Agile coach / Scrum Master: external or internal?

This article explores the pros and cons of choosing an external agile expert rather than an internal employee to support the agile transformation of the company culture. It also completes the distinction between Scrum Master and agile coach, discussed in this previous blog post

Rapid change (technological, product, etc.) and increased competition are driving many organizations to rethink their working practices, whether to win over markets or scarce collaborators.  

The associated challenges are wide-ranging: boosting efficiency, developing innovation, and, internally, developing cross-functionality, motivating, engaging and retaining employees, and strengthening the attractiveness of the employer brand. 

Maximizing organizational efficiency involves transforming certain practices, and very often the organization's culture. This transformation can take place quietly in the field, often with a specific perimeter (Scrum for a team), or it may require a global approach led by management. 

In this context, choosing the right partner is a strategic issue for the organization's growth and future.  

Agile coach or Scrum Master: external or internal?
Agile coach or Scrum Master: external or internal? credit

Agile coach or Scrum Master? 

The agile coach will often have a broader and deeper scope of intervention than the Scrum Master.They encompass the overall process of transforming organizational practices and culture, whereas Scrum Masters are more focused in the nature and scope of their activity: they support the implementation of Scrum at the level of team practices. 

This is the breakdown often observed in practice. However, it should be noted that the Scrum guide does include aspects of organizational transformation in the Scrum Master role. In fact, among the services rendered by the Scrum Master to the organization, Scrum includes : 

  • support, train and coach the organization in its adoption of Scrum ; 
  • plan and advise on the implementation of Scrum within the organization; 
  • make it easier for team members and stakeholders to understand the empirical approach in complex environments; 
  • and help remove obstacles that may stand between stakeholders and Scrum Teams. 

These services to the organization often require experience and skills in organizational engineering and change management, skills that a good Scrum Master may not have. And that's where the coach comes in. 

The agile coach therefore often covers a wider and deeper field of intervention than the Scrum Master. This article combines the two roles, as a transformation of corporate culture is often achieved through an agile approach such as Scrum. 

Is external or internal agile coaching better?  

The comparison covers four points: quality of expertise, objectivity, novelty factor and flexibility. 

1. The quality of agile expertise

One of the undeniable advantages of having an external coach is the wealth of his or her expertise. As an independent professional, the external coach has worked in a variety of organizational contexts, accumulating experience and in-depth knowledge of best practices, and above all of the hidden pitfalls, encountered in the course of his or her assignments. This diversified expertise can be particularly valuable in adapting agile approaches to a variety of contexts. This enables us to rapidly build tailor-made solutions to the specific challenges encountered in a given situation. 

Alongside this statistical reality, there are of course counter-examples (an external service provider less experienced than advertised, or simply not very competent; or conversely, a very seasoned and sharp internal service provider). 

The next two points are rarely contradicted by specific cases.  

2. Objectivity and impartiality

An external coach is generally perceived as more objective and impartial than an internal one. By avoiding internal dynamics, biases and political alliances, the external coach can assess the situation more neutrally, and offer recommendations based on unbiased data.  

This impartiality encourages change and facilitates unbiased problem-solving, thus contributing to a smoother implementation of organizational transformations, and in particular the appropriation of agility. 

3. A fresh look 

One of the most valuable benefits of an external organizational coach is the fresh perspective he or she brings. As an external observer, the coach brings a fresh perspective on the organization's current situation and potential. 

This is a central point, because if a system malfunctions, it's precisely because its components allow it to do so.  

If its components (structure, people, organization, etc.) are not always the cause of dysfunction, they are certainly not the solution. 

Otherwise, the organization wouldn't be where it is today. 

This quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, puts it very aptly:
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result". 

The new element that will help us break out of this deleterious cycle is the external coach. 

This fresh look provided by an experienced external coach is a catalyst, a gas pedal, and one of the components for triggering a transformation reaction. 

His outside view fosters innovation by questioning established practices, and encourages creativity by bringing in new practices. It also detects early signs of stagnation or resistance to change, facilitating their resolution.  

The external coach (as well as the Scrum Master) can also identify opportunities for improvement that internal players might not notice, due to their proximity to day-to-day operations, and their "habituation" to dysfunctions.  

Agile expertise: external or internal?
Agile expertise: external or internal? credit

4. Flexibility and adaptability 

Finally, on a practical level, an external service provider offers greater flexibility in terms of availability and adaptability. An external coach can propose an intervention schedule according to the specific needs of the project, without being limited by the internal constraints of the organization. This flexibility can be particularly beneficial in the initial phase of transition to agile approaches, where frequent adjustments are required to optimize processes and maximize efficiency. 

What are the disadvantages of using an external agile coach? 

On the downside, the cost of an extern and the fear of a lack of knowledge are worth considering. 

1. The financial cost of agile coaching

The main disadvantage of using an external coach often seems to be the financial cost.  

While an in-house Scrum Master may seem a comparatively more cost-effective solution, this calculation is often misleading (and relates only to cash flow). 

Indeed, the real issue is not addressed by: "How much does it cost?", but rather: "How much does it bring in?  

Is saving money with a low-cost service that provides only a partial or mediocre response a real saving? 

A bigger budget for expertise that brings more value (innovation, efficiency, etc.) and lasting value (because it's appropriate and anchored) will ultimately be a better calculation in terms of return on investment. 

agile transformation: external or internal?
Agile transformation: external or internal? credit

2. Lack of contextual knowledge (compared to an in-house coach)

A priori, an external coach might lack an in-depth understanding of the internal dynamics and specific culture of the company. He or she may therefore be less likely to anticipate certain obstacles linked to relationships between team members or to the organizational structure.  

It's often a fear that doesn't translate into action. 

It's true that certain subtleties (acting, etc.) are unknown to him at the start of the mission. However, a truly experienced coach knows how to find the information he doesn't know exists. He or she has developed the ability to listen and detect weak signals, and relies precisely on interns who are familiar with these subtleties.  

This is why the quality of the collaboration developed by the external contributor with the organization's employees (in particular any internal Scrum Master) is fundamental.  

In conclusion: do you need internal or external agile coaching? 

While the choice between an external or internal agile coach largely depends on the specific needs and circumstances of each company, the advantages of hiring an external coach (such as specialized expertise, objectivity, fresh eyes and flexibility) can be invaluable assets for companies seeking to set in motion a real transformation, whether digital, cultural or organizational. 

A Scrum Master will be the coach's precious ally in the success of this type of project, and will bring tangible benefits, as detailed in this article.



"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is." Yogi Berra


An article by



"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is." Yogi Berra

Want to go further?