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What Makes an Agile Coach?

26 May 2017

Eugenio (Eugi) Bartolo
Telesys Consulting Ltd

I recently had an interesting conversation with a recruitment consultant about an "Agile coach" role he was recruiting for. We were running through my experience, achievements, and training. All good.

Then the consultant pointed out that I haven’t worked as a "pure Agile coach" for more than three years. That naturally led me to the question: What makes an Agile coach?

Not just a title

Let me clarify here that I am absolutely in favor of certifications, and I'm not trying to promote or detract from the certifications of any particular organization (including Scrum Alliance). What I am trying to do is remind us all that the title does not necessarily make the coach.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve always coached the teams I’ve worked with. I wasn’t hired as an "Agile coach" but as an Agile business analyst or a ScrumMaster or product owner (always using Scrum).

Nevertheless, the coaching element was always there: inspiring teams to be self-empowered and more collaborative; educating people to the Agile culture; facilitating the transition from a standard Waterfall, risk-adverse approach to a more Agile mindset, where risk should be embraced as an opportunity for growing and learning. These are many of the kinds of things that an Agile coach would do.

The Agile coach role sometimes cannot be a full-time engagement, especially because not many companies can afford to have full-time, dedicated Agile coaches in their teams. Very often it happens that one has to actually cover a variety of roles within the Agile Team. But what’s more important, the job title or the skill set brought to the table? I’m inclined to go for the latter.

Small but important differences

Be careful, though. There are Coaches and there are coaches. Many individuals in the marketplace advertise themselves as Coaches, but the reality is quite different. I’ve personally met a number of Agile consultants who promote exhaustive documentation and the use of heavy change control procedures, and who unfortunately play blame games when things don't go as planned. They called and marketed themselves as Agile Coaches, but it seemed to me that they were more interested in cashing in than helping companies and teams become more Agile.

I’m quite sure the Agile Manifesto says something different about all this! And in fact, the Certified Enterprise Coach definition provided by Scrum Alliance says, “They have in-depth understanding of the practices and principles of Scrum and real-world experience in actual Scrum organizations.” The people I describe above definitely do not follow the “practices and principles of Scrum.”

Delight your customers

There are many talented professionals with a natural talent for coaching and mentoring; they help teams realize that products should "delight your customers above anything else" (please refer to the Kano Model by Professor Noriaki Kano). That’s what I think makes someone a true Agile coach, regardless of the title in their CV.


Esteemed recruiters, don’t look only at the numbers and the job titles, but at what’s behind the individual you’re talking to, exactly what role you need filled, and the value-add provided. As in many other things in life, value quality.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.9 (9 ratings)


Mayuri Patel, CSM,CSPO, 5/26/2017 6:05:07 AM
Very true, I have worked with coaches who have no "real" life experience with Scrum teams and have never been in a ScrumMaster role. The Agile Coach should have incremental years of experience in several roles on a Scrum team in order to understand what teams need.
Anonymous, 5/29/2017 11:21:10 AM
It is sad to see that recruiters expect to have specific skill and experience put in words rather doing a qualitative assessment while hiring. And it is ironical that recruiters do not have skill to evaluate candidate which they expect to be present in the candidate. The work experience shows up while you talk to candidates, respect that.

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