Becoming a non-technical Scrum Master

Becoming A Non-technical Scrum Master

If you work in the tech industry then you’ve no doubt noticed the recent explosion in demand for qualified Scrum Masters. But, what’s more interesting is the surge in interest from individuals hoping to fill these positions who are coming from outside of the tech industry. In fact, in the last month alone I’ve received several questions from individuals without a technical background who are interested in becoming a Scrum Master. While the background of each individual is different, all of the emails end with a common question: “Can someone who doesn’t have a technical background find success as a non-technical Scrum Master?”. While opinions on this may certainly differ, I’m thrilled to say that in my experience the answer to this question has been a resounding “Yes!”.

Learning The Skills To Be A Great Scrum Master

While there’s no question that having a strong technical background can be advantageous to becoming a successful Scrum Master, it’s in no way a requirement. In fact, some of the best Scrum Masters that I’ve ever worked with have come from completely non-technical backgrounds.

So, if a technical background isn’t a requirement for becoming an effective Scrum Master, then what is?

The Scrum Master role is all about fostering collaboration across your team. And to do this effectively you need to be able to build connections with others and communicate with them in a way that makes sense to them. Therefore, great Scrum Masters need to be great communicators and understand how to adapt their communication style to a variety of situations and individual preferences.

Teams who are new to the Scrum framework are often skeptical of the number of ceremonies and artifacts that are required to adhere to the rules of the framework. It’s your responsibility as a Scrum Master to communicate the value of each of these ceremonies and artifacts in a way that resonates with each member of your team so that everyone is on board with fully participating in the framework.

In addition, great Scrum Master have a knack for setting short-term goals with their teams and then visualizing the steps necessary to reach those goals. In this way, the Scrum Master helps their team understand the value of each of their sprint goals and helps them build a plan to reach those goals.

But What About Technical Skills?

Both of the skills mentioned above are non-technical in nature, meaning that anyone from any background could be capable of employing these skills successfully. But, does this mean that there are no technical skills required for becoming a great Scrum Master?

Not exactly.

Truly effective Scrum Masters also possess a deep understanding of how their organization delivers software. However, this is not the same thing as being a skilled software developer. Great Scrum Masters have a clear mental picture of all of the steps their organization takes to deliver an increment of product to market and how each of those steps fit together. This doesn’t mean that the Scrum Master understands every line of code used to bring a product to life, or the specific nuances of each step of the product’s deployment pipeline, but they do understand how each step of that process fits together and how changes to one step can affect other steps.

In addition, while they may have a deep understanding of their organization’s software development process, they also understand that their organization’s process is almost guaranteed to differ from another organization’s process…and that this difference is ok.

The goal of understanding their process is to better position them to spot impediments that could be affecting their team, especially those impediments that their team may not even see themselves. And another goal is to help them to spot opportunities to improve and optimize that process so their team can deliver software more effectively.

So while some level of technical understanding is necessary, the good news is that this level of understanding can be learned on the job by anyone willing to invest the effort to do so.

Finding Success As A Non-Technical Scrum Master

But despite the skills above, a large part of your success as a non-technical Scrum Master will depend on how willing your team is to accept a Scrum Master from a non-technical background.

For some teams, this won’t be an issue. They’ll be happy to have the aide of a great Scrum Master and won’t care about your level of technical chops…or lack thereof. For others, however, this may be more of an issue.

For some teams, a Scrum Master from a non-technical background may need to work a little harder to gain their team’s trust. This can be particularly true for teams who are new to the Scrum framework and are already a bit skeptical of the Scrum Master’s role to begin with. But don’t despair, if you find yourself in this situation all hope is not lost.

When working with a team whose trust you may have to work harder than usual to earn, your first order of business should be to invest in building strong relationships with each individual on the team. This can pay huge dividends since people whom you have strong relationships with will be more likely to support and follow you as you begin to drive change in your role. Or, even if they don’t always agree with you, they’ll at least be less likely to publicly detract from you when they disagree.

But beyond this, you must also work to really learn the skills and responsibilities that are expected of a Scrum Master. And then, make a visible effort to put these same skills to work bettering the lives of your team.

As mentioned above, it’s not unusual for teams are who are new to the Scrum framework to also be skeptical of the Scrum Master role in general. Often this skepticism is rooted in a general lack of understanding of purpose of the Scrum Master role as well as the value that this role can bring to their team.

But, by working to truly develop the skills of an effective Scrum Master you’ll not only start to show your team how you can add value to their work but you’ll also demonstrate that the Scrum Master role is a craft of it’s own that requires a commitment to mastery comparable to their own roles and therefore worthy of their respect.

Beginning Your Journey To Becoming A Great Scrum Master

So, you’re confident that you can become a truly effective Scrum Master even without a technical background but you don’t know where to start? Luckily, getting started is easier than you think.

First, there are a wealth of books and online courses available to help you deepen your knowledge of your craft and to teach you the specific skills you’ll need to be successful. Becoming an effective Scrum Master is a career-long pursuit and there’s always more to learn, but luckily you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration.

Second, finding an experienced Scrum Master who can serve as a mentor can be an incredibly effective way to accelerate your own growth as a Scrum Master. A great mentor can give guidance as to what materials or learning would be most appropriate for where you are in your journey, provide insight and advice to problems that you may be facing based on their own experience with similar problems in the past, or just act as a sounding board and listen encouragingly as you reason out the best approach for yourself. If you’re looking for a mentor, a great place to start are the more experienced Scrum Masters in your own organization, Scrum Masters from outside organizations that you may encounter at local user groups or conferences, or even those Scrum Masters who can provide coaching and mentoring remotely via the internet.

And finally, jumping into your role with both feet is the most effective way to quickly find success as a Scrum Master. Truly effective Scrum Masters are great communicators and great facilitators, but above all, truly effective Scrum Masters are great problem solvers. This is because every situation you’ll face will be different and therefore the problems you’ll face with one team will differ from the problems you’ll face with another team. Great Scrum Masters don’t have all the answers, but they excel at putting their problem solving skills to work to find those answers. And there’s no better way to do this, then to dive headfirst into your first team and start solving these problems for yourself.

Are you ready to take the first step in your Scrum Master career? Or, are you an experienced Scrum Master whose ready to take your craft to the next level? Check out my course series, Scrum Master Fundamentals, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Scrum Master and help your team reach their highest potential.

Don’t have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

Related Posts