(this article is the first in a series of posts. Some of these might be published in the upcoming book “97 Things every Scrum practitioner should know” in the O’Reilly series, which will be edited by Gunther Verheyen)
The best Scrum Masters that I’ve encountered spend part of their time as a technical coach for their team. Unfortunately, it seems that most Scrum Masters do not do this. To me, this seems like a lost opportunity since spending effort on technical coaching for your team can help them enormously, and it will help you with your other Scrum Master responsibilities.
It often comes as a surprise when I suggest that a Scrum Master could (or even should) do technical coaching. It shouldn’t! Technical coaching isn’t explicit in the Scrum Guide  as it is written to be applicable to both technical and non-technical work. Therefore, technical coaching is only mentioned as “Helping the Development Team to create high-value products.’’ That is unfortunate. However, some other great Scrum resources do refer to technical coaching explicitly, such as Michael James’ Scrum Master Checklist . In the checklist, one of the four focus areas of a Scrum Master is “How are our engineering practices doing?”
Scrum Masters can (should) do technical coaching and that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Regular technical coaching has three important benefits:
Some examples from my own work as a Scrum Master are:
The biggest risk is to become too involved in design decisions, and the team starts depending on your contributions. You can avoid this by:
It shouldn’t be hard to add technical coaching to your work as a Scrum Master when you have development experience. It just requires you to prioritize and plan for it. One option is to plan one or two days a week to focus on this. As the context switching might make it hard, alternatively, you can dedicate a Sprint on technical coaching and try to limit other Scrum Master activities.
If you do not have development experience it will require more effort. It is possible to learn the basics of development and the purpose of agile development practices while being a Scrum Master of a team. You can ask your team for help. Tell them, “I want to improve my development skills, could you help me with that?” Work out a plan together and dedicate time for learning. Spend a lot of time pairing, but avoid asking too many questions as it will slow down your pair and he/she will become annoyed.
Good luck with the technical coaching as Scrum Masters and I hope you will find it as rewarding as me.