Interview with Christine Salzeller, Agile Coach and Scrum Master, ERNI Switzerland
Christine, have you always been active in the field of IT and Consulting?
I started my IT career with my apprenticeship as a Software Engineer and acquired a Bachelor’s and later a Master’s in Business Informatics. I have always worked in IT, and have been doing some form of programming, continuous integration and process improvements for the development process for approximately nine years. In recent years, I have also done IT consulting in a big manufacturing company and now for ERNI. I have always been interested in the field of agility and took a deep dive for my master’s thesis in this topic and also in my last mandate. Most recently, I wanted to invest more time into this topic and took over the role as full-time Scrum Master.
What does a typical day of a Scrum Master look like?
Such a day does not exist. We have two-week sprints with fixed Sprint Meetings – so every two weeks, the appointments are time-fixed here. Daily stand-ups start at 8:45 in the morning (a very important meeting to get an inkling if something is going wrong or is on track in the team!), three of them one after another with the three teams I work with. We have Refinements every Tuesday, Plannings every second Thursday and Retrospectives on every second Wednesday. This is the regular part of my job. Added to that, I am always aware that new or unexpected things can happen and I have to react to them. I take a look at my inbox even the evening before, to get a feeling of how the situation in the teams is and try to understand what has changed, led to certain situations or how the mood might be. I also might have face-to-face meetings with individual team members, plan some additional meetings to clarify uncertainties and remove impediments in the teams, or prepare for and follow up on different meetings.
What happens during a daily, a retro and a planning?
During a daily, we take a look at what happened since the last daily. Each of the team members reports what was done since yesterday, what the next steps are and if there are any problems or if assistance from others is needed. If someone needs support, we deal with it. Sometimes I am the moderator, but most of the times the teams do it in a self-organised way. For me it is a very important meeting to get a hint about the mood in the team and find out about possible tensions and clarify them. We also involve additional general information if there is any. In a retrospective, we focus on the things that are working well or missing, possible improvements in the scrum process and how we as a team will deal with the challenges, and try to define action points. It is important to strive towards good communications. During the planning, we take a look at the priorised backlog, plan the coming sprint and discuss what the team can commit to finish. We take a closer look at the capacity of the team and distribute the workload accordingly concerning what is doable within the next sprint and discuss which tasks are needed to fulfil the commitment. The refinement can be viewed as a type of preparation for the planning; it involves clarifying dependencies, open questions, the complexity (in story points) and whatever is needed for the tasks to be understood by the team, so we do not need to go into deep detail in the planning as it is already known by the team what has to be done.
What influence the success of your day in the end?
There are many things. There may be good feedback from the team members that a process is finally working smoothly, we may complete a feature or have a good team event. I am always happy to celebrate a partial, small or big success with the team. Also, solving a conflict is among the pleasant aspects if it has been handled well and successfully.
What are the main character features that a Scrum Master should have?
Especially in the time of remote work, empathy is needed and a feeling for people, e.g. being attentive to the tone of voice when speaking, as well as reading between the lines, in order to identify conflicts or dissatisfactions. When I register having perceived something like this, I speak up and we deal with it. Being a bit persistent also belongs among the traits, I would say. If there are organisational difficulties, the coach is the one who has commit to challenges regarding moving and changing.
What do you consider as the biggest challenges in your work as Scrum Master?
Working with people – not only the team but also the organisation. You are dealing with various personalities who are also influenced by their private lives, cultures, different environments, etc. Having all members find a goal and walk together towards it is also not easy sometimes. The remote situation has made this more difficult, but with time I have learned more and more how to deal with it also under these circumstances.
What helped you in the role at the beginning?
I see the certification as Scrum Master I did at the beginning as the foundation. On the practical side, it is the communication with and learning from others, e.g. in a Scrum Master Community circle.
What would you recommend to the Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches who are only starting out in their role?
I would say to be open to all sources of information, yet also keep up the exchange and communication with other coaches and team members, which can broaden your view.
Would you like to add something important about the role you play as Scrum Master in a team?
Being a Scrum Master in one organisation can be a different role from what you will find in a different organisation or team. Be open to the changes, the differences/diversity and exchange with others – you will grow from it.