Should a ScrumMaster have a technical background?

Should a ScrumMaster have a technical background?

A few months ago I wrote about some of the challenges faced by a Scrum Master with a technical background, namely the risk of having an opinion on technical matters and wanting to express it.  The discussion came to light again when I read Manjit’s heartfelt article which looked at the problem from the other perspective and how the lack of a technical background can be a concern for some.

I had some excellent discussions with Manjit after reading her article and it was really interesting to see the problem from the other side. The variety of opinions and the willingness to listen to different views are both things I love about the Agile community so I was a bit concerned about the impression I received whilst attending a recent Global Scrum Gathering.

During many of the presentations there did seem to be an assumption that the audience not only had a technical background, but that this was specific to software development.  I knew this wasn’t the case but by the end of the conference I felt the need to carry out a straw poll of a few of the people I had met over the previous 3 days.

I asked a pretty simple question – ‘Does a Scrum Master need a technical background?’. Although I really expected to get a consistent answer, that wasn’t the case.  At least 2 of the handful of people asked were convinced that technical knowledge was a must have and their response was along the lines of

“without it how could the Scrum Master possibly understand what the developers are talking about?”

If I’d been at a developer conference then I could have understood this response.  The role of Scrum Master is not well understood by many – there are numerous articles elsewhere discussing this problem especially within HR and Recruitment – but I assumed that at an Agile event, the vast majority of attendees would recognise the value brought to the role by people from a wide range of backgrounds.

At least one of my new friends came from a non-technical heritage and sure enough the response there was obvious – he was the proof that a successful SM didn’t need technical knowledge and the ability to focus on people and collaborating to create value was far more important.

When I’m doubting my own sanity I like to refer back to the Scrum Guide and the definition there is clear enough.  There is no technical requirement beyond an in-depth knowledge of Scrum.

“The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.”

So really this short article is to gather opinions and integrate the wisdom which emerges via discussion.  What do you think? Is a technical background a requirement, a benefit or a potential hindrance to a Scrum Master?

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