Technical leader role specification in a scrum team

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” and one of them that 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.

Scrum was first defined by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986 in the New Product Development Game where it was compared to the game of rugby. With this revolutionary – for those times – method Takeuchi and Nonaka wanted to emphasise the relation between how sport 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 managed to adjust 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. What is even more important, they explain that each member of the team is equal, assuming that the team itself is self-organizing, 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 Scrum having been practiced show that it really works.

Amongst the members of the team Scrum differentiates three core roles which are: product owner, Scrum master and development team. The first one of them, 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, Scrum master can be a member of the development team – a group of 3-9 individuals considered equal although being specilaised - that is responsible for delivering the product.

What you have probably noticed is that there is no place for a technical leader amongst 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 actually is. Being someone with both technical and management skills, a technical 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 for us, 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, be calm, have the ability to communicate easily and, most importantly, have experience. It has been noticed that a person that is usually, though not always, chosen to be a leader is an experienced programmer. As research shows, someone being promoted from junior to senior programmer might be appreciated as his development can help him understand his team better.

You may wonder what is the purpose of hiring a technical leader in your team while practicing Scrum methodology. The answer is easy and was expounded by Patrick Kua, the author of Talking with Tech Leads where he explains 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 in order to function properly. 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 delivering the product and strengthening 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.

Author Biography

Kamil Wołczyk is our Full Stack Developer. He is responsible for designing client side architecture and developing new applications. In his free time he loves to play football.

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