As already discussed in our previous blog post, the agile process framework Scrum is our preferred methodology when it comes to managing the product development at ePages. To get further insights into our work with Scrum, we have interviewed our Scrum Master Ann-Katrin:
Hi Ann-Katrin. Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you please give us an introduction of yourself?
Hi, I am Ann-Katrin, the Scrum Master here at ePages. I started my career at an ecommerce agency, here in Hamburg, where I worked for about seven years, before I moved to London. In London, I worked for two big retailers, namely Arcadia and Debenhams. At the beginning, I was dedicated more towards the operational business, but then moved more and more in the direction of agile project management. Although I liked the project management side of my job, my real passion was more working with agile teams and being the one helping them to coordinate their work. This is when I got to know the processes of Scrum and got certificated as a Scrum Master and ever since worked in that field. Back then, some of the teams I worked with were already using Scrum and for the other teams I helped them to introduce the concept to improve their working processes.
At one point, it was time for me to move back to Germany, because I simply wanted to be closer to my friends again. I first worked for a small agency that was specialized in App development, which was fun, yet I really missed working with bigger teams.
Now, that I am working at ePages I get to work with different cross-functional teams again, which is fun. It’s also great to be working in ecommerce again.
What are the main differences between agile and traditional project management?
In traditional project management, you have defined phases, that are done one after another. For example, you start with a big conception phase, then you go on with a design phase as well as development and testing phase and eventually after all these phases are done, the customer will be able to review the newly build product. However, until the last phase it remains completely non-transparent to the customer on what exactly the development team has been built. Only at the end, they will see the product and might realize that they changed their mind and demand some product adjustments. This is what makes the project inflexible.
Whereas with an agile approach, you build a product in short iterations and the Product Owner and/or customer will be able to review the latest progress on the product. There is a lot of communication going on during the process and next iterations are only planned after the product has been reviewed by the Product Owner. This ensures that software that is to be build meets the customer’s needs and had a business value. We are mainly using Scrum here at ePages, which allows us to have sprint reviews, which everyone from the company is invited to. Everyone can see the product and give feedback. This feedback is valuable to use it for our next iterations.
What is your role as a Scrum Master at ePages?
It’s lots of multi-tasking 😉. I work very closely with the development teams and am really a part of the team. As a Scrum Master, I am owning the process, so I will make sure that the teams are following the Scrum processes and will also work together with them to continuously improve them. The Scrum framework has some regular meetings and I am responsible to moderate these. We have a daily meeting called Daily Scrum, in which the developers give brief updates to each other on what they are currently working on and if there are any impediments. Sometimes, I need to stop upcoming discussions and postpone them to after the Daily Scrum to not lose focus - I like to always keep it short and informative.
Also, I collaborate closely with the Product Owner and pass on their feedback to the teams. Together, we go through the backlog and make sure that the team understands what they understand the user stories in the product backlog. I am also the link between development and management. You see, I keep up the communication between all parties - CTO, Product Owners, and developers. Beyond that, I have other exciting tasks, such as organizing the yearly Hackathon and R&D day. Or just in general, I organize team events, because sometimes it is simply nice to go out and have fun.
Are there already any insights on this year’s Hackathon you can reveal?
We are organizing the Hackathon for the end of March and of course it’s going to be lots of fun 😉. It’ll be one day and a half and our developers already have great ideas for things they can build during the Hackathon. We will then go through all the ideas and see which topics will make it. I’ll be great for the guys to do some stuff, that is not necessary part of their daily business, I am excited to see, what we can achieve in that short amount of time. Of course, we will have pizza and enough coffee ready, so the developers are completely fueled. At the end of the Hackathon, we will then have some drinks to celebrate ourselves.
Very briefly, explain us your work in a Scrum team. How is it organized with regards to meetings, moderation, etc.?
We develop in sprints. At the beginning of each sprint, we have a sprint planning where we schedule in items from the product backlog that we would like to work on. During the sprint planning, I’ll have an eye on the amount of work, that they plan to do, because we don’t want to overestimate or underestimate what we can achieve within one sprint.
When we start our sprints, we of course have our Daily Scrums every morning. In the middle of the sprint, we have a refinement, in which we go through the items in the backlog and discuss and estimate them in order to have them ready for the next sprint planning. At the end of the sprint, we have a sprint review, which is open for everyone in the company who is interested.
For that, we make sure that we have a brief presentation and running software, that we can show. We will write an internal blog post, so everyone knows when and where the sprint review takes place. The final meeting of the sprint is the sprint retrospective, in which we talk about how we performed during the sprint, get feedback from each other and see how we feel in general. Apart from these meetings, I’m always there and have an open ear for everyone, I help the team with any uncertainties or organize other ad-hoc meetings, if topics come up that call for cross-team discussion. I’m also there to remove any blockers or anything that would slow down our work.
You already mentioned the retrospectives, could you give away some secrets?
I like to keep the retrospectives interesting. Therefore, I try out different styles in order to review a sprint from distinct perspectives. This could be something basic like a Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed for categorization or a sailboat or kite retrospectives. In a sailboat retrospective, for instance, you imagine that the team is on a sailboat on its way to a desired island and there are pirates in the way as well as an anchor that really holds you back. But then there are some opportunity wins that will push us closer to that island.
The teams at ePages know each other quite well and they are very good at giving feedback, so we mostly keep it simple. I generally talk about identifying what went well and where can we. In the first 10 minutes of the retrospective we gather everyone’s feedback. After presenting it, we then go into a discussion. The most important aspect is to go out of the retrospective with some smart action items in order to know what to improve. Each action item is assigned to a member of the team and a deadline is set in order to be able to follow it up. It’s then my task to follow up on the assigned action items.
What exactly is a sprint and how long is one?
A sprint is the iteration where we develop new features - you can think of a sprint as small steps towards the product you are building. There are design, development and QA tasks. Therefore, we have cross-functional teams, because all tasks need to be done in that short period of time. Most of our teams work in two week sprints. Some teams do three week sprints, because this aligns with one of our release cycles.
How many Scrum teams are you managing at the moment?
We are currently looking for a second Scrum Master here in Hamburg, we have four teams here and one Scrum Master usually looks after two teams at a time. I am also looking after our development team in Barcelona, so for me it is three in total. But, I am also helping out in other teams and moderate the retrospectives or other meetings, if they need me to.
What challenges have you faced as a Scrum Master so far?
It is always a challenge, if you feel there is some tension in the team. If there are unspoken things between team members you need to get into conflict solving to get this tension out of the room. Another thing, that I experienced, is that developers get frustrated, if they don’t have a specific or bigger sprint goal. It is nicer for the team to have a specific topic that they can focus on during the sprint.
We all know that, if frustration goes up, motivation goes down. When this happens, I speak to the teams to understand where the frustration come from. We then assess the situation to identify, if it is just a short-term issue or if there are things that we need to discuss with the Product Owner and/of if we have to rearrange things. In my opinion, if you compare the Scrum Master role to a project manager role, you need a lot more interpersonal skills and also some sort of emotional intelligence as a Scrum Master. It’s what I love about the job. I used to work as a project manager and it was good, but it is so much nicer to be closer to the people and see how they improve.
Talking about love, what do you love about ePages?
I think ePages is great, because there are a lot of different people from lots of different nations. I love that I can speak English all day, because I lived in London for so long. There is so much happening at the moment. We are currently working on a new product, which will be launched later this year and you can feel that people get excited about it. I feel that there is a passion behind it. But motivation is also high in the other teams, who are working with our older legacy software. The teams want to build something they can be proud of. I love to be around people who are passionate about what they are doing. This is not only about work though, but just in general 😉.