Recently I’ve read a few blog posts and forum posts discussing, ‘what role do the best ScrumMasters come from?’
One post in particular suggested that perhaps Technical Leads are the best candidates because they have deep knowledge of the technical domain in which the team is working. In my experience, unless they are already seasoned facilitators, their deep technical knowledge can be more of a hindrance to facilitating a group through a process. What they need is a deep understanding of the goals they are trying to get the team they’re serving to, the process, and its mechanics. Too often folks who are Technical Leads and contributors on projects, when made a ScrumMaster without previous real facilitation training/experience, can too easily lose focus on facilitating and get submerged in the technical details. They lose sight of the bigger picture, the process and the overall team.
Let’s talk about facilitation for a moment. Folks in the software community throw around the word ‘facilitation’ to loosely. When I ask folks how they define it, they have a tough time concisely describing it. Some suggest that going to CSM certification training teaches people facilitation skills they need to be a ScrumMaster… WRONG! At one consulting company where I had the honor to work, I received several weeks of group and workshop facilitation training, including skills training, role playing and shadowing experienced facilitators. In this training, one of the key things we were taught was good listening skills. One gets virtually none of this in any of the Scrum Alliance certifications.
I would worry less about what role someone is coming from and focus more on the skills and experience needed to be truly successful in a servant leadership/facilitation role like a ScrumMaster. Lastly, you need someone who truly wants to take on this challenge. I was at a client recently where being ScrumMaster was seen as punishment for having done something wrong… although they never knew what it was they did wrong. The reason for this perception is that the leadership of this team didn’t understand the role and just saw it as a box to check, and a set of responsibilities to assign. Unfortunately, the person who got the assignment also still had their delivery responsibilities. This was a car without the lug nuts on its wheels; they were bound to come off once it started rolling.
Bottom line: it’s what a person’s skills and experience are, especially in facilitation, negotiation and of consultative communication, that matter. If the person is also a subject matter expert of the domain, technical or otherwise, that is great. I just wouldn’t trade the latter for the former.