Do I really need an Agile Coach or Scrum Master?

I’ve been with Synergis for around three years and recruiting for Project Management is my bread and butter. And I work with a lot of Agile and Scrum experts. The question I hear organizations asking is: Do I really need a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach?

What is Agile?

The Agile methodology focuses on iterative development. And the focus of the Agile Manifesto is on reacting quickly to changes and mitigating risk when possible. In short, it’s all about being able to quickly adapt to changes. There are different types of Agile depending on how the team wants to be run. These include Kanban, Scrum, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and others.

Okay, now let’s talk Scrum.

Scrum is one of the most popular Agile frameworks. According to, “The name scrum is originally a rugby term. In rugby, a scrum is a cluster of players trying to get the ball.” In Project Management, “Scrum” refers to short meetings where team members come together and discuss their successes, next steps and future anticipated challenges. But Scrum isn’t just a framework, it’s a set of principles that support the ever-changing environment of development.

According to, the six principles of Scrum are:

  1. Empirical process control: This emphasizes the three main ideas of Scrum – transparency, inspection and adaptation.
  2. Self-organization: When team members are self-organized, they have a significantly greater value to the overall goal of the team.
  3. Collaboration: This one is pretty self-explanatory but when teams work together and share the value-creation process, they will deliver the greatest value.
  4. Value-based prioritization: Scrum is designed to deliver the maximum business value from start to finish.
  5. Time-boxing: Time is considered a limiting constraint in Scrum. It is used to manage, plan and execute problems. Time-boxed elements in Scrum include sprints, daily Scrum meetings, sprint planning meetings and spring review meetings.
  6. Iterative development: Focuses on how to better manage changes, build products that satisfy customers’ needs and define the product owner’s and organization’s responsibilities.

But do I really need an Agile Coach?

When a team decides they want to transition to the Agile methodology, enlisting an Agile Coach will help get executive buy-in. They can show executives what to expect as their organization transitions to Agile—and what’s expected from them as leaders. Together, executives can work with employees on projects that gradually introduce them to the concept of Agile.

Agile Coaches are also important any time a company is participating in an Agile transformation and can train and oversee the development of Agile teams to ensure effective outcomes for the organization.

However, not every organization can have a full-time Agile Coach. So, this is a great opportunity to use a contractor. Or some organizations find a Scrum Master with Agile coaching experience.

What about a Scrum Master?

High-level, Scrum Masters are tasked with ensuring the effectiveness of their team. Scrum Masters enable the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework. The main difference is the Agile Coach will train the team and the Scrum Master will make sure everyone is following Scrum correctly, driving the initiatives. Scrum Masters will also help the team and organize what Agile process is right for the team.

The roles of the Scrum Master.

Scrum Masters serve their Scrum teams in many ways. But here are a few key roles they play:

  • The Coach: A Scrum Master can be used to coach their team members in self-management and best practices for working cross-functionally.
  • The Supporter: The Scrum Master supports the Product Owner by finding methods to effectively deal with, arrange and optimize the backlog. And they can communicate the owner’s needs and wants to the project team. When needed, the Scrum Master can also facilitate stakeholder collaboration. They will also implement changes to increase productivity.
  • The Barrier Breaker: When there isn’t an Agile Coach, the Scrum Master can lead and coach Scrum adoption within the organization. Scrum Masters will serve as a go-between and remove the barriers between stakeholders and the Scrum Team when necessary.

Teams that benefit from Agile and Scrum.

In my experience, I’ve seen that a lot of development teams are running with Agile because it lets you pivot and update as needed. And many infrastructure teams are still using Waterfall. Scrum and Agile work well to guide us through the unknown. And software development is chock full of unknowns.

Most of the time, leaders and product owners know loosely what they want. But, in the end, after multiple iterations, they could end up with a totally different product entirely. This is why Scrum is great for software development teams.

On the other hand, the world of infrastructure has more defined requirements, tasks are more dependent on each other and there is a larger sense of permanency in the projects. There are very few unknowns.

When I was doing research into this concept, I saw the example of a “storage expansion” brought up time after time. So, let’s go with it. Storage expansion tasks are procurement, cabling, network and storage tasks. These tasks have a dependency on one another and linearly follow each other. This is why the Waterfall methodology can lend itself better to these projects, with its focus on linear, sequential phases.

The verdict is in…

So, while you may be able to cut costs by not hiring an Agile Coach and still run efficiently, the same can’t be said about operating on Scrum without a Scrum Master. It’s possible to do, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, the Scrum Master enables the team to run efficiently by clearly defining the roles and expectations, guiding the timeline and helping the team pivot when needed.

If you need help vetting your Scrum Master check out this blog, How to effectively vet Delivery & Transformation candidates and then reach out to us for help finding your perfect Scrum Master or Agile Coach.

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