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Does Your Start-up Need a Techie ScrumMaster?

14 March 2017

Rumesh Wijetunge
Zaizi Asia

How to identify the most suitable candidate for the ScrumMaster role at a tech start-up is widely debated. A start-up is filled with risk and uncertainty and is probably the brainchild of one or two ambitious individuals. Not all tech start-ups are founded by techies, and there may be business-minded individuals who have put together a team to deliver a software requirement received from a client they managed to persuade. There the risk would be even higher in terms of managing scope, time, acquiring resources, and allocating budget. In these instances, it may be the founder or owner himself who is the sole investor. In this case, the founder's interest and influence in the success of the company increase in magnitude.

So how do we find a suitable ScrumMaster candidate for such a tech start-up who can follow Agile practices? How can that ScrumMaster manage the expectations and constant influence of the owner or CEO in delivering his objectives? How can the ScrumMaster coordinate within his implementation team to identify the best Agile practices that work for them? More importantly, how can the ScrumMaster ensure that the development team provides accurate effort estimates without misleading leadership?

The key question here is: In a tech start-up with about five to eight team members, should the ScrumMaster be a technical person? Or can a business analyst or any other business-oriented person assume the ScrumMaster role? How can this individual earn the team members' trust, support, and honesty? The answer is straightforward, both in terms of logic and of Scrum principles. Anyone can play the ScrumMaster role. He or she needs only to be the protector of the team, be able to listen to concerns of the team members, solve problems, and be the owner of the process.

How can this ScrumMaster manage the constant interest of the CEO to get involved in day-to-day work? How can he or she get accurate estimates from developers, and how can the ScrumMaster ensure that he or she is honest and transparent? It has everything to do with following the process defined by the team and engaging in collaboration (one of the main principles of Agile). The ScrumMaster must protect the team from the CEO and advise the CEO that he needs to worry more about the strategic objectives of the company than about day-to-day delivery work. Yes, thoughts of profitability will be on his mind — it's his money that is at stake. But if the ScrumMaster and the team can instill confidence by acting as a self-managing and self-healing team, then this feeling of insecurity can be slowly removed.

Through collaboration and conversation, the ScrumMaster can work with the team in deriving an accurate and commitable estimate. The team may not have an architect to help the ScrumMaster validate the estimates given by the team. Consequently, the effort estimate (size estimate) will have to be accepted as being accurate through a Planning Poker® estimation session.

Though ideal, a techie ScrumMaster for a start-up will not actually be mandatory.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (2 ratings)


Martin Smith, CSP,CSM, 3/14/2017 8:57:27 AM
Where did this concept of "Accurate" and "Validated" estimates come from. The only way to establish estimate validity and accuracy is through delivery. That is the only way to avoid hiding the truth. The idea of the ScrumMaster being responsible for this is not understanding the responsibility of the Team.
Saheedat Alayaki Aina, CSM, 3/14/2017 10:49:53 AM
Interesting article Rumesh, but it seems we are leaving out the role of the product here. My understanding is that the product owner is the representative of the business side and should be responsible for communicating with the CEO or owner so the Scrum Master can concentrate on protecting the team and enforce Agile values and principles. Also, to Martin's point, the team is responsible for estimating and not the Scrum Master. I am open to your thoughts on my opinion. Thanks.
Rumesh Wijetunge, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/17/2017 2:05:25 AM
Thanks for the comments.

@Martin - Yes, I agree that the validity of the estimates can only be improved by practicing Agile for 2 to 3 sprints. Then only would a velocity in terms of story points become much clearer. Though not ideal, in a tech startup focusing on service delivery as well as product delivery estimates tend to go to the extent of hour / day based estimates from developers (this is the reality). So in my view the Scrum Master becomes constrained in a way to get an accurate estimate from the developers.

@Saheedat - Good catch. I forgot the role of the product owner. For service delivery projects the product owner would be the customer (usually non-technical) or the business analyst (proxy PO) and for a product delivery it might even be the CEO of the startup. So again there would be limitations in the Scrum Master having to protect the team from the customer and CEO. Open for comments :-).
Aleksandar Mafilovski, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/20/2017 3:01:04 AM
Good article.
I would add that Tech scrum master can often cross the line of servant leader and get position of Tech lead. He will negotiate estimates and even get invelved in estimating. Sometimes it is difficult to change the "technical mindset.
The positives of tech scrum master is that he can easier understand and help with technical impediments (dependences between teams etc).
I don't agree with you on validating estimates. Scrum Master should never validate estimates, because it undermines the scrum process and contadicts the value of Trust.

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