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Dear Agile: The Role of a Tech Lead

This post is the latest in Excella's Dear Agile blog series. Have a question for Dear Agile? Send it in via our anonymous submission form.

DEAR AGILE, 

I've noticed that many Agile-based projects still have roles such as Tech Lead, either as part of the Scrum team or on the…

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April 14, 2017

This post is the latest in Excella’s Dear Agile blog series. Have a question for Dear Agile? Send it in via our anonymous submission form.

DEAR AGILE, 

I’ve noticed that many Agile-based projects still have roles such as Tech Lead, either as part of the Scrum team or on the project in general. What is the role of a Tech Lead on a Scrum team? Are they important/essential? How does a team ensure that this role stays consistent with Agile principles and Scrum practices?

— LEADERBORED

 

DEAR LEADERBORED,

Great question! As a Tech Lead on one of Excella’s larger projects, I can absolutely see why one could wonder this at times.

The truth is, generally speaking, you don’t need a Tech Lead and, in many cases, it might even be considered an anti-pattern. No such role is defined within Scrum; there is only the team, the Product Owner, and the ScrumMaster. Tech Leads are, essentially, just another developer on the team, and it doesn’t necessarily help to elevate someone into an additional position of authority. In Scrum, we want a team that is capable of self-organizing and working with the business stakeholders, to choose how to tackle the work. Elevating someone to Tech Lead status could stifle self-organization if the lead overrides good input or if the group feels it doesn’t have to self-organize because “the Tech Lead will do it for us”.

Despite these points, the paramount goal for any team is to respond to reality and make whatever changes work for the team. Thus, there may be some situations in which a Tech Lead is helpful. Some companies or teams less familiar with Agile principles and practices may find it helpful to have an experienced developer to bridge the gap to self-organization. In some cases, a client may have difficulty responding to a self-organizing team; so a leader on the technical side could be useful. Additionally, having an experienced developer to pair with more inexperienced developers to help them improve is a great benefit for the team.

There are some things I seek to do in my current position as a Tech Lead that I hope helps further the team’s mission rather than detract from it; I’ll expound on these in an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, I hope I haven’t written myself out of a job with you, LEADERBORED!

About the Author

Sean Killeen is a Tech Lead on one of Excella’s non-profit clients. He is a co-organizer of Tech Talk DC, and the creator of the Dear Agile blog series. You can probably find him drinking too much coffee in Arlington or blogging not nearly enough at SeanKilleen.com. Say hi!

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