How to survive as a non-technical Scrum Master in a tech company?

The Scrum Master role is widely discussed. If you just simply google Scrum Master, you get a lot of results that are based around the question what a Scrum Master actually does all day. The next topic that is widely discussed is the question what background a Scrum Master should have, and who can actually become one. Most Scrum Masters that I met have either a developer or a project manager background (obviously there are a lot of other backgrounds, but in my experience these two are the most common ones). Quite naturally the question about background advantages and disadvantages for a Scrum Master who works with a software development team is widely discussed.

Let me share my wisdom with you…

With this blog post, I don’t want to compare different backgrounds with each other. I have a project management background and would like to share my experience on how to cope in a software development company without a deep technical knowledge.*

*When I started working as a Scrum Master I wasn’t completely new to software development. I have always worked in ecommerce, and always had close relationships with the developers. But the closest I got to working with them was to tell them what I need or amending some simple html code. I haven’t thought about software architecture or APIs much.

To be honest with you, there were/are some days where I felt/feel totally lost, but I never think about my non-technical background as a disadvantage. What do I do to survive as a non-technical Scrum Master in a tech company?

I listen and take notes.

Listening skills ar cruical for a Scrum Master. This is the same for technical and non-technical conversations. Whereas it comes pretty naturally to me to read between the lines during team discussions, it’s hard for me to stay on track when the team is talking about super technical stuff. This is when I start to listen even harder, and take notes to follow up on things that weren’t clear to me.

I observe.

I observe how the team works together, and how productive they are. I watch their workflows, and gather feedback on how happy the team is in the different stages of the process. Once I know where the pain points are, I can dig deeper into this part of the process, and learn more about it.

I ask questions.

(Even if they seem ‘stupid’). I want to understand what the team is talking about, and how things are connected. The only way for me to find out is by asking questions. This can feel quite uncomfortable from time to time, because it might seem that I am showing a weakness. But think about it in a different way: If I wouldn’t ask questions, the team would assume that I know more than I actually do. This might lead to setting wrong expectations which then leads to me not being able to be an effective Scrum Master.

I ask for details.

The development teams know, that I don’t have a developer background, and that’s ok. Whenever I ask for more details, they are more than happy to help. This creates a win-win situation: I gain knowledge, and the dev teams gain better support. Oftentimes this is even helpful for the process. When explaining things on a different level the team might discover that they were overcomplicating things… And let me tell you a little secret: developers do not always talk code. In my experience they are pretty good at explaining things in a very simple way 😉.

I learn.

I don’t just enhance my knowledge in my area of expertise, but also learn about the basics of software development. Whether it be by asking a colleague, or reading things up on the internet. I like to figure things out and then try them out on my own - and using the terminal always makes me feel like a pro 😉.

That’s the magic

And that’s most of the magic on how I thrive as a Scrum Master with a non-technical background. If you have an interest in software development, and are not afraid of nerdy conversations you will definitely find your place as a non-technical Scrum Master in a software development team. You will probably enjoy talking about nerdy stuff, too (say hello to a world of technology talk).

About the author

Ann-Katrin Arndt is a certified Advanced Scrum Master. She is all about agile values and principles and has a passion for team and personal development.