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A Week in the Life of a Scrum Coach

Week day in letter magnets

Recently someone asked me what ScrumMasters actually do. They didn’t mean it negatively, they were just seeking to understand a fairly misunderstood role. I thought about this, and I feel that maybe if a few ScrumMasters or coaches could blog about what they actually do on a day to day basis it might help make the role easier to understand.

I also think some ScrumMasters get off easy. Their teams don’t hold them accountable for doing what they really should be doing, because the teams don’t really understand what it is their ScrumMaster should be doing. So I’ve decided to blog about a week in my work life as a Scrum coach. I can’t blog about a week in the life of a ScrumMaster because I’m not doing that, but I think the coach role is similar, and maybe this post will inspire others to blog about a week in their life.

Monday :

Okay I chose an easy week, Monday was Easter so I had the day off and spent it playing xbox and doing some grocery shopping. :) I did have a dream about attending an absolutely terrible standup where everyone drifted off half way through to go see what was happening somewhere else…

Tuesday :

8.30am: Started the day with a bit of admin after the long weekend, caught up on emails and timesheets.

9.00am: Daily standup with the 4 ScrumMasters in our organisation. We don’t run Scrum but we touch base once a day to see if there is anything we need from each other.

9.15am: We’ve just got a new whiteboard installed which the ScrumMasters are using as our taskboard. We agreed the layout last week, so I finished setting it up. We have a schedule of all the team standups happening everyday, a 6 week schedule to show the heartbeat (start date) of each sprint and each sprint review. We also have a task list and a focus area for the week. This is something each ScrumMaster will focus on, and stick up post-its during the week of things they notice in this area, and we will discuss at our ScrumMaster forum. This week’s focus area is: Notice when something takes my team more time than they would like/expect.

9.45am: Management Sprint daily Scrum. As an internal Scrum coach I am a team member of the management team, and the ScrumMaster of their sprints. We run management sprints to focus on improvements we want to make for the organisation.

10.00am: Team Standups. I’m currently coaching 3 teams who work on one product together, who have standups between 10 and 11am. I attend their standups as a chicken to get a view on how things are going and observe things I can use to coach either the team or their ScrumMaster in becoming better agilists. In fact this is where the focus area idea for the other ScrumMasters came from. Since the standups don’t take the full 15 minutes allocated to them, I have some time between the 3 standups. I use this time to chat to one of the team members about how things are going and get a perspective from an individual. I’m going to try do this everyday for a while so that soon I’ll have some insight into each team members perspective.

11.00am: At my desk for a brief moment, spend time answering an email from our quality system person on how to best layout the documents in out quality system to help people actually make use of it.

11.45am: I have an external appointment, I leave the office for a while to have someone stick needles into me and pound the lumps out of my neck and shoulders, and grab some lunch.

1:30pm: One of the other ScrumMasters and I get together to prep for a “Learn by example” session we are planning for thursday on Story Mapping. She has run a Story Mapping workshop with one of her teams and has some good suggestions for the session.

2.00pm: My regularly scheduled programming is interrupted by a crisis. The Product Manager for one team and his manager are both pretty upset because they can’t seem to get an estimate from the team on what they can deliver by November for an important release. Product Management don’t understand how Scrum will work with their current business tollgate process. I have to cancel some other meetings to attend a crisis discussion on this. It’s a low point for me as a coach. I lose it. I forget to listen to what they are saying and what the real problem is and how we can solve it, and instead get defensive about how Scrum is not the problem. The meeting ends without me having achieved anything except annoying them, and being 15 minutes late for another meeting.

2.45pm: Since I was late for my next meeting, and so were some other people, it gets canceled. Instead I decide to spend the time with the Product Owner, analysts, and Product Manager for the team the crisis meeting was about to see if we can come up with something all sides can agree to. I am mostly an observer in the meeting, trying to get some background to help see what we can do, and actually the guys come to a reasonable agreement without my input. No one is thrilled with the plan but at least it’s a plan, and we can start working towards it.

4.00pm: Operational Forum for one of our products. These are forums where all the different divisions of our organisation who deliver the product to our customers get together to discuss the state of the product. It includes representatives from Product Management, Development, Implementation and Support. As a coach I’m not really invested in the specifics of the product, but part of my job is facilitating that people work together better. These forums had not been too effective in the past so I’ve offered to chair them for a few months and run a standard agenda to get them on track. The 30 minute meeting ends in 15 minutes, everyone has an update, everything is on track. I even get the meeting minutes out in the 30  minutes allocated for the meeting – awesome stuff.

4.30pm: Chat to my boss about my disastrous meeting earlier. Explain that I now realise I have 2 big buttons at the moment. Scrum and Product Management and both got pushed. I know I should have dealt with it better. I’ll try harder next time. She is supportive, and offers to chat to Product Management to check that they understand we really are invested in Scrum and it’s not changing anytime soon.

5.00pm: Finally catch up with one of my ScrumMasters who go derailed earlier in the day for a one on one. Give her some feedback I have received from the Product Owner on her team, mostly positive, and we chat about what she’s focusing on next and what’s happening in her teams.

5.30pm: At my desk again to check emails and the like. Around 6 I’m about to leave and spot one of the team members I’ve been meaning to chat to to get some feedback. We have a chat about how it’s going with his ScrumMaster. He asks me what ScrumMasters should do. After the chat I go home and ponder this, and decide to write this blog :)

Wednesday:

8:30am: It’s sprint planning for the analyst sprint of the product team I’m coaching. Since the Product Owner is too busy to go to each of the 3 sprint planning sessions, they’ve decided to make the analysts essentially the Product Owners for the 3 teams. These analysts then run their own ‘sprint’ to make sure they are ready for the upcoming sprints. I haven’t seen how this works so initially I’m just observing. The difficultly is that the Product Owner is on leave. The team have a major release in 5 weeks, but no one is really sure what they should be focusing on. I decide to step in and help. Instead of waiting for the Product Owner to get back and waste a few more days, I suggest they look at the features that need to be included in the release and decide which of those still need some prep before they are ready for the teams. Then I suggest they clean up their board from last sprint and remove the done items and then put the new items up in priority order. Someone points out a major thing that is missing for the release, they decide to add it. The team agree what they can achieve in a two week sprint. It doesn’t include one of the important items, but they all feel they need the expertise of someone currently on leave to do that and that they can’t commit on his behalf. They agree to discuss it with him on Monday and see if it can be included. I feel everyone leaves with a clearer idea of what they should be focusing on for the next 2 weeks. I hope I helped. I miss my 2 regular standups (ScrumMaster and Management) because of this session, but I’m pretty sure they went ahead without me.

10.00am: Team Standups again. I attend the first one, then grab one of the team members and have a talk to him. He has some interesting ideas about the impact of the analyst sprint. I understand what he’s talking about and I wonder if it would work better as joint estimating and sprint planning meetings for the combined teams. I think this needs some discussion, and with a bigger forum than just the analysts as it’s affecting other people.

11.00am: I have a one on one chat with the Program Manager. He worries about all the product deliveries for the whole portfolio. It used to be my job, so I spend half an hour seeing if I can help him with anything and give him some input on some of the current issues. I am so glad he is doing my old job, I far prefer coaching :)

11.30am: I have a one on one with the ScrumMaster for the team I am currently coaching. We have a really good session. He’s conflicted about taking leave on Thursday and Friday when the team have a release happening on Friday. I remind him that his primary objective as a ScrumMaster is to facilitate the teams self organisation, and that he needs to be more detached from delivery. He is starting to understand why I couldn’t be the Program Manager and the Scrum Coach at the same time. He agrees to take the time off, and leave the team to organise the release, but acknowledges how hard this is for him. We talk about trust and blame and ownership, I think we touch on some key issues he needs to think about.

12.30pm: I have my one on one with my boss. She feeds back that she has talked to Product Management after yesterday’s meeting and they confirm they are bought in to Scrum. We talk about how the best solution is just to start delivering on that project and any skepticism will fade. We also talk about how to deal with the ScrumMaster who’s going on 4 months maternity leave in a few months. We decide to ask the teams she ScrumMasters what they would like to do.

1.00pm: A management meeting to review quarterly recognition bonuses. We’ve included the ScrumMasters in this session for the first time, instead of just managers, as they have previously complained about not understanding the decisions regarding this. Surprisingly there is not too much debate and we all agree fairly quickly on the nominations.

2.0opm: Another session to prep for the Story Mapping Learn by Example session. Agenda is set. Handouts confirmed. We are ready for tomorrow. We finish earlier than planned so I spend the remaining time writing the blog post which I’ll publish after the session.

3.00pm: Weekly Management meeting. We talk about managementy stuff like recruitment and budgets etc. We finish early.

3.30pm: I finish the blog post for tomorrow’s session, print out the handouts and track down some post-it for the story map.

4.30pm: I leave early today, I need to meet my builder at 5pm to finish a job at my house. Of course he doesn’t arrive.

Thursday:

9.00am: The day starts with our ScrumMaster standup. Not much to report today, most people have added their teams to our new board, and everyone is reminded of our ScrumMaster forum later today where we will discuss the week’s focus area.

9.30am: I join an estimation meeting for another one of the teams I’m coaching. I’m just here to observe. I initially thought it was a sprint planning meeting, but they update me that they will use it for estimation as the analyst who is explaining the stories is going on leave at lunchtime, and they believe this will be the best use of his last few hours. I listen in, but to be honest it’s a pretty technical session, I use the time to jot down all my observations of the 3 teams I’ve been coaching for the last week and a half, and make a few notes for myself on things I could help them with. After an hour, the meeting is supposed to end. The team have only estimated 2 stories in this time and there are 9 left to estimate for the next release. They had hoped to estimate them all before the analyst left as they need to get an idea if they are on track for the planned release date or not. I ask them if they all have 15 minutes to try something new. Since it’s their standup next, they agree they can spare the time. I explain affinity based estimation to them. In 15 minutes they estimate the remaining 9 stories using this technique. Some are a little uncomfortable that we spent so little time on it. I remind them it’s just an estimate and all we are looking for is consensus.

11.00am: The Learn by Example session I’m running on Story Maps starts in a hour. I spend the time prepping with Sam, the ScrumMaster who’s helping me facilitate the session. We setup the room so that the tables are in groups, we make sure we have 2 big whiteboards for the story map, and lots of post-its for people’s task ideas. We also run through the agenda one last time to make sure we are both ready. Then we grab some lunch before the session.

12.00pm: We get a decent turn out at the session. 4 groups of about 4 to 5 people each. I start with a 10 minute intro into what story maps are and why you might want to use them. Then we do a warm up exercise suggested by Jeff Patton where people jot down the tasks the did to get to work this morning. They group them in themes and lay them out in time order. Once people have the hang of it, we describe the product we are going to build a map of today. It’s a dashboard which we could show on a big flatscreen which would allow people to get a view of the status of all the projects and teams at a quick glance. We’ve chosen this product rather than one we actually develop at the moment because everyone in the audience would be a user of the dashboard product and we think it will help them think like a user rather than more technically. We start by assigning each of the tables a specific role and ask them to think about tasks that role might like to do with the dashboard. We give them a few minutes to brainstorm then I start sticking them up on the map. As we go, we group, remove duplicates, and put things in sequence in terms of time. Once we’ve got most of the ideas we come up with some higher level themes for the user activity level and decide what fits into each. Then we look at priorities and decide what is necessary for a first release. We draw a line to indicate our walking skeleton for the first release. Below is a picture of the map we created in the session. In all it seems the session was a success. People learned something they can really use. Two of the teams are keen to build their own maps asap for their products. After the session I make sure the internal blog post on the session with links and info is published within an hour of the session ending.

2.00pm: Time for our weekly ScrumMaster Forum. Once a week I get together with all the ScrumMasters for an hour and talk about what we’ve learned and what we want to focus on in the next week. This week we review the layout of our new board and everyone seems happy with it. We also talk about this week’s focus area. Although there were not many notes on the board at the start of the session, as we chat people write down more things they noticed during the week. Once we have a list we look at each one and decide if it’s an organisational impediment or one the team can solve for themselves. Each SM then gets 3 votes for their top priority. I leave the forum with a prioritised list of organisational impediments to take into our next management backlog grooming session. We also chat about what the focus area for the next week should be. I suggest: “Notice when your team is confused”. At first people think it won’t have much value because if their teams are confused they just clarify things straight away. I explain that while that is okay, it is better to put structures in place so that the team never get confused, and therefore what we will do need week is look for common themes and come up with some ways we can either reduce complexity here to prevent confusion or provide some structure so people know where to get the information.

3.00pm: As I write this on Sunday I have no idea what I did for this hour on Thursday. Clearly not something of value :)

4.00pm: I get the stories and estimates from the analyst from this morning’s meeting and paste them into a release burndown template it have. This shows the amount of work remaining in story points and predicts the completion date based on best, worst and average velocity. I forward this on to team to help them understand what scope they can fit into the release, or what date they can deliver the full scope. Although this is pretty fundamental to Scrum, I find it’s one of the areas we struggle with the most. People still think (even if it’s subconscious) that they must fit everything in to a predefined date else they have failed. I think it’s a hard habit to unlearn.

5.00pm: I leave early because tonight is the monthly SUGSA (Scrum User Group of South Africa) meeting. I’m a committee member so I need to get there early to help set up. Tonight’s topic is “Software Development Practices with an Agile mindset”. I hope some of my work colleagues attend.

Friday:

11.30am: I arrive late because I have our monthly SUGSA committee meeting in the morning. I have a slow start and spend the morning cleaning out my inbox. I am a bit obsessive about having a manageable inbox, so I file things as soon as I have dealt with them. I try to clear out my inbox so there are less than 5 items left at the end of each week. I also spend some time jotting down some ideas for future Product Owner training sessions we can do, and debating a team award with some of the other managers.

12.30pm: Another Operational Forum meeting. It goes okay, but no one has followed up on their actions from 2 weeks ago. Meeting finishes on time and I get the minutes out a few minutes later because I did them on the fly. The only way to go.

1.00pm: It’s an unusual day for me. I spend most of the afternoon at my desk. I chat to someone about story maps. After yesterday’s session she’s keen to do it with her team but wants some advice on where to just start with the first phase of the project, or the whole thing. My advice based on my reading is breadth before depth, so I suggest she starts with a session on the whole product and then breaks down a section of it into more detail. I also exchange some emails with a colleague in Brisbane who is piloting an agile project there. We have a call setup next week to catch up as I’m keen to hear how things are going for them. I am happy to see he’s shared the blog link I sent him to our internal blog as we are getting hits from Australia on our blog. A few months ago one of the SMs raised an organisational impediment with me that the development team didn’t have any visibility on the actual Product sales. I’ve finally got some info on this and forward it on. She is surprised and admits she’d actually given up. A sign to me that maybe I need to keep better track of organisational impediments and the status of them. They very quickly get forgotten if not actively chased.

4.00pm: Recently we have delivered major releases on 2 of our products. We have an in house pub (room with no windows and a fridge full of beer), we open it this afternoon to celebrate the releases. I manage to find myself behind the bar serving drinks and am last to leave… as usual.

5.30pm: I have a chat with one of the line managers about the teams I’m currently coaching to find out how they think things are going and what their current concerns are.

6.30pm: Before I leave the office I fill in my value journal. It’s something Lyssa Adkins recommended for coaches. Just a personal journal to keep track of the value you think you are adding in your role as a coach. I’ve been meaning to start one since I got back from the Scrum Gathering in Orlando, but this is the first week I’ve actually filled it in. I found it a useful means of reflection, I plan to update it weekly from now on.

Technically that’s where my week ended, although I have to admit I did some work on Sunday too (sustainable pace – I know). I hadn’t done any work on our management sprint all week, so I spent some time updating some metrics for our first metrics report which we hope to complete this sprint (which ends on Wednesday). I also caught up on alot of SUGSA actions and did this blog post.

So fellow SMs what did you do last week?

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