I’m often asked ‘Can the Scrum Master also be a developer on a scrum team? I also see numerous job ads like this one.
Lets be clear, I use the term developer but the point of this blog post applies equally to any role involved in building software. Additionally this post doesn’t suggest that someone that has been a developer (or any other role) can’t be a Scrum Master, I’m talking about doing both roles simultaneously.
So, can the Scrum Master also be a developer?
I usually answer NO. I say usually because I don’t like absolutes very much.
There are a few good reasons why not, but I’m going to talk about one in particular.
“Primus inter pares”.
The concept of a Scrum team is one of a group of equals collectively committed to each other and the completion of work they’ve selected within a sprint.
Lets say the Scrum Master for our hypothetical team is also a developer, typically a lead or senior developer. If a developer is also the Scrum Master are they still equal? perhaps not.
Primus inter pares. This translates to “First among equals”.
As a Scrum master the role of team coach, observer, perhaps even team conscience can be hampered. Being directly involved in the work, being an agent in the system, being directly affected by difficulties arising in the team means the Scrum Master could lose objectivity. They could be too close to a problem to be able to coach the team effectively.
As a developer, there is opportunity for directive or controlling behavior to creep in. Is the developer of sufficient character to be able to retain a sense of objectivity and unbiased questioning in the role coach or facilitator? If the developer had a differing technical opinion with the team would they be willing to accept the teams approach or mandate?
To my mind, having a dual role Scrum Master is a dangerous approach. The core concept of the team as a group of equals can be undermined by having a ‘hidden’ leader. The appearance of equality is not the same as equality.
So, can the Scrum Master also be a Developer?
Well they can if they’re very good at compartmentalising (separation of concerns for the brain), like my friend Tom Howlett over at Diary of a Scrum Master, but I would argue that being a Scrum Master is a full time role, one that by necessity needs a clear objective view of the workings of the team, not something easily achieved from within.
Confused? it’s still a NO