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A Few Thoughts From A First Time ScrumMaster

By Chris Alfano on December 16, 2014

Chris Alfano here, ILAO’s Interactive Content Coordinator and ScrumMaster on our project to build the next generation of ILAO's website products. So far you’ve heard from our Product Owner and Development Team; now, I’d like to share my experiences as ScrumMaster, the team’s facilitator and problem-solver.

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What is the Role of the ScrumMaster?

The ScrumMaster functions as the team’s servant-leader. My role primarily involves facilitating meetings and removing impediments faced by the Development Team. As the ScrumMaster, it is my responsibility to:

  • facilitate Daily Scrum and Sprint Planning meetings
  • resolve problems interfering with sprint work
  • shield the team from external interference and distractions
  • capture data and generate work reports
  • deal with time constraints

Meeting Facilitator

As ScrumMaster, one of my primary duties is facilitating our Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, and Sprint Retrospective meetings.

The Sprint Planning meeting is held at the beginning of each two-week Sprint. Teri, our Product Owner, and the Development Team (Dennis, Dina, Gwen, Kevin, Lindsay, and Stephanie) negotiate which backlog items they will attempt to make into a working product over the course of the Sprint. After choosing which items to undertake during the Sprint, the Development team assigns “Story Points” to each item. Story points are a non-time-based estimate of the difficulty of accomplishing each Sprint item. We use “Planning Poker” to assign story points to avoid influence bias. This usually ends up being the “fun” part of the meeting.

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The Daily Scrum meeting is held every day during the Sprint. This is a quick, 10 – 15 minute meeting, during which the Development team members update each other on the work they accomplished during the previous day as well as what they plan to work on during the rest of the current day. Members of the Development team who are not physically in the office are encouraged to join via webcam. My role is to keep the meeting on target, resolve impediments brought to my attention by the team, and act as a proxy for team members who are not able to join remotely.

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The Sprint Retrospective meeting occurs at the end of the Sprint. During this meeting, the team reflects on its process during the previous Sprint and adapts their behavior to avoid the same problems in the future. My role during this meeting is to record impediments or problems voiced by the team and take steps to prevent their occurrence in future Sprints.

Lessons Learned

Encourage remote meeting participants to use a webcam.

With meetings every day, remote participation is often necessary. To keep remote participants engaged, I encourage all remote participants to join using a webcam. Unlike calling in on the phone, which provides only audio, a webcam lets you read the participants facial expressions and engage in visual activities, like Planning Poker (see above: 'fun' part of meeting). We use Google Hangouts for teleconferencing because it’s free, easy to use, and runs on most devices.

For larger meetings, an omnidirectional microphone makes it much easier for remote participants to hear the entire group and discourages the use of unnecessarily loud speaking voices by the in-person attendees.

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Fill in for absent meeting participants.

Inevitably, there will be times when a meeting participant will be absent due to work conflicts, traffic/delays, or other unforeseen circumstances. For Daily Scrum meetings, I encourage the absentee to email me a list of the Sprint activities for the previous day and their work plans for the current day. I can then share their contributions with the rest of the group. These emails are usually short and easy to send from a phone or other mobile device. This practice has generally been well-received by the whole group.

Personal Reflections

Acting as the team’s ScrumMaster has been a tremendous learning experience for me. Four months ago, I knew nothing about the scrum process, now it is a daily part of my work. I have heard nothing but praise for scrum, and it has proven to be an efficient and engaging development method. I believe it would be useful to adapt to other aspects of my work (outside of the website rebuild) to the scrum framework. I’m glad to have an exciting role in our rebuild as ScrumMaster and I hope to continue improving our work through this process.

Stay tuned for more!
-Chris

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