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Do ScrumMasters need to be Technical?

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ImpedimentsDoes a ScrumMaster need a technical background? Do they need to be able to read code and coach developers on their day to day work?

John Goodsen thinks that a Scrum Master who can’t code is rarely a great fit, saying : “A good coach should be able to play the game they are coaching.  How many great sports coaches do you know that never played the game themselves first?”. In John’s mind a good Scrum Master needs to know how to coach at the level of the code, that they need experience building software.

Alan Dayley says that a Scrum Master is a team coach, not a team member. They’re goal is to help the team get better, in some cases that requires technical knowledge. In other cases deep technical  knowledge can be a liability as they get lost in the details and miss the team’s other needs.

Mark Woyna notes that the team is responsible for improving its own technical practices, instead the ScrumMaster’s role is to help the team follow the process.

Adam Sroka is suspicious of the role in general. If they’re effective at removing organizational obstacles, they worth their weight in gold, however he sees many who are not. In the end Adam sees two cases where the ScrumMaster isn’t providing benefit:

  1. A high performing, self organizing team in which case the ScrumMaster doesn’t add extra value. In this case he would like teams to realize they no longer need a ScrumMaster.
  2. The impediments that lie in the way of team are beyond the capabilities of the ScrumMaster to remove. In this case he thinks the ScrumMaster’s need coaching themselves. Coaching to ask for help, training or support.

He goes on to say:

It is not necessary for ScrumMasters to be technical to be useful to a team if that team has obstacles that the ScrumMaster can remove. It is necessary for teams that have newly adopted Agile to have technical advisers, because there are technical implications to working in smaller, faster increments.

A technical coach is an important part of any successful Agile adoption, but other experts of various kinds are also useful, and a savvy ScrumMaster can be useful in identifying opportunities to direct those efforts to maximum effect. A ScrumMaster need not know too much about any particular aspect to do that, although being an effective leader (notice that I didn't say "manager") is vital.

Hariprakash Agrawa suggests the importance of technical skills in a ScrumMaster has more to with how far along a team is in its Agile Adoption. The newer the team, the more likely that their impediments are technical in nature, in this case he would prefer a technical ScrumMaster. Even in this case he thinks people skills are more important than technical knowledge. He thinks that the wrong person, even if they have technical skills, can create much damage.

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