If you’re not aware, one of my certifications is as an Agile Coach, or more specifically, a (CSC) by the Scrum Alliance. At the time I received my certification in 2012, I was the 47th person who had earned a CSC in the entire world. Now I think there may be approximately 60 of us. So it’s an exclusive certification and fairly hard to achieve.
The Scrum Alliance positions the CSC on “equal footing” with the CST or certification. The latter is focused towards training new Scrum Masters (CSM) and Product Owners (CSPO). While the CSC is focused towards the “doing” of Scrum in real-world organizations. Often the term Enterprise or Organization is aligned with the CSC coach due to the fact that they’re coaching organizational transformation towards agile approaches as much or more than the individual teams.
But Bob, what do they do?
In fact, this is the focus of the CSC – that of organizational coach. So getting back to the title, what does an agile coach do?
The first thing they do is teach. Now it may sound like this conflicts with the CST, but in reality they compliment one another. Every good coach I know has a “toolbox” of classes that they can deliver for their clients. Those classes might go from basic introductory material to specialized classes for agile specifics. I for example, have a unique interest in Scrum Product Ownership, so I’ve developed material and approaches for teaching:
Another area of focus is simple observation within context. That is, the coach visits or lives with the organization and teams for awhile. They attend meetings and engage with the teams. They observe and gather insights into areas where the teams are strong and where they might have adjustments to make. Some coaches couch this with a more formal assessment model. Others just observe and make recommendation on-the-fly. Either one works fairly well.
Why do we need a Coach?
Well the short answer is that…you don’t. Many more agile teams do without coaches and they do reasonably fine. I liken it to acceleration. A seasoned agile coach can help guide a team to a much faster ramp-up in their agile adoption and overall performance. Instead of “going it alone” and “figuring it out along the way”, a coach or guide can truly make a difference.
The other critical drive is the lack of concrete documentation or guidance in the agile methods themselves. It’s not like you were taking on Waterfall variants or Rational Unified Process. These have hundreds or thousands of pages of templates, checklists, and documentation that tells you what to do. Agile isn’t like that. It’s emergent, team-based, and situational or context-driven. There is no defined “Play Book” for all organizations. That implies that you have to largely figure things out as a team.
While that’s a great approach, having a coach can make that learning curve much faster.
Isn’t the Scrum Master a Coach?
Well, yes and no. I would agree that the Scrum Master is the coach of their respective teams. That would be a part of their role. But it’s team centric or focused, and another part of a coaching role is to move the entire organization. I would include your leadership team as part of that movement and cross-functional team implications. An agile coach should be thinking, operating, and influencing much more broadly than the individual Scrum (or agile) team.
In fact, I think the better coaches take on a “Coach the Coaches” mindset and model, so they would be coaching the Scrum Master, Product Owners, Functional Managers, and Organizational Senior Leadership. So the focus is more upward and laterally (80%) than downward (20%) toward the teams themselves.
If you’re in the market for a coach, I’ve written a guide to selection criteria that I’ve used when finding and hiring agile coaches. I’ve tried to make it as “balanced and even handed” as I could. Not only can it help you interview and find a coach, but it should provide more guidance on what the critical skill areas are. You can find it .
So ultimately, what does an Agile Coach do? They help you deliver the good for your clients. It’s as simple as that.
Stay agile my friends,