As many companies have adopted Agile Methodology by implementing Scrum in their organizations, there is an increased demand for Scrum professionals in the Agile world. The most popular course offered by Scrum Alliance is Certified Scrum Master, as many companies look for professionals who can facilitate an Agile team effectively. Scrum Masters are the driving force of a Scrum team as they ensure that the Developers get the clarity and freedom to implement their ideas on the product, and also ensure that the Product Owner’s vision for the product is conveyed to the team. Hence, companies look for professionals who have knowledge about Scrum and can implement their practices effectively. But one question arises in every candidate who wants to pursue a career in Scrum: whether a Scrum Master should be having technical knowledge and skills? And what are the skills that a Scrum Master should be possessing and how do the candidates achieve the same? Let us know in detail about the skills that the Scrum Master should possess, and whether technical skills are one among them.
What is a Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master is a true leader of a Scrum team that facilitates the communication between the Developers and the Product Owner. They are responsible for ensuring that the Developers follow the Scrum values and principles and develop the product according to the Scrum Guide. The effectiveness of the Scrum team depends on the Scrum Master as they ensure that the team improves their practices and develops valuable products. Scrum Masters serve the organization at large by serving the Scrum Developers and the Product Owner.
According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master serves the team in various ways such as:
- Helps the team to concentrate on high-value increments to meet the definition of done.
- Train the team members to self-organize and self-manage
- Facilitate the Scrum events and meetings so a productive and positive outcome is obtained.
- Removing impediments that cause a delay in the progress of the team.
The Scrum Master also serves the Product Owner in ways such as:
- Facilitating communication between the team and the stakeholders.
- Making the team understand the vision and the needs of the product from the perspective of the Product Owner.
- Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management and product goal definition along with the Product Owner.
- Establishing empirical product planning for a complex environment.
Does the Scrum Master need to be technical?
In the Scrum framework, the three main accountabilities are of the Developers, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master. Everyone understands the role of the Product Owner is to envision the product before it is developed and plan it according to the trends of the market. A Product Owner also has many other roles which are quite distinct and known by everyone on the team. The roles and responsibilities of the Developers are also distinct. However, when it comes to the accountability of a Scrum Master, it is quite ambiguous as to whether the Scrum Master should have a technical background or what type of skills and knowledge they should possess. Whether they should only act as a facilitator and will the Developers trust the Scrum Master if they do not speak in technical terms in Scrum events. These questions often come to mind when thinking about the Scrum Master’s roles.
The answer to should a Scrum Master have technical knowledge is No, a Scrum Master does not require to possess technical knowledge and anyone from a non-technical background can become a Scrum Master. As given in the definition of the Scrum Master, according to Scrum Guide, the roles and responsibilities of Scrum Master do not mention anything specific of having technical knowledge. However, it is always helpful if the Scrum Master understands basic technicalities and knows about Scrum and the product development process. Any person aspiring to become a Scrum Master should also have a strong grip on the Agile values, principles and the mindset. Let us understand what are the pros and cons of a Scrum Master who has a technical background and one who does not have such that we can compare as to what is better for the Scrum team and the organization.
Scrum Master having Technical Background
When a Developer or a Tester becomes Scrum Master, there are many advantages and disadvantages for the Scrum team.
Advantages of Technical Scrum Master
- Scrum Master with Technical background can provide effective solutions and suggestions in every technical discussion of the team as they have a strong grip on product development.
- SM can work with the PO to allocate the work according to each increment and also help them prioritize the items on the Product Backlog.
- They can set appropriate tasks according to the timeline so that the team can work with motivation as they know that tasks are set realistically.
- The team can easily share their views about certain technical functions and can connect with the SM.
- The business goal could be achieved faster as the team is guided with effective leadership.
Disadvantages of Technical Scrum Master
- If the Scrum Master is technical, they may not allow the team to make their own decisions and the process would become more of a “command and control” method. The team members cannot display their creativity and the Developers cannot become self-organizing and self-managing. In this case, the team cannot think on their own and would constantly look for ready-made solutions.
- The Product Owner may give their roles and tasks to the SM and can start losing focus from the product development.
- SM may create issues with the team by forcing them to follow his/her methods.
- The team may be separated as few may be for the SM and few may be against it. This will create chaos and the team collaboration is hampered and team members may make a biased decision.
- Scrum Masters with a technical background may not allow other members to talk. This could also lead to long discussions in Scrum events even in Daily standups.
- Technical Scrum Master may influence each team member at every stage of the development process and will not let each play their role effectively.
Scrum Master from Non-technical background
In this article, when we refer to a person with a non-technical background, it does not mean that the person lacks technical skills and knowledge. This means that the person may not master the engineering practices and might not have worked on coding in the past. The person, however, knows how to handle a technical team and facilitates the entire process of product development.
Advantages of Scrum Master with a non-technical background
- Scrum Master who does not have technical awareness would ask simple yet effective questions which will facilitate the thinking process of the Developers. This will help them to find the correct solutions for the raised questions. The performance of the team would improve and the team may feel motivated and would not hesitate to share their reviews. The team starts becoming self-organizing and will start working towards their goals and will complete the business goal together.
- SM would constantly remind about the timelines and would not indulge in technical planning which will help the team members to focus on their work and proceed according to their way and meet the deadlines.
- SM would act as a mediator between the development team and the Product Owner and the PO would get attached to the team and perform his/her tasks effectively.
Disadvantages of Scrum Master with a non-technical background
- Nontechnical SM will accept the acceptance criteria provided by the PO which may come into question in certain circumstances.
- The team may develop a product that has a gap in process and product delivery as the SM does not give importance to the details of the product and may overlook the work.
- The team may tell anything to the SM which the SM has to accept due to their lack of technical skills. This may mislead the lead and make the overconfident gradually.
Final Decision- Should a Scrum Master be technical?
As explained, the Scrum Guide does not say that a Scrum Master has to be technical. This implies that people from non-technical backgrounds can also apply for the CSM course and become Scrum Masters. Apart from that, looking at a career perspective, we have evaluated the pros and cons of being a technical and non-technical Scrum Master. It is up to the candidate to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons and they would like to take up the Scrum Master responsibility. One has to remember, that role of the Scrum Master does not require the person to be hardcore technical. If the person knows how to handle a technical team and has a strong grip on Agile processes and technicalities, then they could become an excellent Scrum Master.
These are few tasks that are expected from a great Scrum Master:
- Should follow up with the team about the user story knowledge
- They should be eager to learn and understand the process at each increment
- They must know to map the user story to each feature
- They should not ignore unit testing
- Would make the team think by asking questions related to technical details.
- Facilitate Scrum events such as sprint planning and daily scrum
- They should work with the PO and prioritize items on the product backlog and create effective DoD
- Ensure that the impediment log is cleared and the scrum board is updated.
If you are an individual who aspires to become a Scrum Master, you do not have to feel intimidated if you do not have a technical background. If you have strong knowledge about Scrum values and principles and how product development takes place, you already have a great game. A great grip on the process of Agile and knowing the basics of technicalities would help you to become a successful Scrum Master. As the CSM course does not have any prerequisites, it makes it clear that a technical background is not an absolute necessity for becoming a Scrum Master. If you are an aspiring SM without a technical background, then look out for the cons and try to improve on them. This would make you better at the role and would help you grow in your career.