followed but optimized for team effectiveness. Unlike Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters have the luxury of working with a teams for longer periods.

3. Strategic vs. Tactical Focus

An agile coach often takes on a more strategic role, helping to align agile transformation initiatives with organizational goals and strategies. They coach agile vs merely implementing it, guiding organizations through the complexity of change, addressing resistance, and aligning various parts of the organizational agility

Traditionally, a Scrum Master tends to have a more tactical focus, concentrating on executing agile practices within the context of Scrum. They make sure that the team adheres to agile methodologies, facilitating Scrum events and fostering an environment where group members can perform at their best. But in practice, an effective Scrum Master moves past this tactical focus and acts like an agile coach, which is why we believe Agile Delivery Lead is a better moniker. (see above)

The distinction between a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach is somewhat arbitrary, with the roles of a Senior Scrum Master and a Junior Agile Coach largely overlapping, primarily focused on facilitating Agile practices and team collaboration.

How are a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach Similar?

When exploring the nuances of Scrum Master vs. Agile Coach, it's essential to acknowledge the foundational similarities that bind the roles together despite their distinct operational scopes. Both positions are integral to successfully adopting and implementing Agile methodologies, with each playing a pivotal role in fostering an environment conducive to Agile principles. Here's how they are similar:

1. Advocates for Agile Principles

Both the Scrum Master and the Agile Coach are staunch advocates for Agile principles. Whether it's a Scrum Master in an Agile setting, working intimately with a single team or an Agile Coach influencing multiple teams or the entire organization, both roles embody and promote the core values outlined in the Agile Manifesto and adjacent practices that complements or extends the core principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto, such as DevOps, Lean Startup, or Kanban.

Their commitment to principles like collaboration, customer focus, and adaptability is unwavering, serving as the bedrock of their efforts to drive Agile practices.

2. Facilitators of Change

At the heart of the Scrum Master vs. Agile Coach comparison, both roles emerge as critical facilitators of change. They champion the shift from traditional waterfall methodologies to more iterative, flexible, and team-centric approaches.

3. Empowerment and Support

A key aspect of Agile coach vs. Scrum master roles is their commitment to empowerment and support. The Scrum Master in an agile environment works closely with team members, empowering them to self-organize and take ownership of their work, removing impediments, and facilitating scrum ceremonies to ensure smooth operations.

Similarly, agile coaches empower teams and leaders by providing them with some tools, knowledge, and confidence needed to embrace agile methodologies, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.  In fact, good coaches do not give people the answer, but they do what is needed.

4. Educators and Mentors

Both roles serve as educators and mentors, though their audiences may differ. The Scrum Master educates the team on scrum practices, ensuring everyone understands their roles and responsibilities within the Scrum framework.

The Agile Coach also might provide broader agile training and mentoring across the organization, helping to cultivate an understanding of agile principles and practices beyond the scope of Scrum.

Scrum Master vs Agile Coach: Roles and Responsibilities

The differentiation between the roles and responsibilities of Scrum Masters vs Agile Coaches is pivotal for fostering an environment where agile methodologies can flourish. Understanding these roles in depth allows organizations to navigate their agile transformation journeys more effectively.

The Scrum Master's Responsibilities

The Scrum Master is a key figure in facilitating the day-to-day application of Scrum within teams. They primarily focus on ensuring the team adheres to agile practices and scrum framework rules. Responsibilities include:

1. Facilitating Scrum Ceremonies

Organizing and leading all Scrum ceremonies, including sprint planning, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives, to ensure smooth team operations.

2. Impediment Removal

Actively identifying and removing obstacles that hinder the team's progress, ensuring that the path is clear for them to deliver value effectively.

3. Coaching and Supporting the Scrum Team

Providing ongoing guidance to the team on Scrum practices, helping them improve their processes, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

4. Shielding the Team

Protecting the team from external interruptions and also distractions, allowing them to focus on their sprint goals.

5. Facilitating Collaboration

Encouraging open communication and collaboration both within the Scrum team and with external stakeholders.

The Agile Coach's Role

An agile coach functions on a more expansive scale, extending their influence beyond just one team. The agile coach operates at a broader level, often beyond the scope of a single team.

Their role encompasses the Scrum framework and the wider application of Agile methodologies across multiple teams or the entire organization. Key responsibilities include:

1. Organizational Agile Adoption

Guiding organizations through the agile transformation process, including the strategic integration of agile principles across teams and departments.

2. Culture and Mindset Shift

Fostering a shift in organizational culture and mindset to embrace agile values, such as adaptability, continuous improvement, and customer focus.

3. Mentorship and Training

Providing mentorship and training to not just teams but also to leaders and managers, ensuring that agile practices are understood and embraced at all levels.

4. Scaling Agile Practices

Advising on how to scale agile practices effectively across multiple teams or the entire organization, keeping in mind the organizational context.

5. Continuous Improvement

Working with teams and leaders to identify areas for continuous improvement in processes, practices, and outcomes, leveraging a broad knowledge of Agile methodologies.

Agile Coach vs Scrum Master: Training Responsibilities

While the Agile Coach is concerned with broad organizational change, adopting a wide lens on agile practices and principles, the Scrum Master has a laser focus on the intricacies of the scrum framework and its application by a specific team.

The Agile Coach aims to create an Agile mindset across all levels of the organization, whereas the Scrum Master seeks to optimize the performance and agile practices of their designated team.

Agile By Design underscores the complementary nature of these roles. The Agile Coach and Scrum Master are crucial for a successful agile transformation, but they operate at different scales and with distinct focuses. Understanding and leveraging these differences is key to effectively navigating and implementing agile methodologies within any organization.


Drawing from the insights shared about Scrum Master vs. Agile Coach, we can conclude that both roles are fundamental to the successful implementation and sustainability of Agile methodologies within organizations, each catering to distinct yet complementary facets of Agile transformation.

The Scrum Master plays a critical role at the team level, with Scrum Master's responsibilities in Agile focusing on guiding, coaching, and facilitating their specific Scrum team. They ensure that the team adopts and adheres to Scrum practices effectively, removing impediments, facilitating Scrum ceremonies, and promoting a collaborative, self-organizing team environment. Their work is pivotal in optimizing the team's workflow and enhancing their ability to deliver value quickly and efficiently.

On the other hand, the Agile Coach operates on a broader spectrum, often engaging with multiple teams, leaders, and sometimes the entire organization. Their goal transcends the Scrum framework, aiming to embed Agile principles, practices, and mindset across various levels and departments. The Agile Coach addresses Agile transformation's cultural, structural, and strategic aspects, ensuring that Agile methodologies are integrated into the organization's DNA.

Comparing Scrum Master vs Agile Coach highlights the specialized yet interconnected roles these professionals play in the Agile ecosystem. While the Scrum Master focuses on tactical, team-level facilitation and implementation of Scrum, the Agile Coach takes on a strategic, organization-wide approach to foster an Agile culture.

Scrum Master vs Agile Coach FAQs

In this section, we've compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions about Agile Coach vs Scrum Master to help clarify any uncertainties and provide you with a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. 

1. Is a Scrum Master an Agile Coach?

The roles of Scrum Master and Agile Coach are both crucial in facilitating agile methodologies within organizations. In reality, there is more overlap than distinctiveness between the two roles. The term coach is one of seniority and mandate. Good Scrum Masters (better referred to as Agile Delivery Leads)  usually become agile coaches for their team and move on to serve more than one team. 

But, if pressed to distinguish between the two, here's a breakdown of how these roles differ and the unique functions they serve:

Scrum Master

  • Role Specificity: A Scrum Master is specific to the Scrum framework, which is one of the various agile methodologies. The primary responsibility of a Scrum Master is to ensure that the team adheres to Scrum practices and principles effectively.
  • Team Focus: The Scrum Master works closely with one or a few Scrum teams, helping them improve their dynamics, processes, and performance within the confines of Scrum. They act as facilitators for the team's meetings, remove impediments, and help the team members understand Scrum.
  • Operational Role: The day-to-day involvement of a Scrum Master is typically more hands-on with the specific teams they support. They are deeply involved in the daily operations and are committed to optimizing the productivity and efficiency of their team.

Agile Coach

  • Broad Scope: An Agile Coach has a broader role that may encompass multiple frameworks and methodologies beyond just Scrum, such as Kanban, Lean, and Extreme Programming (XP). They are often experienced in integrating various agile practices into an organizational culture.
  • Organizational Impact: Agile Coaches are generally focused on transforming the entire organization's approach to project management, not just improving the performance of individual teams. They work at multiple levels—individual, team, and organizational—to instill agile principles.
  • Strategic Role: An Agile Coach is often seen as a change agent who helps to foster a shift in mindset and culture across the organization. They provide training, mentorship, and guidance to a wide range of stakeholders within the company, from executives to team members.

In essence, while a Scrum Master can have some coaching duties and might use coaching techniques, their role and responsibilities are generally more focused and specific compared to the broader, more strategic role of an Agile Coach. An Agile Coach typically requires a wider range of skills and a deeper understanding of organizational dynamics than a Scrum Master.

2. Is an Agile Coach Higher than Scrum Master?

From our point of view, comparing the roles of Agile Coach vs Scrum Master in terms of the hierarchy does not align with Agile principles, which favour collaboration, adaptability, and flat structures over traditional hierarchies.

It's common for Scrum Masters to evolve into Agile Coaches as they gain experience and broaden their knowledge and skills in various agile methodologies and organizational change management. This transition involves expanding their influence from team-level focus to a more strategic, organization-wide perspective.

In many organizations, particularly larger ones or those deeply committed to a comprehensive agile transformation, both Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches are essential. The Scrum Master can focus on specific teams and their immediate needs, while the Agile Coach works on larger-scale changes and integration of agile practices across different parts of the organization.

Rather than viewing one role as superior, it's more beneficial to recognize their unique contributions to organizational agility. We advocate for tailoring Agile practices to an organization's specific context, underscoring the value of adaptability, collaboration, and continuous improvement.