What a Scrum Coach Can Do For an Organization

By Michael Miller - July 19, 2018

What a Scrum Coach Can Do For an Organization
July 19, 2018 By Michael Miller

What a Scrum Coach Can Do For an Organization

The Pace of Change is Rapid

The rapid advance of technology is driving change at a pace faster than we have ever seen before.  Wealth, companies, ideas, hardware, and software are created and destroyed or become obsolete faster than many of us can comfortably keep up with.  The pace of software development and innovation has likewise increased.  Think about Google Chrome for a moment. Every time you open your browser, it checks for an update. When you close your browser, if an update has be downloaded, it auto-updates. All of this happens in the background.

There is no need to go and find out if there is an update, find out where to go get the update, go get it and then install it.  Chrome takes care of all of that for you without you having to do anything.  Keeping pace with those kinds of changes is a daunting prospect for end users even when we are the recipients of the benefits of those changes.  And really, does knowing what version of Chrome you are currently using really enhance your life? Keeping pace as organization is even more daunting. However, Agile methodologies are helping organizations the world over not only keep up with this rapid pace of change, but sometimes even get ahead of it!

Agile focuses on adaptation, the evolution of processes, products, and services through incremental and iterative development.  The Scrum Master and the Scrum or Agile Coach roles are the shepherds of the structural and process changes that allow organizations to harness the latent creativity and problem solving skills of their employees. This, in turn, allows organizations to more readily adapt to these new and rapidly changing market realities that technology has given to us.

In the past, with phase-gated project or program management, software development focused on BUFD or BDUF (Big Up Front Design or Big Design Up Front).  Developers would spend months, sometimes years, working to develop software before getting it to market. Scrum and Agile suggests a team or teams design, build, test, and deploy to production in much smaller chunks much more frequently.

The industry standard within Scrum is one to four weeks to delivery of a viable product increment. If an organization wants to keep up they may hire a Scrum Coach. The Scrum Coach works to shorten the time horizon to get from an all or nothing multi-year project to one that delivers value in increments of a month or less.  One goal for Scrum Coaches is to encourage teams to get their project in front of users for feedback as early and as often as possible.


Evolution of the Agile Community

A few decades ago, you could not find a job as a Scrum Master, Product Owner, Scrum Coach, etc.  The Agile Manifesto was penned in 2001, but it is still a very new concept to many. With the rise in popularity of Agile software development, Agile jobs and job titles are starting to pop up much more frequently. Scrum, Jira, and the Scaled Agile Framework are now familiar terms that most organizations are aware of in some capacity.  This evolution has made a role like Scrum Coach much more common.

The concept of a Scrum Coach is nothing new to the Agile world. They are a particular flavor of an Agile Coach. All organizations need assistance in their Agile transformation.  A Scrum Coach can help you transition from thinking about Agile to becoming Agile. Scrum Coaches are experts in Scrum in theory as well as in Scrum practice.  They bring a deep and, most importantly, transferable understanding of Scrum that they share so that teams can apply it to their day-to-day practices.


Defining Scrum Coach

Scrum Coach

A Scrum Coach is someone that has a bit of a broader perspective than the team focused Scrum Master.  Typically, a Scrum Coach has been a Scrum Master and possibly a Product Owner as well in the past. They have experience far beyond a two-day training certification. Most coaches have had multiple years in each role to gain much needed experience and perspective.  

Scrum Coaches are typically brought into an organization as consultants. A Scrum Coach focuses on the whole organization or a specific division of an organization. They work with and impact multiple teams. They organize teams to allow for effective Agile development across teams.

An Agile Coach refers to all of the methodologies in the Agile world since the Agile Manifesto was signed.  It encompasses XP, Scrum, Kanban, as well as many other methodologies. A Scrum Coach is an Agile Coach that can assist specifically with the Scrum framework. A Scrum Coach is typically a bit between an Agile Coach and a Scrum Master.  They may not be well-versed in other Agile methodologies but are experts in Scrum and have in-depth knowledge of Scrum practices in real world settings.


The Scrum Coach Gets Their Hands Dirty

Many Scrum teams do not know how to work in such a fast moving environment.  The Scrum Coach has to work with the team or multiple teams, getting their hands dirty working with them day-to-day.  They introduce Scrum at a high-level and then get into the details of Scrum adoption one step at a time. It is all about teaching the team members a new way of thinking about their work.  Scrum Coaches help transform teams and companies from project focused work to product focused work. They help teams and companies with the creation of a product backlog that drives the work rather than a large-scale project plan.

It falls on the Scrum Coach to get into the gritty details with each of the Agile teams they work alongside.  They will work with the Scrum Master and the Product Owner, to help them figure out their backlog, help teams create Sprint backlogs, and help companies assess the performance and progress of their Scrum teams.  The Scrum Coach can help ensure that Agile teams continue to move in productive directions, build the right thing, and also build the thing right.


Communities of Practice

With larger organizations there are development teams everywhere. Many times there are teams that aren’t even aware of each other within the same organization. A Scrum Coach has to make these teams aware of each other and tie them all together. From here the coach would form Communities of Practice. These are horizontal and loose groups of people where, for example, all of the front end developers in an entire organization can come together and share experiences. These meetings are not formal but they are very helpful in spreading Scrum horizontally throughout an entire organization.


Common Misconceptions

Coaches are brought into an organization to ultimately increase productivity.  They do this through properly implementing the Scrum Guide throughout the organization. Organizations often see Scrum or Agile as a magic potion they drink where productivity increases 25x. There are productivity gains associated with the work of a Scrum Coach, but those gains take time and work to realize. It's not magic at all.

The Future of Coaches

Agile leadership distribution

Many professionals in the Agile community are predicting Scrum and Agile Coaches will become the next generation of organizational design coaches. Organizations are beginning to look at changing their structures to allow for not only Agile software development, but general business agility in a rapidly changing world. Coaches are looking at breaking down those hierarchical structures and creating more networked structures. This will involve moving away from older command and control based structural models to a more modern autonomous networked “team of teams” structure that is marked different from anything we've seen before.

Is your company ready to embrace this bold new future?