Ben's Blog - A Journey from teaching to software developer


Ben's Blog - A Journey from teaching to software developer


Scrum Mastery 101

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Ben Gristwood
·Feb 3, 2021·

11 min read

Ok, so I’ve done a lot of training on scrum mastery recently and I’ve recently been given a team to work with as a scrum master. I’ve Also been working with a brilliant coach who I’ve been using as sounding board for some of my ideas.

I’m going to try and break scrum mastery down very simply (Which means I may get something wrong, but this will be a general thing and I’m still learning).

I also realise there will be scrum purists out there who say the way things are tackled are wrong, my response is “please be constructive, but I am learning on this”. One of the things I am working on is High performing culture, where there are no daft ideas and all questions/statements should approached constructively and tackled positively, please read the following article in this regard.

Scrum Mastery in a nutshell

Being a scrum master is a lot like being a teacher, you have to suggest some ideas, facilitate people to get to an end result, but you can’t make them do it. It’s like being a manager without being a boss, which has a lot of irony in those statements.

There are a number of ceremonies, organisation tasks and other things you have to do while scrum mastering and have to figure out a way of people doing these without doing them yourself, so organisation is key.

I’ve made a few mistakes while managing sprints and I think I’m getting better at it, but its really a learning curve, so here are some tips/things I’ve learned on my first few weeks scrum-mastering.

1) Get a sprint goal

This may be talking with the BA’s and PO before hand and clarifying, then guiding the team towards agreeing a goal, GET THIS WRITTEN DOWN. You will use this at every meeting from then on in. I did my first sprint without a clear, well defined goal and you could tell the impact, developers had a general idea of what they were making, but sometimes the messages got lost in translation. Who were we making this initial iteration for? what was the focus? How should devs direct themselves once they have completed a story? Who should I be thinking about when making this project? (These are all sample questions that can be clarified quickly and easily, but it would be better if the goal was set and implemented at the beginning).

I’m still a massive proponent of SMART objectives and feel a sprint goal should be this, It’s something I’m pushing towards now.

2) The daily Standup

This is kind of the biggie. It’s your time to shine. Managing people and giving everyone a chance to speak. Trying to not get diverted and keeping everyone to the 15 min timeframe. Make sure the goal is present and the Scrum Board on the screen while you are doing it, it gives everyone focus. Standup should be to answer “the 3 questions”; “what did you do yesterday”, “what did you do today” and “are there any impediments to your work”

I’m currently thinking about additional tooling to show progress. Burn down charts at the moment only show completed stories to show progress, thinking maybe of making an excel spreadsheet that tracks sub-tasks within stories for a percentage of the points for the whole story to maintain engagement as well as track progress using burn down more(if you are a scrum master reading this, can you advise? Is this a good idea?)

At the moment I’ve been working on just facilitating and helping people as they go e.g. bob needs help, who can help him. But I think in future sprints I may move to whiteboards when I get a bit more confidence.(this is more confidence with remote working than anything else. If I were in the classroom I’d be writing things on the board as people speak, so in an office I’d probably be using whiteboards more etc.

Scrum mastery should be a planning exercise. I think I’m going to have to get more in hand of asking people every day how they are getting on. I’m using a lot of the tools I learned from teaching too, instead of having rotations for working around the room and asking how people are doing on the 3 questions, to maintain engagement. The brilliant Classtools fruit machine being one(although now its a spinning wheel because of flash!)

I’ve been reading a lot about different types of scrum too, Kanban based on traditional agile, and how agile focuses on the people and Kanban focuses on the process (I’m still learning on this one). I’m thinking of using the Kanban method to focus on what has been slowing down progress for the longest period of time and seeing how that will improve momentum in the process. I think I am starting to advocate as well being specific, not just saying “ I’m going to continue working on what I’ve been doing” and aiming to get the team to talk more about methods and things they are doing.

3) the retro

Today was my first retro, and I really sweated this one, and think when I calm now and get into this, it will be one of my favourite activities. It’s essentially an hour’s teaching lesson where students review their work, but instead of looking at the work itself(although you cover it), you focus on the processes the team used and how that could impede the work that they are doing.

There are tons of sites talking about how to do this, and in the company I am in we follow a 6 sigma model as well as a number of other techniques. Prior to the sprint I used an online post it note board to solicit information and used this as well in coffee break time to give everyone the time to re-energize, a good tool and I’ve been told to look more into trello next time.

I think my retro went well as a number of staff when doing an activity called 5 whys got to the answer first, but it was good as through doing it we hit about 3 other issues that people had pulled up during the retro and as well managed to come up with a solution that solved a lot of them (incidentally it was more about collaboration, which during these lockdown times is a difficult issue)

I’d always say the retro is good to get feedback prior to it on what the team says went well and what could go better, then you can look at that and base data of the sprint on strengths that they identify.

There is not much else to say about retro. Apart from that planning is needed and (a bit like teaching a first lesson), once you loosen up into it, as long as you plan effectively for a starter, objective, main(identify weakness), develop 2/3 new things to try in following sprint and plenary(bit of fun at the end to sum up!) Think it will be good.


Scrum is interesting to me, as it’s managing people without the management. Which seems weird. A manager tells people what to do whereas scrum/agile feels more like a supporting/coaching exercise that allows you to build people up to get good results.

I’m still working on learning this stuff and thoughts about the best way to run any of these ceremonies online in lockdown would be appreciated. I’ve looked into tons of agile methodologies and I’m reading like crazy, but its more an exercise in which methods or processes would work best in which situation, which I guess’s (like teaching) comes down to knowing the class and how to get the best out of them.

I think as well I need to look into the other stuff I need to do between the major ceremonies, that’s dropping in, finding out how people are getting on and coaching. However, in this separated world I’m thinking of the best way of doing this without feeling intrusive, staying positive whilst still taking on board critique and working out how to go back to those difficult conversations I need to have with those who need the support and coaching.

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