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From the job description of a Scrum Master, it seems to me that soft skills, such as the ability to coach and manage others, is much more important than technical skills. However I wonder if it's realistic for a non-developer to act as a Scrum Master. A non-developer would perhaps understand too little of what the other team members are doing to fulfill his role efficiently.

My own knowledge of Scrum is purely theoretical and I don't know enough about what a Scrum Master does in practice to decide how much technical knowledge is needed. Should the person in that role be a software developer?

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    Closely related: pm.stackexchange.com/a/6314/4271 – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 20 '17 at 14:13
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    I can see why you think this is related, but the roles of project manager and Scrum Master are different (or at least they're supposed to be). Broadly speaking both are process managers, but they don't have the same tasks and responsibilities at all. I have extensive knowledge about the role of project manager, I have no practical knowledge about the role of Scrum Master. I hope to get an answer specific to Scrum process and roles. – lgaleazzi Oct 20 '17 at 14:24
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    However I see from your profile that you're very knowledgeable about Scrum, and you obviously think the answers are the same, that is in itself valuable input to me. So thank you! – lgaleazzi Oct 20 '17 at 14:38
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To be effective and well trained at engagement, optimizing decision-making, negotiation, and all of the other skills that come into being a really good Scrum master takes a significant amount of time. While it's possible to be really good at both, typically I don't see this (Also has to do with the types of personalities that generally are interested in these subjects - there is overlap but not as much as you might think).

It also depends on the scale of the project, or if the scrum master has multiple projects they are involved with (or are also tasked with seeking out new opportunities or new ways to remove impediments for the team).

Probably the classic burn-the-ship example I encounter regularly is someone taking their best developer and making them a manager. The unfortunate bit is that managers will often have a higher salary, and that this drives the incentive for developers to "go up the rung on the ladder".

So, the tl;dr is I'd focus on someone who is excellent at managing people, setting expectations, is knowledgeable in decision-making models and measuring and building a response to a complex system, and then put them through a coding training program or similar - not to be your best coder, but to have them understand the trials and tribulations that the devs will face.

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No, it is not required. If you are going to be a scrum master, having a development background does help you understand what's happening in the team better, but it also carries the risk of becoming too involved in team decisions.

The scrum master is a coaching role, not a coding role or business analysis role, there are a whole other set of skills that become far more important for a good scrum master. They will leverage their past skills but over time they'll be less and less important.

  • Yes, I did read the Scrum Guide. It's helpful but also very concise. I don't think reading a 12 pages manual is sufficient to understand all aspects of a method, or how specific aspects of personal knowledge affect how one fulfills a role in practice. – lgaleazzi Jan 28 '18 at 13:02
  • Is this, perhaps, a comment on the wrong answer? I agree, the Scrum Guide is a start - it is intentionally not comprehensive. – Daniel Jan 28 '18 at 17:23
  • yes, I misclicked, sorry. – lgaleazzi Jan 28 '18 at 17:26
  • @lgaleazzi Scrum is a framework. There is a lot of value in context, techniques and practices can change, and no document covering complex work is comprehensive. It'd be great to [discuss] further. – Alan Larimer Feb 11 '18 at 22:54
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It certainly must not but it would be reasonable for the team to have Srum Master from dev people.

The more one knows about and understand the subject they're trying to control the more effective (and fast) decisions they can take to tune the team's performance.

This becomes crucial in Agile teams where the vector of team effort can frequently change.

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The job description for a Scrum Master is in The Scrum Guide. What part of it do you believe results in understand too little of what the other team members are doing to fulfill his role efficiently?

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