A Day of an Agile Master (Part II)
In Part I “A Day of an Agile Master (Part II)” we promised to answer one “itchy” question related to the Agile Masters’ duties:
“Hmm, ok! But, what do you do the whole day?”
The current post is supposed to answer the above and describe a hypothetical workday of an Agile Master. For the sake of the story, we will pick some sample scenarios which may happen every day. Have in mind, most Agile masters work with two, even three teams and have 10 – 15 team members, product owners, architects, C-Something-O’s, Managers, and all kinds of stakeholders. All of them need attention when it comes to Agility coaching, mentoring, and facilitation… So, let’s start the day.
7:00 “Checking the weapons”
A few months ago some friends and I went to a Paintball game. Unfortunately, it turned out the organizer got one gun less than our count. So, one person had to stay behind waiting for someone to be killed, so he can start playing… not the best way to play, but we had a lot of fun.
As an Agile master, I can’t afford to be like the organizer of the paintball event, the fun will not save me. So, here I am early in the morning, drinking my coffee at home, reading about facilitation techniques, and thinking about what I’m missing and how to prepare for the important brainstorming session later today. I’m doing the final checks as I have three teams, a bunch of managers, and product owners, all together trying to define goals and roadmaps for the next quarter.
The Agile master is an organizer and facilitator. Your job begins much earlier than the rest. You should prepare and create the perfect organization. We have all seen unproductive even disastrous events, it’s up to us to avoid them.
The first thing as an Agile master I have to do when I’m at the office is to take care of the teams’ work boards. I’m checking the work items, statuses, burn-down charts, impediments list… The team members drink their morning coffee in the kitchen and I should hurry up as the daily meeting comes. Either physical or virtual the team board needs maintenance. The daily standup is the heartbeat of our work and a messy scrum board can cause a lot of inconvenience during the day.
To be a servant leader for your teams means to put everything in order and to arrange the needed, so the work can move smoothly. Well, a prepared team board is a key prerequisite of a fruitful working day.
10:00 Daily Stand-ups
The Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”
I’m inviting the team to the board and the daily stand-up starts. I’m stepping back a little, giving the floor to the team members. I’m observing the dynamics, to see if everything is clear and understood. I’m asking myself questions: Is everyone having air time? Are there any impediments and important outcomes? Do we have elephants in the room, which we don’t talk about?
At the end of the daily scrum, I’m wrapping up the key findings and impediments. I’m making sure we have action items and owner for every impediment and the workday can start. (I’m going to the next room as I have one more daily scrum with the other team)
11:00 The Coffee machine
A coffee machine is a magical place, providing an opportunity for informal, spontaneous conversations – Use it!
Passing by the coffee machine I see my colleague Dobri… I’ve noticed he stays often late and it’s a great opportunity to have a chat with him:
– “Hey Dobri, how are you, I saw you staying late yesterday?”, I’m asking.
– “Well, the PO sent me an email asking me to do some urgent fixes”, he responded.
– “Hmm, are you really sure it was that urgent?”, I got curious.
– “Actually, it wasn’t really specified… I assumed it.” Dobri said.
– “Dobri, do you agree that about priorities you and the PO must be really on the same page, always?”
– “Actually, we have Retrospective today, I will raise this topic”, Dobri said…
It might sound even humorous, but the kitchen and the coffee machine are highly valuable places. There are tons of discussions and questions which need to be addressed every day. The easiest way to have these talks is if they are spontaneous. Quick chats while drinking your coffee are a very powerful tool.
11:30 Pair with the PO
It’s half-past eleven, the Product Owner of one of my teams has a Backlog refinement session later today and she needs some help to prepare. The team is complaining our user stories need more details, but we also know that too many details can kill creativity. My goal is to not only update the user stories but also to work with the PO on how to run the whole session, so we can have a really productive brainstorming.
So, we decide to open today’s refinement with a short overview of the vision and business value and then to jump into the story by story discussion.
Architects, Product owners, Project managers, Line managers, Stakeholders… all of them work closely with the Agile master. Facilitating and helping these people is an important responsibility of the Agile master.
13:00 Team of Teams
It’s just after lunch and we have the big event which I was preparing for early this morning. We have representatives from a few teams, some managers, product owners, and architects. Such a big workshop needs to be facilitated and you have to be well prepared. Together with my fellow agile masters, we are sticking posters on the walls, checking all the documents and systems. Oh! Yes, additional chairs will be needed, too.
During the session one of us is hosting the meeting, running through the agenda and the others are supporting.
Scrum of scrums, architectural meetings, cross-cutting initiatives, common reviews, and synchronization events are just part of the responsibilities one Agile master at scale can have.
Do you remember we had two teams and a bunch of impediments listed during the daily scrum meetings? Guess what, you are the chief impediment remover! It’s time to deal with some of the action items from the impediments board….
One mail, quick call, and chatting to escalate one problem to the architects. Second, I have to talk to the scrum master of one of the other teams about one small issue: When both teams have questions they just bombard each other with them and sometimes this causes a little frustration…
It’s time for the Backlog refinement. We start according to the plan, the PO is presenting the roadmap and product vision then we start one by one with the user stories.
Of course, it turns out a few stories are bigger than expected and my job is to challenge the folks, so they can look at these stories from a different point of view and try to split them.
I also notice we have one person who is very dominant in the discussion and a few others are often in silence. So let’s change the approach, I ask everyone to pair with someone and discuss how we can split the big stories into smaller ones. Then every pair shares their findings.
It could be Refinement, Planning, Retrospective, or any other session. In every case having a skillful facilitator can make the difference.
16:30 “Afternoon Coffee and active googling”
The end of the sprint is near and tomorrow we have a retrospective with one of the teams. I have collected lots of observations during the last 2 weeks and on top of that, we have one new team member and I expect the storming phase soon.
I have to design this retrospective. It has to be productive, relaxing, team building, and fun. We have to be able to share and analyze the sprint learnings. Gamification always helps, so I’m checking Google for fun retrospective ideas.
The agile coach should do his homework, prepare all the needed materials, and talk with many people upfront. The scrum retrospective is the main tool for continuous improvement and it needs to be carefully designed every time.
17:00 Booooring (Metrics, data, reporting…)
We save the end of the day for taking care of some administrative duties. The top management loves data and reports, so who do you think is preparing them?
We are a data-driven and bottom-up-oriented organization, so it’s crucial to collect the right data and visualize it correctly. Without data, we cannot really understand where we are. And you, the Agile master, are the team’s interface for such “boring” activities.
It’s 18:00 and the first beer is opened
It’s BEER time! I just go to the kitchen, picking a cold beer and I’m joining few colleagues, dreaming for some rest, when one of them asks: “I was wondering, how many hours is one story point?”… and here we go again!