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Agile: Scrum Master

By: Deon Seifert, Graduate from Eleven Fifty Academy

What’s Scrum?

Software development teams are often described as Agile, a management style that encompasses several “flavors” or approaches to completing work. Scrum is flavor of Agile where cross-functional teams collaborate with a great deal of autonomy. Together they create small, high value increments of complex products in rather short, successive blocks of time called Sprints.

I learned about Scrum from Chris Daily and Tana Linback from beLithe. They were our Agile instructors for two days during the Accelerated Learning Program last spring. I was taken with it immediately, and I knew I wanted to earn my Scrum Master certification.

What I love about Scrum is the obligation to improve. At numerous points during a Sprint the team assesses its progress and then makes necessary changes to improve the product or the process. This Inspection and Adaptation encourage a team mindset that seeks a better way. The fact that the Sprints are short compared to more traditional production timeframes means that adaptation can take place well before a project goes off the rails.

Some examples of attitudes and behaviors Scrum addresses:

“We’ve always done it this way. There’s something wrong with you if you can’t make do with the tools we’ve used before.”

Just because a certain technique worked on a similar project two years ago with a different team doesn’t mean it will work now. It doesn’t mean the technique is wrong. It doesn’t mean the team is bad. It simply means that for this project and this team at this time, the technique doesn’t work as well as another might. The goal isn’t to place blame. The goal is to create a great product and learn how to do it even better the next time around. Everyone is empowered to identify a better way.

“We don’t care what clients want now. We’re busy building what we think they wanted when we started this project 3 months ago.”

In Scrum, you look inward to inspect yourself and your team. You also look outward to see how a changing business climate might affect your product requirements. Imagine putting all your efforts into improving buggy whips as cars outnumber horses on the street outside your building. You might not stay ahead of the curve with Scrum, but you won’t lag behind it.

“We need an app that does everything I think our clients need and want. I want every bell and whistle functional before we unveil it to the public six months from today.”

An all or nothing attitude is the perfect setup for failure and disappointment. Scrum teams produce small, incremental, functional code sometimes called the MVP, Minimum Viable Product, during a Sprint. The MVP can prove itself before more money and time are invested. A team can answer important questions on a small scale:

  • Do people want or need it?
  • Does it work on all the right platforms?
  • Does a browser or OS upgrade break it?
  • Do people use it in a way we’d never predicted?
  • Do people download it only to delete it a week later?

I’d prefer to have these answers sooner rather than later. Early and frequent inspection leads to the adaptation that keeps the product fresh, relevant, and wanted; or it might lead to the elimination of the project altogether. Either way, changes are made before lots of time is wasted.

What’s a Professional Scrum Master?

Scrum Masters are the servant-leaders of the team, clearing the path for the team to do its best work. In a nutshell, they facilitate an understanding and implementation of Scrum in the team and the wider organization. They have specific duties to different parts of the team during the Sprint.

Scrum.org offers several certifications in Scrum. They offer practice exams and the Scrum Guide to help you study for the online exam. The exam questions are pretty detailed, and I found other resources online to help me pass on my first attempt.

The certification process really underlined for me how much I want to work in an Agile environment. A Scrum Master is a Servant-Leader for the team and the organization as a whole, building bridges among all the groups involved in development – a role for which I’m well-suited. I am currently seeking employment in project management, and I hope this certification will prove my dedication to learning all I can about Scrum and other Agile frameworks.

I know that certification is just the beginning. There is a lot to learn about Scrum and how teams utilize it in real-life. Fortunately, there are great resources right here in Indy. I belong to the AgileIndy Meetup group which meets monthly and covers something interesting every time. Last month, Ryan Ripley, an Agile expert from Fort Wayne, spoke, and I’ve subscribed to his podcast Agile for Humans. AgileIndy also hosts a conference every year. I plan to volunteer.

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