What to Look for When Hiring a Scrum Master or Agile Coach 

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Organizations often find themselves looking for scrum masters and agile coaches when transitioning from more traditional waterfall project management or product development to agile methodology. This transition impacts all areas of the work and requires an organization to understand the nuanced differences between the role of a scrum master and those of an agile coach. 

What Is Agile Methodology?

Agile is a software or product development methodology that began in 2001 with the Agile Manifesto that outlined four core values: 

  • Individual contributions and interactions among team members are more important than the tools or processes that they use. 
  • Focus on delivering working software rather than creating detailed documentation. 
  • Open collaboration between customers and product teams should be valued above contract negotiations. 
  • Create a dynamic, iterative, and responsive product roadmap to pivot direction based on new information or priorities. 

Successful companies of all sizes (including Big Tech) often use agile operations to help them deliver products. As more organizations have globalized or adopted remote workforces, agile methodologies have helped teams remain flexible and adjust their workflows accordingly, which is why 71% of U.S. companies and 88% of all global IT projects implement Agile methodologies, according to data from Zippia. 

RELATED: The Important of Team Culture in Agile Management

How Does Scrum Relate to Agile Product Development?

Scrum is the most used agile framework. It helps teams manage and structure their projects using the agile values of experimentation and lean thinking. Scrum believes that knowledge you gain from first-hand experience should enable the decisions made while valuing a focus on the essentials of the project or product being worked on. 

Scrum framework values continuous learning and recognizes that the team won’t know every outcome at the start of a project. Scrum is specifically structured to help teams adapt to changing conditions with reprioritization built into the team fabric, sprint processes, and short-release cycles. 

How to Distinguish a Scrum Master vs an Agile Coach?

Both roles require an individual that is well-studied and experienced in using Agile product development. However, the primary distinction between a scrum master and an agile coach is that a scrum master oversees a particular product team, whereas an agile coach oversees an entire enterprise. 

It helps to look at the roles more closely to understand how their implementation of agile methodologies impacts an organization differently: 

Scrum Master  Agile Coach 
Primary Focus  Focus on a single team and assists with day-to-day product development workflows.  Oversee an entire organization and implement agile practices for teams, leadership, or organization-wide. 
Specialization  Scrum masters specialize in scrum frameworks such as sprint planning, organizing backlogs, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives.  Agile coaches will have familiarity with multiple agile practices such as Kanban, Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Feature-driven development (FDD), and more. 
Role and Responsibilities  Primarily, scrum masters ensure projects run efficiently and smoothly while removing any blockers that arise for their team.  Agile coaches define organizational workflows and work alongside teams and stakeholders to implement them. 
Role Duration  Scrum masters will typically focus on an individual project but remain at an organization once the project is complete to support new development projects.  Agile coaches are oftentimes short-term positions or contractors since their value is to coach the organization’s leadership team on agile principles and help teams adopt them. Successful agile coaches will work themselves out of the job eventually because they have sufficiently trained scrum masters and business leaders to maintain agile standards independently. 
Daily Responsibilities   

  • Help developers create high-value products efficiently and effectively. 
  • Facilitate daily stand-ups and Agile ceremonies. 
  • Train individual team members on agile practices and tools. 
  • Oversee sprint planning and backlog management. 
  • Monitor and improve the team’s product development outcomes. 
  • Encourage iterative product improvements and customer feedback loops. 
  • Have access and authority to get things done for their teams. 
  • Equip organizations with expertise and experience on how to use agile development methods. 
  • Create guidelines and governance to guide agile-based activities within an organization. 
  • Create metrics and benchmarks that dictate the organizational agile framework. 
  • Train leadership and product managers on agile methodologies, tools, and best practices. 
  • Monitor organization progress and help remove any blockers or bottlenecks. 
  • Foster scrum master professional development. 


Agile Coach Skills and Key Competencies

Agile coaches must possess a broad understanding of agile beyond just scrum; therefore, the skills of an agile coach will vary from those of a scrum master. 

  • Agile coaches must possess a balanced viewpoint when dealing with many teams across an organization. 
  • They should be able to look at the big picture and assess all factors when problem-solving or removing roadblocks. 
  • Agile is a concept, not a set of instructions. Agile coaches need a solid foundation of agile knowledge and all of its umbrella methodologies, including Lean, DevOps, and Scaled frameworks, and know when to use them. 
  • Adopting a new agile framework requires employees to make a lot of workflow and mental modifications; therefore, the agile coach should know how to navigate employee pushback or frustration and be able to inspire people to want to embrace this framework. 
  • Agile frameworks focus on adaptability. This individual should be open to new perspectives, information, tools, and tactics. 
  • Agile coaches are responsible for liaising between key stakeholders across an organization and should possess strong interpersonal skills as well as the ability to coach and advise business leaders. 
  • Agile coaches are catalysts for change and should have the capacity to align all variables across an organization to support sweeping changes. 
  • Agile coaches need to be responsive to changes and should therefore be good listeners who pay attention to employee/customer feedback and implement it appropriately. 

Scrum Master Skills and Key Competencies 

Similarly, scrum masters must possess a set of skills that separate them from their agile coach counterparts. 

  • Scrum masters are team leaders and need to possess strong management, interpersonal, and conflict-resolution skills. 
  • Scrum masters must understand the unique framework of scrum and how it differs from other agile methodologies. 
  • It’s critical that scrum masters build trust and be a mediator between their team and business leaders, product owners, customers, and other stakeholders. 
  • Successful scrum masters will know how to motivate their team, especially in the face of project blockers. 
  • Scrum masters must possess a level of creativity to approach problem-solving in unique ways to keep their product timelines moving efficiently. 
  • Scrum masters should be motivators during daily stand-ups to keep teams working towards a common goal and striving for success. 
  • It’s important that scrum masters be well-organized and resourceful in order to plan sprints and respond to roadblocks as they arise. 
  • Similarly, they should have strong time management skills to ensure goals are being met on time and within budget. 

Transforming from a Scrum Master to Agile Coach 

It’s not uncommon for scrum masters to work their way into the role of an agile coach. This is a natural step considering the experience of working as a scrum master offers direct insight into the practical application of agile frameworks on product development. In addition to the necessary certifications to become an agile coach, many organizations will look for candidates with prior experience in roles like a scrum master. 

RELATED: Great Project Manager Interview Questions

Hire The Right Scrum Master or Agile Coach for You 

To determine the right candidate for your agile organization, consider if you are looking for someone to oversee a particular team or an entire organization. Also, consider the specific specialties you need this individual to bring to the organization. Scrum masters and agile coaches are pivotal roles that can have a large impact on a product—or an entire organization’s—success.

Whether you are looking to hire a team of scrum masters or agile coaches, Insight Global’s managed services division, Evergreen, can help. We find, review, interview, and help you hire candidates based on your needs, having placed more than 50,000 hires in roles just last year. Evergreen also offers project management as a service for businesses of all sizes. With Evergreen’s onboarding and training approach, we help new project leaders quickly make an impact within your environment.

Contact us to help you get the services you need.


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