The Myths and Reality of Agile: Scrum Master Interview with Jakub Mazur
When it comes to building digital businesses, websites or mobile apps, the term ‘Agile’ and ‘Scrum’ are thrown around freely. But do people really know what business agility means? Just what exactly is a Scrum Master - is it a role, a job title, or something else? To answer these questions (and hopefully many more) we decided to simply go to the source: a Scrum Master who coaches and facilitates agile processes at Polcode.
Hi Jakub! You work as a Scrum Master at Polcode. Tell us briefly what this title really means.
Kuba: This is a question that many people struggle to answer. A Scrum Master’s work is multi-layered, it includes 3 categories of tasks performed for the team, Product Owner and organization. This makes it difficult to define. It’s about identifying obstacles, recognizing patterns, listening between words, and helping your team create more value. The word value is key here. The entire Scrum team creates value with each iteration. The Product Owner’s role is to maximize value. The Scrum Master is there to help everyone achieve value-driven results. Ultimately, a Scrum Master also creates an agile culture in the organization.
How long have you been using the Scrum framework?
K: It has been 3 years now. Previously, I worked on projects based on the Waterfall framework, which also has underestimated advantages, such as accurate scoping and thorough measuring deviations. In the agile approach, these elements are included in the methodology itself, so you need to carefully read and implement the Scrum Guide to make the project function properly. It is extremely difficult and requires constant improvement, monitoring, commitment, courage, cooperation and communication. This isn’t just from myself, it needs to come from everyone in the Scrum Team, also from the Product Owner. Therefore, Scrum is very difficult to master, but when it is up and running, it works perfectly well. At it’s best, all members of the Scrum team work as efficiently as a Swiss Watch, along with a team spirit of openness and commitment that is difficult to achieve while using a Waterfall approach.
A servant leader, a coach, a mentor for the dev team. In your mind, what is the difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager?
K: I’ll speak from my perspective about what a Scrum Master should be. He always stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the team, organization, and Product Owner; he never puts himself above anyone. He suggests solutions, and asks questions that must be thoughtful and appropriate.
Additionally, Scrum is related to the product and not to the project, which is a significant difference. The product has users and customers who pay for it. They are the most important stakeholder and their needs must be constantly monitored. The investor is the key stakeholder in the Waterfall approach. You can create a project within a certain budget, scope and time, but at the same time have disappointed users with uncharted needs and problems.
I have to admit that I know great Project Managers who have created amazing products, they are very focused on their teams, value their opinions and have huge project successes!
What does the cycle of work on a project in Scrum look like? In what types of projects does it work best?
K: It begins with a meeting, which is a crucial component in Scrum. It can be described as an initial Sprint Planning, where the team discusses their skills in specific segments, and also shares other information such as hobbies or sports. It is very important to get to know each other well, because working in Scrum is about teamwork. The more empowered the team, the better the results. Then the Product Owner discusses his vision of product development, identifies the personas, product application, market, planned budget, possibly all the information that will help the team members together create more value on a daily basis. Next, the tasks to be performed are discussed, test scenarios and use cases are created so that the team understands the specifics of the product. Together, all participants create the Sprint Backlog, i.e. a set of all tasks that the team intends to implement during a given Sprint. The tasks are also estimated, prioritized and the first Sprint begins. It ends upon a specific time period with the event called Sprint Review. It consists of the presentation of the delivered tasks (Increment) and the analysis of the Product Backlog based upon newly gathered information. Then the Retrospective is organized, which in my opinion is the most important Scrum event.
How can Scrum help the organization? What are the benefits?
K: There are many beneficial outcomes because it is a multi-faceted approach to success.
In terms of the product:
- minimized risks resulting from the constantly changing business environment
- better matched product characteristics to constant changes
- increased knowledge of the market
- increased satisfaction of investors and users by responding to changes more often
- increased innovation by focusing on new functionalities tailored to the tested needs
In terms of the team:
- increased satisfaction and motivation of team members
- increased the real impact on the product
- increased knowledge of constantly changing technologies
In terms of organization:
- increased transparency of processes
- increased knowledge from members of the organization about various processes
- standardization and continuous improvement of these processes
What kind of tools are used while working in this framework?
K: The tools are not as important as the process itself: constant monitoring and improvement. Of course, the development of DevOps and tools to improve the CI / CD process are key in delivering continuous value of appropriate quality, but you have to remember that this value is created by people and upon them should be the greatest focus. You can have a multi-level Jira configured using artificial intelligence improvements, but at the same time, this Jira could be used by a team that is not satisfied with the quality of the code being created. Personally, I am a fan of tools and I love to improve the work of teams, but I would like to emphasize that work can also be organized in tools as simple as Excel, and excellent value can be created Sprint after Sprint.
Is there a model example of Scrum, or is it always adapted depending on a project?
K: There are many interesting examples of using Scrum in the army and in education. However, it should be emphasized that it is impossible to introduce Scrum by selecting the elements that suit us and ignoring others. It doesn’t work. Scrum works entirely as described in the Scrum Guide, if any of the elements are not implemented then it is not Scrum. Therefore, Scrum itself is not adapted depending on the project, but the tools, frequency of meetings, the number of meetings, analyzes and time spent on constantly organizing the upcoming work are up to the Scrum Teams. In this matter, Scrum leaves freedom to all teams. In Scrum, you can also work in conjunction with Kanban, and this form of work is very often used here at Polcode. Scrum can also be scaled across multiple teams for larger projects using Nexus.
Is Scrum one of the Agile methods or Agile is one of the methods of Scrum?
K: Agile is the overarching concept that includes Scrum, and the previously mentioned Kanban. It can also include DevOps, Extreme Programming (XP), or Scrum scaling methods such as LeSS or Nexus.
XP is a very interesting form, some of which we use in two teams at Polcode. They rely on joint programming and matching team members to solve problems. It is an excellent form of solving more difficult tasks or helping other team members when a problem is difficult to solve.
What do you like/appreciate the most while working as a Scrum Master?
K: Definitely helping others. It is work with a vocation, because you have to have a lot of understanding, listening skills and I would even call it therapeutic skills. Sometimes it is more valuable to show support in hard times than to propose solutions. I still learn this on a daily basis and I owe a lot to the programmers with whom I had the pleasure to work. Many of them taught me a lot and they motivate me in my daily work.
You have your own blog: https://wartoscdodana.pl/ about time and cost optimization. Where did the idea for your own website come from and why this particular topic?
K: I’ve always been interested in economics and the concept of value. In my life I try to create it in many ways and I decided to share some areas with other people, thanks also to the encouragement of my friends. I will be honest with you that the blog on such a general topic met with little interest, despite the fact that I received a lot of valuable feedback and I am glad that it helped some people with time management. I can tell you that I plan to change it and focus on value but created in the IT sector. I think this is a sector that opens up great job opportunities for many people. There is also a barrier caused by stereotypes about this sector that it is only for specialists, technical people with great mathematical skills. At the same time, we need a lot of testers, designers, managers and people with great communication skills.
The pandemic surprised us all and everyone had to adapt to the new circumstances. What influence did it have on you and your passion for travelling?
K: I was afraid of this question. I read a lot about what is happening in developing countries. I think now is a good time to broaden your knowledge, because the changes caused by the epidemic will be reflected in social issues. Developing countries do not yet have vaccines and the development gap is deepening strongly. For me, this period is a great time for self-reflection, meditation and helping others. Currently I am trying to minimize my desire to travel. Traveling is a privilege that we cannot afford now. Of course I would like to visit my friends in Canada, Chile, Morocco and visit the whole world someday, but there will hopefully be time for that soon! 🙂
Thank you very much Jakub!