Technical leader role specification in a scrum team

Scrum, a popular agile methodology for improving work processes, emphasizes self-organizing, cross-functional teams without external control, enhancing productivity and team dynamics.

Companies have always been searching for something that could improve the way they work, that would help them grow and develop quickly and smoothly. Throughout the years, we have managed to distinguish a few interesting methods called “agile methodologies”, one of which is definitely the most popular is called Scrum. Today, we will question its framework, but before we do, let us remind you what Scrum really is.

What is Scrum?

Scrum was first defined by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986 in the New Product Development Game, where it was compared to rugby. With this revolutionary – for those times – method, Takeuchi and Nonaka wanted to emphasise the relationship between how sports players and development teams work, being successful while being given room to act on their own. A few years later, in 1995, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber adjusted this philosophy to software development in the SCRUM Software Development Process.

In their work, Sutherland and Schwaber show clearly how, step by step, the team should work. Even more important is that they explain that each team member is equal, assuming that the team itself is self-organising, meaning that they are not controlled by anyone from outside the team, and cross-functional, meaning that they have all the expertise necessary to deliver the product. The rules might be seen as empirical, but the main idea is to boost productivity and the years of practising Scrum show that it really works.

How does it work?

Among the team members, Scrum differentiates three core roles: product owner, Scrum master and development team. The first one, the product owner, is thought to represent both team members and stakeholders, being able to link between them and take responsibility for their actions. Scrum master, on the other hand, is accountable for ensuring that Scrum methods are used as intended. While those two positions cannot be combined, the Scrum master can be a member of the development team – a group of 3-9 individuals considered equal, although specialised – responsible for delivering the product.

Leadership in Scrum

What you have probably noticed is that there is no place for a technical leader among these three groups. Before we show you how to successfully differentiate someone from your team members without influencing their productivity and abusing their trust, let us briefly explain what a technical leader is. As someone with technical and management skills, a technological leader stands somewhere between the product owner and the development team, of which he is an essential part. The position of a technical leader should not be associated with that of a boss; his role should be seen simply as bonding the team together and driving their efficiency.

Choosing only one member does not sound like an easy task. Luckily, the characteristics demanded of a technical leader have already been identified, making it easier to examine your development team. A perfect candidate should have charisma, self-confidence, calmness, ability to communicate easily, and, most importantly, experience. It has been noticed that a person who is usually, though not always, chosen to be a leader is an experienced programmer. Research shows that someone promoted from junior to senior programmer might be appreciated as his development can help him understand his team better.

You may wonder about the purpose of hiring a technical leader in your team while practising Scrum methodology. The answer is easy and was expounded by Patrick Kua, the author of Talking with Tech Leads, explaining how a technical leader may receive more respect and empathy from the development team than the product owner. This is because a technical leader still actively works with the rest of the developers instead of isolating himself from the team. Even though this might make the product owner jealous, we advise you to forget this difference and remember that every team needs a boss to function correctly. The position of a boss or – in this case – of a product owner helps the team notice the difference between fun and work.

Although Scrum methodology does not approve of differentiating between anyone from the development team and advises that each member should be treated equally, research has shown that having a technical leader may positively influence the delivery of the product and strengthen the bond between the members of the development team. That is why experimenting with your software development framework might bring your company greater profits without abandoning Scrum methodology.

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