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Mapping the Market for Agile Coaches

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Key Takeaways

  • The agile coaching market is very strong right now with “Scrum Master” showing up on multiple lists of the fastest growing jobs.
  • The rise of the agile coaching market has coincided almost perfectly with a very strong U.S. and global economy since the global financial crisis of 2008.
  • The entry of management consultants into the agile coaching market is increasing demand for agile coaches today but will reduce it in the future.
  • Companies tend to grossly under invest in agile coaching.
  • Compensation for independent agile coaches (contractors) varies over at least 3x from below $1K/day to $3K/day.
     

Motivation

In July, 2018 five agilists, including the three authors of this article, met in San Francisco to map the market for agile coaches. We met because the market appears to be very strong over the short-term but weak over the long-term and we wanted to better understand the existing situation and the longer term trends.

Evidence for the current strength of the market is plentiful:

  • Every year LinkedIn publishes a list of ‘Most Promising Jobs.’ In 2017, Scrum Master appeared as #10 on the list. LinkedIn reported that the median base salary was $100K with year over year growth of 104% in job openings. As a point of comparison, “software developer: appeared #11 on the list with a median base salary of $94K and annual growth of 13%. Forbes listed “Scrum Master” as one of the 25 highest paying jobs in the United States, ahead of “Data Scientist.”
  • Hunter Gibson, a San Francisco recruiter, says, “The demand for agile coaches far outstrips the supply. It’s in demand but there is a shortage of supply.”
  • In the first few months of 2018, one of the authors of this article was contacted by two of the big three management consulting firms. One was hiring 20 agile coaches and the other was hiring more agile coaches than the recruiter had ever seen before.

However, there are worrisome signs for agile coaches:

In our conversation, we wanted to explore two questions:

  • What is the nature of the agile coaching positions in the job market today? What companies need agile coaches? What is the span of the coaching? At what level is the agile coach operating?
  • What is the typical compensation of an agile coach?

By no means did we arrive at definitive answers but what we learned is an important contribution to the field. In fact, we believe that this article contains more information on agile coach compensation than has ever been available in one place.

In gathering this information, we focused on using only the highest quality, verifiable data. As such the data below comes from only three sources:

  • Agile coaching positions that the five agile coaches who participated in the meeting have had, mostly over the last two years.
  • Positions that the authors have been offered, mostly over the last year.
  • Information that close, trusted friends of the authors have provided about their coaching positions.

This data is in sharp contrast to that provided by the typical salary survey which consists of unverified, self reported data.

When extrapolating this information to other situations we caution:

  • The authors are mid-level agile coaches and above. As such, entry level positions are likely to be under-represented.
  • The authors are located in the greater San Francisco Bay area, one of the most expensive areas in the world. Although not all of the positions are based in this geography (e.g., the management consulting positions are 80% travel), most of them are.

The Nature of Agile Coaching Positions

Our conversation began by exploring which positions we have now and which positions we have been offered recently. The results of the conversation are summarized in the table below. Here is a quick description of each of the columns:

  • Industry: A categorization of the company’s industry. We attempted to stay with normally accepted industry categories (e.g., health, retail) but deviated a bit for some organizations.
  • Description: A brief summary of the organization which is involved in the agile effort.
  • Participating employees: How many of the organization’s employees are participating in the agile effort.
  • Agile personnel: How many people spend the majority of their time on the agile effort. We did not attempt to define the difference between ‘agile coach’ and ‘Scrum Master’ and simply use the terminology used by the organization.
  • Highest level of agile support: The title of the most senior person in the organization who supports the agile effort.
  • Perceived problem: A qualitative description of what the organization thinks its largest problem is.
  • Actual problem: A qualitative description of what the five agile coaches who participated in the meeting believe is the actual problem.

We use “(Unknown)” in the table when the information was not available to us.

There are three conclusions that jump out from this table:

  • Companies significantly under invest in agile transformation. To take just one example from the table, one government organization hired one part-time agile coach to work with a 500 person organization. Even articles that argue for minimizing the number of agile coaches, note that a ‘a small handful of good Agile coaches can change everything.’ Very few of the organizations in the table enlisted the help of a small handful of agile coaches for even a short period of time.
  • Almost all of the examples are from IT or software departments. Despite the desire of agilists to spread into other parts of the organization, agile transformations still focus on these areas.
  • Client perceptions of their problem (“Client: Perceived problem”) differed sharply from the coaching perception (“Coach: Perceived problem”). The informal discussion in the room noted that clients perceive agile as a project that needs to be “implemented” (in Niels Pflaeging’s words). This perception differs sharply from how an agile coach views agile.

Industry

Description

Participating employees

Agile personnel

Highest level of agile support

Client: Perceived problem

Coach: Perceived problem

Government

IT

500 out of 30K total

One part-time agile coach

CIO

Roles; process consistency

Culture

Banking

Software

30

One FT agile coach; two FT Scrum Masters

CTO

Transformation

(Unknown)

Banking

(Unknown)

(Unknown)

One FT

(Unknown)

Transformation

Organizational dysfunction

Health care

Software

(Unknown)

One FT

(Unknown)

Transformation

(Unknown)

Utility

Software

(Unknown)

Two FT agile coaches; One FT SM

CTO

Transformation

(Unknown)

Fintech

Salesforce contractor

50

Part-time agile coach

Owner

Client delivery

Stuck with project management

Consulting

(Unknown)

60K

(Unknown)

Head of Process

Support clients

(Unknown)

Cloud

SAAS

Many

100s of teams

CEO

Scaling

Chaos

Service

IT

500-1000

One FT

(Unknown)

Pre-transformation

(Unknown)

Government

Health

500

Part-time coach

CIO

Unlike other orgs

Resistance to change

Coaching

Agile coaching/training

2

Part-time coach

Owner

Technology

(Unknown)

Compensation

We next turned our attention to understanding the compensation that agile coaches and Scrum Masters enjoy. Once again, we did not care to define the difference between ‘Scrum Master’ and ‘agile coach’ and simply used the terms employed by the organizations.

Our findings are in the table below.

Full time positions

Organization

Title

Compensation

Location

Public company

Scrum Master

$160K/yr plus 10% bonus

SF/SV

Private healthtech

Scrum Master

$125K (unknown bonus)

SV

NA

Agile coach

$150K/yr (unknown bonus)

SF/SV

Public company

Scrum Master

$180K/yr (unknown bonus)

SF/SV

Bank

Agile coach

$190K/yr plus 20% bonus and $15K signing bonus

SF/SV

Public company

Agile coach

$160K/year (unknown bonus)

SF

Public technology

Agile coach

$200K/yr plus 20% bonus and $10K signing bonus

SV

(SF/SV: San Francisco, Silicon Valley)

Contract positions

Organization

Title

Compensation

Location

Bank

Agile coach

$120/hr

SF/SV

Software Startup

Agile coach

$2K/day

SF/SV

Transportation Startup

Agile coach

$3K/day

Europe

Management consultant

Agile coach

$1600/day (client); $800/day (bench)

80% travel

Public company

Scrum Master

$880/day

SF/SV

NA

Agile coach

$100/hr

SF/SV

Health Insurance

Scrum Master

$85/hr 

Iowa

Insurance

Scrum Master

$100/hr 

Iowa

Bank

Agile Coach

$125/hr 

Iowa

(SF/SV: San Francisco/Silicon Valley)

In addition, we informally noted the following:

  • In eastern Canada (Toronto, Ontario) rates are higher than in western Canada (Vancouver, Alberta). A rate of $85 Canadian dollars (approximately $65 US dollars) per hour is average for a Scrum Master in Canada.
  • In northern Europe (excluding Scandinavia), agile coaches earn approximately $1K euros (approximately $1150 US dollars) per day.

Final Comments

The market for agile coaches is rapidly changing. The entry of management consultants into the field, the rise of ‘born agile’ Silicon Valley companies, and the transition from the industrial age to the digital age all impact the agile coaching market. Any one of these would cause significant turbulence and all three combine to create an uncertain future for agile coaches. We predict that during the next U.S. recession there will be a massive shakeout of independent agile coaches and only two groups will survive: the coaches who have personal brands and the lowest cost coaches.

Our goal in this article has been to provide clear, verifiable, high quality data with minimal interpretation or opinion so that agile coaches can make decisions about their careers.

We plan to continue to build the largest and highest quality database of agile coaching compensation. If you would like to contribute, please complete this form.

Thanks to:

About the Authors

Elaine Bulloch is a passionate Agile Coach in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently an Agile Coach at Fitbit working at the program level, coaching the coaches of many teams. As an independent Agile Trainer & Coach, Elaine Bulloch has trained & coached many diverse teams, via public and private on-site workshops. 
She loves exploring opportunities for transformation with an intuitive influence toward what's possible. She's worked as Scrum Master and Agile Coach with complex technical engineering projects including embedded device firmware and software, SDK development, IT enterprise system product launches, and developer website portals.See more at: Elaine's Scrum Alliance profile

Alexander Frumkin, who is also known by his nickname Sasha, has over 30 years of experience in software development behind his back. He started his career as a junior developer and grew to the head of the software development department in a large $1.5 billion revenue company. He co-founded a startup that Forbes named one of “The 5 Solar IT Startups You Should Know”. Alex is a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Developer, Certified Scrum Professional SM, Certified Scrum Leader at Scrum Alliance and currently working on his Certified Team Coach certification. Alexander is actively involved with a Scrum community – he is a member of Bay Area Agile Leadership Network Coordination Committee and Agile Practitioners online Special Interest Group facilitator.

Michael de la Maza is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC). As an Agile consultant, his major engagements have been with Paypal, State Street, edX, Carbonite, Unum, and Symantec. Previously, he was VP of Corporate Strategy at Softricity (acquired by Microsoft in 2006) and co-founder of Inquira (acquired by Oracle in 2011). He is the co-editor of Agile Coaching:Wisdom from Practitioners and co-author of Why Agile Works: The Values Behind The Results. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from MIT. He is on email at michael.delamaza@gmail.comand on Twitter @hearthealthyscr.

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