Nick Loe-Startup
Nov 30, 2016
6 mins reading time

How Flexible Are You?

How Flexible Are You?

This is the definition of agile from Oxford Dictionaries:

“Able to move quickly and easily” and “Relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans

Given that Scrum is an Agile framework, it shouldn’t be surprising if I said a Scrum Master had to be agile, or flexible. In fact it’s at the core of a Scrum Master’s role. But flexibility is multifaceted when it comes to being a Scrum Master. Since Holiday Extras divided our Web Team into Pods (our small, cross-functional, Agile teams), Scrum Masters have played an integral part in developing and running our Agile processes. They have also delivered a series of workshops to educate the rest of the business in how the Web Team now works (Lego is a great educator!).

There are many areas to a Scrum Master role and the ability to switch between them is fundamental to a Scrum Master’s success, and that of their Pod. We aim to create a barrier to our development teams to avoid distractions, act as facilitators, mediators, coaches and multi-task with many competing priorities.

So flexibility is key. But not just to switch between competing demands, but also to be versatile in the way we Scrum. We’re given the freedom at HX to tailor the Scrum process so that it works best for us as individuals, the Product Owners we support and, as importantly, the development teams in our Pods. We want to gain their trust and commitment, to promote a culture where open discussion and collaboration is encouraged. We, therefore, have to consider and modify how we motivate teams, or even how we motivate individuals in those teams. This is really important for the productivity in our Pods, and for keeping them focussed on adding maximum value for our customers.

We also need to be proactive to identify how best we support either individuals or teams to help them develop and become self-organising. On occasions coaching is the best solution, we may need to use feedback, mentoring or training (or a mixture of these). All these methods can be incredibly effective when used at the right time. Being responsive and switching between them is very important.

Scrum Masters work hard with Product Owners (or our group of Pod Leads, formerly known as the Product Owner group) to strike that balance between support for them and support for the development team. We have to be prepared to challenge where appropriate. We also have variations in how we support our Product Owners to manage and prioritise backlogs. There isn’t a one size fits all in terms of approach and some Scrum Masters will be more involved than others.

With creative licence to run our Sprints how we want to, no Sprint Planning, Retrospective, Stand-up or Sprint Review is facilitated identically from Scrum Master to Scrum Master. It’s credit to how adaptable our Pod members are that they embrace these variations (in part they are tailored to those Pod members, however, they also largely account for an individual Scrum Master’s style). That freedom to experiment allows us to grow and learn, individually and as a collective group of Scrum Masters.

In recent months we have started to work with some Pod members remotely. This is in part due to our expansion into a tech hub in Sofia, Bulgaria, however, it’s also in recognition of the flexible way we approach work. Be it from the comfort of our own homes, in shared workspaces, collaborative working spaces at employees’ homes or now hubs in other countries, remote working is increasingly a part of the way we work. This is a great challenge for our Scrum Masters as we facilitate meetings and events so that all participants contribute equally, whether working in the office or remotely.

Flexitime is a luxury the whole Web Team is entitled to and certainly embraces. Although our working days accommodate our personal lives, our productivity remains strong. This is in part due to the great and mature attitude of the team, but also credit to Scrum Masters who seamlessly adapt to support colleagues whose hours are not your average 9-5.

We embrace changes to the people in our teams, as individuals move to support business goals and development opportunities. It definitely keeps everyone on their toes and Scrum Masters take these opportunities to adjust, teach, coach and support, to make these transitions smooth and continue seamless delivery.

As I’ve mentioned above, we create understanding and by proxy flexibility in the organisation by educating them in how Scrum works. We’ve worked with key areas of the business to improve their understanding of how we work in the Web Team in order that they can understand why the business needs to be flexible, given that sprints are likely to have already been set. In turn we have to foster an attitude to embrace and be proactive towards change in our teams, when expedited issues or necessary changes in direction are required.

As you’d expect working within an agile environment, we continually inspect and adapt our approaches too. There needs to be the ability to recognise that a process isn’t working and needs to be changed. We do this well at HX and there isn’t any process for process sake. Our Retrospectives are creative and we adjust them to explore specific areas of concern, or to just explore things from a different angle.

Our Scrum Masters are also excellent change agents. We support and promote necessary changes to achieve better strategic alignment and collaboration between Pods. In addition, we encourage our teams to take this approach too, to achieve continuous delivery from informed and motivated teams.

Our Scrum Masters also have to consider which approach we take to deliver work. Sometimes Scrum is not the best option, it could be Kanban is a better fit. But agile is always at the heart of what we do.

So flexibility is a very necessary skill to have in order to succeed as a Scrum Master. If you’re thinking about becoming a Scrum Master, I’d certainly ask you to consider “How Flexible Are You?

Tags agile