Importance of tech background for a SM?

Last post 03:32 pm December 12, 2016
by James Neumann
11 replies
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04:53 pm November 30, 2016

How important do you think it is for a Scrum Master to have a technical background? I used to think not, but at the moment I'm not so sure.

I joined a Scrum team a few months ago as a full time SM. My early time with them was firstly observing and then gradually suggesting things we could try to improve, mostly through observation and through our Retro's. So things like visualisation, DoD, DoR, fixing the Daily Scrum, introducing different formats for their retro's, estimation, etc. Lots of good early progress.

A couple of issues I'm finding:
1. Because I'm not technical, I get the sense that I don't have the same level respect and trust of all the team members, as some of the other SMs, who are either team leads or developers who are assuming the part-time role of the SM, who go beyond process facilitation, coaching, etc. into hands-on technical help. Has anyone ever experienced this?
2. After just a few months of helping the team improve their process, it feels like my work is less and less. Is this normal? How long do you think a SM should be with a team.

Appreciate any thoughts, and any similar experiences you may have had?

05:35 pm November 30, 2016

A Scrum Master has a service to the wider organization. This includes but is not limited to:

- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization

What are your thoughts about that?

05:47 pm November 30, 2016

Thanks for the reply. As a SM I do also try to help the wider organisation - for example, running a monthly Lean Coffee and helping other SM's and PO's understand Scrum and Agile better, which has proven valuable. Also generally evangelising Agile. Beyond that, I'm not sure how much further I could take that. There is also an Agile Coach in the org who is involved at an Agile transformation and program level. Where do you see the SM vs AC roles?

05:48 pm November 30, 2016

Also, would really appreciate to hear any experiences of any challenges in being a non-techie SM.

06:33 pm November 30, 2016

> Where do you see the SM vs AC roles?

To the letter of the Scrum Guide, a Scrum Master is an Agile Coach. There's no separate Coach role.

Personally, and this is just my view, I see an Agile Coach as a Scrum Master who has developed an organizational focus. This can happen as a team becomes more self-organizing and the greater impediments are seen by the SM to be at an organizational level.

06:42 pm November 30, 2016

I strongly support Ian point of view.
The Scrum Masters around me are very focused on the Dev Team.
A few are also helping their PO.
Very few are coaching the organisation toward real adoption of Scrum.
It is strange to me because it is clearly stated in the Scrum Guide that the Scrum Master is a coach for these 3 "clients"

06:49 pm November 30, 2016

I rarely see those aspects of the Scrum Guide SM role heavily focused on or implemented. Ie a Scrum Master leading a Scrum adoption. Also could you not say if anything they would be a Scrum Coach rather than an Agile Coach, as Agile !== Scrum?

07:48 pm November 30, 2016

> I rarely see those aspects of the Scrum Guide SM role heavily focused
> on or implemented. Ie a Scrum Master leading a Scrum adoption.

That's probably true...but if so, why is that the case?

> Also could you not say if anything they would be a Scrum Coach rather
> than an Agile Coach, as Agile !== Scrum?

Yes, though that term is perhaps less commonly used.

10:16 am December 5, 2016

Having development background can definitely help, although there are many great Scrum masters that come from a Program/Project/Product management or QA backgrounds. The actual skills that you have and need to develop as a Scrum master are much more important. I have seen people without any development background being able to dive deep into development challenges when the team needed help and coaching. Those people most always had very good listening skills, coaching skills and systems thinking skills. What also helps is a good understanding of the domain and the product. The bottom line is that the Scrum Master doesn't really have to understand the code in order to ask the right questions and be useful.

01:14 pm December 6, 2016

As per my knowledge, Scrum Master should possess the knowledge of technical work that will help the team to focus on same path. If the Scrum Master’s weren’t technically good, then wouldn’t be able to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. If we don’t know what they are doing, then how can we resolve the issue that they are facing? If we have technical knowledge, we can ask more helpful questions to make the development team to think in a different way.

08:25 am December 7, 2016

I don't see the SM as an expert in software developpement.
Actually, when I see a SM that is also an expert, the Dev Team tends to wait for hints from the expert instead of using bottom-up intelligence (same trouble with any cow-boy hero in a Dev Team).

Any background in any subject is good for everybody, but the Scrum Master is an expert in Scrum, agility and coaching, not in doing the "real" work.

03:32 pm December 12, 2016

Assuming the delivery is software development, a relevant tech background is helpful. It's critical for an SM to develop common understanding with the team, and conversations become more effective with a shared background. You don't have to be an expert, but rather have enough familiarity to guide and facilitate communication.

Team members will respect you if you speak their language, IMO. Maintaining that respect will come your SM, business, and leadership skills.