Should Scrum Masters be Software Developers?

I recently attended a meetup group called the London Agile Discussion Group in the heart of the Strand district. This was my first time attending this meetup group. What attracted me to it was the question they were debating that evening, “ Should Scrum Masters be software developers?”. This interests me greatly, as I am a Scrum Master looking to develop my skills and career. However, I have no developer experience and so wanted to see what other people’s views were. My view before that evening was that I was facing a challenge entering this field with so little experience, and that companies prefer their Scrum Masters to be proficient in programming. What I didn’t know was that these Agile practitioners had a different view and that my own was about to change….

That evening’s meetup group consisted of between 25-30 people and consisted of Scrum Masters, Business Analysts, CEO’s of software houses and software developers. David Lowe, an Agile Evangelist and the evenings organiser, started off by introducing the question and what debate format we all would follow. After chatting with members on my table it soon became clear that there was a popular view that software programming experience was not essential for a Scrum Master to be able to function. Scrum Masters didn’t have to have a technical background, they just had to know the workings of Scrum and be able to teach their teams. We also discussed how a Scrum Master removes impediments/blockers, and that those are rarely technical based and, when they are, Scrum Masters find the right person with the right skills to fix the problem. What came to light was that lots of teams think Scrum Masters will be able to fix every problem, and that isn’t the case, Scrum Masters will be able to step back and take a look at the problem with a different view and go about trying to fix the problem with a team approach. The Scrum Master will then facilitate this team collaboration.

There were a few individuals who believed that Scrum Masters should be developers and they had some interesting points. They believed it was easier to sell Scrum as a way to create software if the Scrum Master also got involved with writing the code. This was then argued by others as wrong and that they are selling Scrum in the wrong way, and that they should change their focus and sell Scrum as a package and say why Scrum Masters, Products Owners and developers are important in their own right. However, I did see their point. It can be hard to win contracts from big companies and making the process easier to sell would be beneficial at keeping business, but I didn’t agree. If they could successfully teach their clients about the importance of every Scrum role, the quality of their software would improve and also the efficiency of their software development too.

The Developer group also stated that the Scrum Master would be able to help write code and so add an extra developer to the team to reduce the workload for the rest. This was also disputed by the other side as pointless. The Scrum Master would be too busy to fully do his job properly, which is removing impediments and teaching the Scrum process so that after every sprint the team gets more efficient. The Scrum Master should always be improving and adapting Scrum with new techniques and skills formulated and picked up by the industry. The Team can always improve. Many points and different views were discussed and thrown back and forth between the two debating sides. It was a very insightful evening with a high calibre debate.

During this debate it was clear that a majority of people believed that it is not necessary for a Scrum Master to be a Developer or have Developer experience to operate fully and efficiently as a Scrum Master. What is necessary is that the Scrum Master has exceptional people skills and understands Scrum well to better serve their teams. There are undoubtedly different points of view, but it is encouraging to hear such a sensible approach.

What do you believe? Should Scrum Masters be software developers? Have your say, tweet us  your comments: @GeorgeT_D


William Powell-Davis