Should a Scrum Master be Technical ?

by StarAgile

March 29, 2020
Category Agile and Scrum


Scrum master and technical skills - an analyses 

We are aware that we need to have some skills to work in IT projects. But are we aware of what are the skills required? Who needs to acquire which skill and how to achieve the same? Software development has an origin of 1950. Yes, we have progressed from structured programming to waterfall, incremental, iterative, prototyping, spiral, v-model, rapid appln dev, agile method, XP, SAFe, LeSS, etc. 

In the above-mentioned methods, there has been a need for different skills like designing, coding, testing, etc to work on each method. We also have people who specialize in different skills and call them developers, tester, architect, and much more. 

Scrum Master with technical background

When we talk about agile methodology and scrum framework we will first talk about three roles namely the scrum master (SM), product owner (PO) and the development team (testing and developers). There is clarity in what a PO does and also we know the role of a tester and the developer. But, there is always confusion about the SM. 

Since an SM work with the technical team, should a Scrum master have technical knowledge? To what extent this person should know about coding and engineering practices? Do they just need to be facilitator? Will the technical team respect them if they do not talk about technical terms in the meetings? 

The answers to these questions can be provided if we know the pros and cons of an SM with and without technical background. 

Pros and cons of scrum master being a technical person 

Advantages

  1. SM with technical experience will have a strong grip on product development and hence he can provide suggestions in every technical discussion.
  2. He can support the PO to prioritize the backlogs and allocate work to each incremental model.
  3. Timeboxing can be done correctly and hence the team can work with motivation as they can realistically achieve the task.
  4. Team will feel glad about the technical skills of the SM and hence they will connect with easily and share their views.
  5. The entire leadership team will obtain guidance from the SM and they can quickly achieve the business goal. 

Disadvadvantages

  1. Technically sound SM will not allow the team to think on their own. The individual capability of each team member becomes curtailed. They will not think as they will get ready made solution. 
  2. PO might lose focus and start relying on the SM
  3. SM will force the team to implement things on his way and this will create issues with the team.
  4. Team collaboration will reduce and few will support the SM which will lead to biased decision making.  
  5. They may time box correctly but many times fail to stick on to it as they may continue expressing their ideas not allowing the team to talk. This will lead to long discussions and even daily stand up meeting exceeds 15 mins. 
  6. Overall a technical SM will not let each individual to play their role efficiently as they will influence in each stage. 

Scrum Master without technical background 

“No technical background” does not mean this person lacks understanding of technical skills. They may not master the engineering practices and might not have worked on coding in the past. But, they will know the knowhow of how to handle technical team, projects and facilitate the entire process.

Benefits 

  1. The SM without technical awareness will ask the team many questions and that will allow the team to think. This will improve their questioning ability leading to finding the right solution. Team performance will improve. The entire team will feel motivated. They will not hesitate to share their views. Empowered team will not just work towards achieving their goal but will own the entire process and work to complete the business goal joint handily. 
  2. Sticking on to time is the key to success of agile projects. SM lacking technical skill will not get involved in the technical talk and thus will remind about the timelines. The team will get back to focus. 
  3. The PO will get attached to the team and SM will act as a mediator.

Disadvantages 

  1. Non technical SM will accept the acceptance criteria provided by the PO which might backfire at certain instances. 
  2. They may overlook the work and not give importance to detailing which leads to gap in the process and product delivery.
  3. Might become YES MAN which means the SM will accept everything the team tells feeling inferior about their lack of skills. This may mislead the team or make them overconfident. 

Final decision – technical SM or Non technical SM 

Now that we have seen both sides of the coin, we have given you a picture about being a technical SM and not. Let me now explain you whether you need to be a technical person or not to grow in your career and work on agile projects. 

One need not be a hardcore technical person as the role of an SM is to guide the team, organize meetings, support PO and facilitate the entire product development process. However, a basic understanding of the technicalities will help. 

What is expected from an SM? 

  • They must not ignore unit testing.
  • Must not blindly accept acceptance criteria.
  • Should know how to map the user story to every feature. 
  • Follow up with the team about their knowledge on user story. 
  • Willing to learn and understand the process in every increment. 
  • Give importance to technical details and ask questions till making the team to think.
  • Closely work with the PO to create the prioritized backlogs and DoD.
  • Facilitate daily stand up and sprint planning meeting effectively.
  • Make sure that the impediment log and scrum board remains updated.

In short, SM will review the progression of the team and take care of the agile implementation. 

All of you who aspire to become a SM need not feel intimidated if you are not a technical person.  There is no need to be a technical architect or a developer to become a scrum master. But, you need to have a strong grip on the agile process and basic understanding on technicality to become a successful SM. Register for the Certified Scrum Master to learn about the entire framework and the role of a SM.