Everything you need to know about being a Scrum Master
We sat down with our Scrum Master, Agnes, and she told us exactly what a Scrum Master is, how she got into her role and why she loves it so much.
What I’m listening to: Joy Crookes – two night – ON REPEAT! Check it out
What are you reading: The Biology of Belief – Check it out
What’s your favourite city: London of course 🙂
What is a Scrum Master?
I get this question a lot! When I say that I am a Scrum Master I often get: “Oh Scrum? As in rugby scrum?” Well, being a Scrum Master doesn’t involve wearing shorts and running in the mud (at least not at HeadBox) but it does involve working with a team towards a common goal so in that sense yes a bit like a rugby scrum!
A Scrum Master is a bit of a coach and a bit a facilitator, their goal is to help the team understand and apply the Scrum framework. I guess in order to understand what a Scrum Master is, you first need to know what Scrum is!
I wouldn’t summarise this as well as Google does. Google defines a scrum as “a set of practices used in agile project management that emphasize daily communication and the flexible reassessment of plans that are carried out in short, iterative phases of work.”
What does a Scrum Master do?
It would be hard to give one bullet point list of things a Scrum Master does as the tasks of a Scrum Master can vary a lot depending on many factors, which company they work for, how many teams they work with, how new to agile the teams are and it also depends on the personality of the Scrum Master.
My job at HeadBox is pretty broad, I work closely with 3 teams of product owners, designers and developers and my main purpose is to help them become more efficient and productive.
I facilitate a few ceremonies to improve communication, help the teams stay on track, keep visibility high and also to enable continuous improvement.
Every morning each team has a daily stand up to summarise what has been achieved the day before, what they are going to focus on during the coming day and raise any issues or any blockers they may be facing. I usually rotate and join different stand ups each morning so I can observe and propose different solutions and ideas to each individual team.
I facilitate retrospectives with each team every 2 weeks, and a monthly retrospective with the whole Product team at HeadBox. Retrospectives allow us to think about the way we work, understand what we do well and what we could improve, and they also help to surface issues and frustrations before they become too serious or have too much of a negative impact. We usually end each session with a list of actions which are assigned to specific people and I make sure those actions are followed up on and reviewed regularly.
I am also heavily involved in testing, planning our releases to production, resolving impediments that would slow the team down, and helping to keep the teams accountable to their commitments to the business.
How did you become a Scrum Master?
My digital journey started 4 years ago when I joined my previous company as a Content Editor. I gradually progressed to Project Manager/Head of Content but after 3 years I was looking for a new career challenge.
I was a qualified Scrum Product Owner and was looking in this direction for my next job. When I interviewed for HeadBox last year, they had 2 positions available including the Scrum Master one, so I did some research and realised this could be a really good opportunity for me.
I was lucky to be trained by the previous Scrum Master and mentored by the Head of Product at the time who taught me so much about agile principles and scrum practices. This was not a move I had planned in my career but I am so glad I was given this opportunity as I thoroughly enjoy the social and multifaceted aspect of my job.
Do you have any tips for getting into a career as a Scrum Master?
The obvious tip would be to get the Scrum Master qualification but to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend taking the qualification if you haven’t been exposed to the role at all.
If this is a career you are thinking about, do some research first, watch videos, read blogs about agile and scrum. Understand the mindset of a Scrum Master first as it is easy to get confused and just see the role as a Manager type role, which it is not. I would also recommend getting in touch with some Scrum Masters to ask if you can shadow them for a day or two, to see what they do on a daily basis. Taking the Scrum Master qualification then becomes a lot more meaningful!
It takes a lot of practice to become a good Scrum Master, you won’t get it right straight away and that’s okay. I learn new things every day. In fact our new designer Josh has brought into the teams some awesome practise that I have now incorporated into our routine. One that I love is the Product Speedback. It’s like speed dating but instead of talking about ourselves we give each other feedback. It is weird at first but it is a fun exercise and it helps build trust in the team.
You have to be willing to learn and explore new things! You need to be a good listener and a good facilitator which is not as easy as it sounds.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being the person that bring teams together! Sometimes I stress and wonder what impact I really have on the teams, but when I facilitate a retrospective and I see people smile, laugh, express their feelings, it makes me so happy. It gives them a safe space to talk about their frustrations and challenges. I find it rewarding to be able to think about ways to decrease their pain and increase their happiness levels!
What tool do you use to track progress with your teams?
When it comes to Project Management we use the very controversial…..Jira! I know there is a lot of hate out there for Jira and I can understand why, it does seem pretty complex at first. I remember when I first started using Jira, I was so confused and thought I would never master it. Little did I know I would become a Jira Queen!
If you are wondering what tool to use in your product team, do give it a go, get some training and help to implement it correctly. It does become your best friend. We use it for everything including creating stories, tracking bugs, creating epics and grouping stories into those epics, tracking versions and releases, searching tickets (with every possible filter), assigning tickets, commenting on tickets to capture conversations, we use it in Kanban and Sprint mode it is really flexible and it works well for our three teams.
What are your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge is to be a woman in tech! No matter how lovely all my male colleagues are, it can sometimes be challenging and scary to organise events that might not be seen as useful at first. But you have to trust that they are making a difference in the team’s health and productivity!
What tips would you give to a woman who wants to pursue a career in tech?
The biggest preconception about this role is that you need to know how to code. Well, let me tell you, you don’t! If you know how to code that’s great, but you can become a great Scrum Master without this skillset. I personally can’t code to save my life but it doesn’t stop me from understanding what each team is focusing on and helping them stay organised and keep the communication flowing.