Does a Scrum Master need to be Technical?

One of the most common questions that we get when teaching people about Scrum involves the Scrum Master.  Specifically, does a Scrum Master need to be “technical”?

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In order to answer this question, we first need to explore what it means to be “technical”.  Defining this word isn’t as easy as it seems.  First, everyone who is a knowledge worker in the 21st Century is “technical” to a certain extent.  Most of us have smartphones and are, at least, minimally competent in using and maintaining these phones.  For example, even my parents, who are in the mid-to-late 70s, understand how to download and update applications from the App Store.  They also are aware of basic technical terms such as “browser” and “intranet”.  So, in a sense, they are technical.

However, the participants that are asking this question about Scrum Masters are looking beyond this superficial definition.  They are seeking to understand and answer questions like, “Does a Scrum Master need to be a former developer?” or “Does a Scrum Master need to be able to read and write code?”  Using this deeper definition of “technical”, let’s answer the question.  “Does a Scrum Master need to be technical?”.

The short answer is “No”, a Scrum Master does not need to be technical.

However, having some knowledge of how the product is structured can help the Scrum Master fulfill their facilitation and mentoring responsibilities within the Team.  It can be easier to facilitate conversations between Developers when you have a base-level understanding of the topic being discussed. You can more easily serve as a mentor when you have been in the Developer’s spot before.  After all, how can you offer a potential solution to a challenge a developer is facing if you’ve never personally faced the situation before?

Those of us without technical experience can still make good Scrum Masters.  First, we are “unencumbered by past experience”.  This means that we can ask good questions and that we can truly maintain neutrality when facilitating technical conversations.  Our lack of experience allows us, in facilitating conversations with Developers, to say, “I don’t know the details associated with the issue that you are discussing, but I do know that you are not talking with each other but, instead, are talking at or through each other”.

Moreover, great Scrum Masters are naturally curious and are life-long learners so those of us without deep technical experience should leverage our curiosity to learn more about the product being built and grow our knowledge, not only of the product, but also development related techniques such as Test-Driven Development and Continuous Integration.

So while a Scrum Master doesn’t need to be developer, having technical skills can help.

Are you interested in learning more about being a good Scrum Master?  Please check out our upcoming Scrum Certification classes: