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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to podcast@agilethought.com, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

May 1, 2020

In this episode, Dan Neumann is back with his co-host and colleague, Sam Falco! Today, they’re discussing whether or not a Scrum Master should be technical. Sam often finds himself being asked about this and has noticed many other people have a strong opinion for arguing either side of the coin. But, there’s more to it than just those two extremes!

 

So, in their discussion today, Sam and Dan will be walking listeners through the various possibilities beside technical or not technical, and providing their advice on how to find the perfect balance between the two!

 

Key Takeaways

A technical Scrum Master: benefits, challenges, and advice:

It can be beneficial to know the product and the knowledge domain your team is working in so that you can help the team when they have an impediment or are struggling with something

Knowing the domain also makes it easier to help the Product Owner understand good backlog management, communicate to the development team, and encourage refinement to happen

With technical knowledge, you can call out your team if they are sandbagging

Challenges and pitfalls that can come with having a Scrum Master having a technical background is that there is a possibility that they might want to get in and do it themselves (which is not their role as a full-time Scrum Master) which can damage a team’s ability to self-organize and ability to innovate

As a Scrum Master, if someone on the team approaches you and asks how to solve it, your response shouldn’t be to directly solve it, but to instead ask: “What are you going to try?”

A Scrum Master who has no technical knowledge: benefits, challenges, and advice:

They can be helpful in removing impediments because they have some knowledge about how things work (which may help them with knowing who to go to when there’s a problem in a particular area)

The danger in not having any technical knowledge (but having domain knowledge) is that they may step on the Product Owners toes

A non-technical Scrum Master could be challenging the team where they shouldn’t be

Another concern is if the Scrum Master only knows Scrum and they’re only concerned with the team getting value out of Scrum

Sam’s Scrum Master tips:

A valuable skill for a Scrum Master is knowing when the team is confused or misunderstanding things and pausing to check and make sure that everyone is in the same place

You have to be good at what you do and you have to be doing it to serve the team; not making sure everyone does everything by the book (without understanding why)

As a Scrum Master, you should be asking yourself: “What are we doing here?”, “Why are we doing this?”, “How can I help my team?”, and “How can I serve best?”

Take some time to reflect on: “Is the Scrum framework is being applied well?”, “Is the team delivering value incrementally?”, and, “Are the Scrum values present?”

In Conclusion, should a Scrum Master be technical or not?

The question itself is a bad premise because it implies either ‘yes’ or ‘no’

The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no;’ it depends

If you’re a Scrum Master that feels that your lack of technical knowledge is inhibiting your ability to serve your team, then it is okay to take some basic classes to understand the challenges your development team is facing

If you’re a Scrum Master who is very technical, take some time to reflect on where your service is best applied and ask if yourself if you’re relying too hard on your technical knowledge

 

Mentioned in this Episode:

“The Expert (Short Comedy Sketch)” (Seven Redlines Video)

Agile Coaches’ Corner Trainer Talk Episode: “The Risks of Having Scrum Masters as Schedulers”

The Professional Product Owner: Leveraging Scrum as a Competitive Advantage,
by Don McGreal and Ralph Jocham

 

Sam Falco’s Book Pick:

The Janes: An Alice Vega Novel, by Louisa Luna

 

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