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Transitioning to dedicated agile coaches (scrum masters)

Reorganization
Scaling Team
Team processes
Hiring
Agile / Scrum

6 December, 2017

Christian decided to transition from engineering managers (EMs) handling agile coaching to dedicated individuals for the role.

Problem

I am a big believer in the scrum methodology and always have done my best to be agile and apply scrum principles in my teams. More than two years ago, at my previous company, three of the five engineering managers we had at that time took a scrum master role for all their teams. When reaching 35+ engineers we started to encounter a few issues. Doing agile coaching well is time consuming and takes precious time from our EMs. Yet the rigor they would bring was very valuable.

Actions taken

One solution was to hire more EMs and reduce the number of people in teams, thereby spreading the agile coaching among more people. But we didn't want to do that, as hiring more EMs for assuring agile coaching didn't make sense. So I decided to hire a freelance scrum master to help us out. She prepared meetings, set up and maintained boards and made sure the processes were observed. After a successful six month trial period, we decided to adopt the full-time model and we hired our first full-time agile coach. A year and a half later, the team grew to five people, with each doing agile coaching full-time.

Lessons learned

Having an in-house team of agile coaches has had many positive side effects:

  • These people are experts and do the job very well. They have the time to dig deep into the methodology and to own the process much more than any EM could ever do.
  • Suddenly someone has team performance and improving methodology as their main metric and objective.
  • Having no hierarchical relationship between scrum masters and EMs is very beneficial, as they have the power to confront the EMs if necessary
  • For the EM, they are a very good source of information about their team members (e.g. their motivation or engagement) Even now, looking back, it makes a lot of sense to hire experts. The challenge is to find the right moment to transition to this model. For us, this was at about eight development teams.

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