“You have to specialize in one thing!”, for years I have been hearing this from (mostly) ‘more experienced’ people. And I always struggled with it. I have many talents and interests. I do not have that intuitive feeling that I want to dedicate my energy on one thing only for the rest of my career. Not even for the rest of this year. And I envied those who did: how easy (professional) life would be!
So, one of my favorite quotes became:
“Specialization is for insects.”Robert A. Heinlein
When applying for a new freelance contract or talking to recruiters, I get a mixed response: some see the unique value of my diverse and yet deep experience, others cannot make heads or tails of it and do not see any added value. The latter ones are those that believe someone having mopped floors for 20 years will make them twice as good at it as someone who did it only for 10 years.
A good friend of mine who has a very similar profile, mixing “substance” (software development knowledge) with “process” (Agile, Scrum, team work) always tells me: “Diderik, you will struggle with this for the rest of year career. You will never be able to definitely choose one over the other.” On the one hand I believe him, on the other hand still believe I should. Not only would it focus my personal attention, it would also help so much in coming up with that one headline and that one consistent, crystal-clear, one-dimensioned profile description on my website, CV and LinkedIn.
But I also know from experience that being able to switch between “substance” and “process” is exactly where my added value is. I am a better Scrum Master because I can also talk with the team about software design, implementation and testing specifics. I am a better Software Architect and Information Analyst because I understand how Agile works, how to slice user stories, depending on risk, priority and uncertainty and how the team will be able to pick up work.
Recently I was again searching for a better headline title that would cover my broad and deep added value for clients. The term “Tech Lead” seems to become a more popular title. Something like a CTO, but then not necessarily for a tech company and not in that highest managerial position perse. But what exactly does a “Tech Lead” do? And what would their tasks and responsibilities be in a Scrum context?
Using my favorite search engine (startpage.com) I came across this gem of an article: “Tech Lead and Scrum Master – A Successful Combination” by Michał Wapiński. It was a Eureka Moment for me, having my own experience and beliefs confirmed. And in such an articulate way! So, please go ahead and read this article, to better understand why you should get me on your team!
Image credit: Michał Wapiński (herodot.com)
Since nothing is permanent, I copy-pasted, sorry “cross-posted” the article from herodot.com to below:
Tech Lead and Scrum Master – A Successful Combination
It’s not always possible to combine the positions of Tech Lead and Scrum Master. A person undertaking this challenge must possess the right skills and much experience to do it appropriately and efficiently.
Nonetheless, if you have a Renaissance man on your team who, like Leonardo da Vinci, can effectively use his many talents, don’t hesitate. Entrust him with this combined function, which will significantly facilitate the implementation and realization of your projects.
Why is this solution so powerful? Tech Lead and Scrum Master responsibilities aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, when deliberately planned, they complement each other perfectly. Check how!
TECH LEAD ABILITIES
Tech Leads (as the name suggests!) are the leaders of the development team with an extensive technical background. Such people don’t need to possess knowledge of everything that concerns IT and programming. Nevertheless, they surely should be specialists in technologies necessary for the specific project.
What usually marks Tech Leads out is their adroitness at using leadership skills to teach and motivate the members of their development team. The main reason for that lies in their responsibility for dividing and delegating tasks to the right employees. That’s also the plaintiff why they either need to know their team very well or must have the innate skills to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of the newly-met people quickly.
One of the most critical features of Tech Leads is their ability to communicate with all kinds of people. They constitute a bridge between the (technical) development team and (very often non-technical) clients. Tech Leads need to have this power to share their knowledge both inside and outside their team.
SCRUM MASTER ABILITIES
Scrum Masters are often perceived as servant leaders. It means that providing comfort to their co-workers is their overriding goal. Contrary to traditional leadership that mainly concentrates on the company’s financial thriving, Scrum Masters’ primary focus is on helping the team.
An excellent Scrum Master will have the best skills of a project manager in facilitating organizational and communication issues. The scrum team needs to prepare an agile structure for developing and sustaining comprehensive products. The role of servant leaders is to oversee this process and make it as efficient as possible. Eventually, they’re accountable for making sure that the right standards are followed.
Scrum Masters mustn’t have the advanced technical knowledge to make the team understand the processes they should use.
But it’s always helpful! The most important challenge in being a Scrum Master is to prove to my colleagues that I’m reliable. They need to feel that no matter what happens, they can always count on me. Only then will we be able to create a self-organizing system!Wojciech Kozak, Scrum Master and Tech Lead at HeroDOT
RIGHT COMBINATION OF THESE SKILLS = A PLAYER-COACH
In sports we call this position a player-coach. It only fits the people that thanks to their experience and innate skills are capable of simultaneously becoming teachers and leaders. The ability to be the most important representative of the development team and serve it as an overseer requires extensive soft skills and vast empathy.
There are two questions that you need to raise before you decide to become a Tech Lead and Scrum Master at once.
- Do I have the appropriate competencies to handle both roles qualitatively?
- Will I have enough time to deal with all the upcoming problems?
As you can see, the first question refers to the internal issues that may appear due to lack of skills or inexperience. While the other takes into consideration the potential external problem, very often underestimated.
Remember that if you decide to take this challenge on, in your working week, you will have only half of the regular time for each of the roles. If you believe that the number of technological issues and its complexity may negatively influence your scrum processes preparation and monitoring, reject.
However, on the other hand, if the project is manageable and your skills are high, don’t think twice. For people with the right characteristics, the road from Tech Leads to superb Scrum Masters with a technical background is straightforward. And in the majority of the ventures, the everyday process of combining the tasks of Tech Lead and Scrum Master is painless.
DEVELOPMENT TEAM SATISFACTION
Your team goes out on the field. Each member is ready in their office position. Computers are already running. We hear the customer’s whistle confirming that the match has started and the project must be delivered in the given deadlines.
However, just after a few moments, the first issue arises, and the danger of being stuck with it looms on the horizon.
I understand these problems because I was a programmer myself. Rarely is anyone capable of surprising me. I know how to help my team so that we incessantly keep moving forward.Wojciech Kozak, Scrum Master and Tech Lead at HeroDOT
There’s no hesitation in the team. They have their development manager that is always available. Whatever happens from the human or technical side, they can approach their leader that will do his best to solve the problem.
What’s more, such a “development manager” would be responsible for organizing additional workshops and training.
On the one hand, the awareness of the product owner comes from the Scrum Master responsibilities. On the other hand, the verification of the technical skills of each team member results from the Tech Lead abilities. These two elements let a “development manager” strategically plan out the next moves to help his colleagues develop (also in terms of future projects).
A Scrum Master without a technical background wouldn’t be able to assess it properly. And a true leader should be able to have a positive impact on the long-term effectiveness of developers.
Having a person who is the comprehensive leader of the entire team facilitates it all from the business perspective. The company for which the project is implemented doesn’t have to be in contact with anyone else apart from an employee combining the roles of Tech Lead and Scrum Master.
This idea coming from the command and control thinking makes one person responsible for the team’s performance and results. It directly contributes to the ease in understanding the flow of information. The rest of the company perceives this comprehensive leader as the team.
There is no unnecessary blurring of duties between the Scrum Master and Tech Lead. This causes a greater sense of responsibility and most often leads to higher efficiency.
Clients, whatever their technical knowledge is, have one person to turn to with any issue. They communicate their business requirements to this person and hold him or her accountable for the final results. The technical secrets are no longer of their interest, which is crucial for letting them focus on their duties.
Scrum Master? Tech Lead? Scrum Lead? Tech Master? Development Manager? Project Manager? Comprehensive Leader?
You can name this person whatever you want. But as we mentioned at the very beginning, probably the best definition lies under the concept of the Renaissance man!
A teacher, a leader, a master that will cover all the responsibilities from motivating his team, through developing his co-workers’ skills, up to running all the necessary discussions with clients. All problems solved by one person (almost like a proxy, isn’t it?)
If you have such an individual, appreciate them. If it seems you don’t, double-check your human resources. There might be a pearl worth investing in.