After ending my outsourcing experience I was thrilled to join the very first Scrum team of my company! I had three options back then:
- Leave the company and look for a new job;
- Stay with the company and be test manager for other short-term development projects, including a lot of traveling;
- Stay with the company and join our first Scrum team working remotely for a long-term customer but doing much more administration, operations and support than development.
Everybody wondered if the third option would meet my desire to develop and test a product. But as I liked the people at my company and really wanted to change from external on-site projects to an internal team and especially return to the agile world, I nonetheless took it.
When starting on the team, I quickly realized that how they were working so far really was not quite related to Scrum. Or agile. I found myself to be the only one who had worked in a Scrum team before, which triggered me to take over the Scrum Master role. What smoothed our way was that my team lead trusted me from the start. He knew me from my time as a working student and it seemed I had left a good impression. When I made my first steps to teach Scrum and coach my team, he told me several times that he didn't quite understand why we should do things this or that way, but he kept putting trust in me and give it a try; and afterwards realized the benefits.
The following three years of transforming and growing our team taught me several lessons.
- People need time to change. In the beginning I wanted to go like a bull at a gate, but quickly realized that I would lose my team on the way. What worked for us was promoting change in tiny bits. During our first year we rather blindly followed the Scrum framework, setting the stage. The second year we didn't have to think about the basics anymore and could adapt some good practices, gain pace, share how we work with the rest of our company. Only in the third year the team was ready to break some habits, try lots of new retrospective formats, challenge how we work and find our own way of working.
- We faced several challenges as a distributed team with the major part of the team being located in Germany but having team mates in Romania and Brazil. We had to find ways to overcome communication barriers caused by distance, time zones, languages, cultural backgrounds, tools, technical issues. To get to know each other, build up trust and feel like a team.
- We learned a lot about team dynamics. As we slowly shifted to an agile mindset, some team members did not want to self-organize or take over more responsibility, so they left the team themselves. Also, chemistry within a team is crucial, but so are skills; in the end we only were three people left, but as we could nicely complement each other we could still deliver value for our customer. We had a hard time searching for new people fitting to the team, bringing useful skills and especially sharing our mindset.
- We worked for only one big customer and were able to grow a close relationship, not only on contract level but also connecting with the humans. The foundation for this was our authenticity and openness about what can be done and what not, our transparency when it came to progress updates and failure root cause analysis, and the quality results we delivered. Our customer heavily appreciated our collaboration and put a lot of trust in us.
- I personally learned a lot about system administration, operations, and third level tech support. Our customer's management showed high awareness that the application was always up and running, 24/7, throughout the year; so we shared standby duty. Here I really learned what it means to be woken in the middle of the night by some monitoring alerts in order to rush to the computer, log in to the client's system, stay calm and troubleshoot what happened. We learned to have our system as stable and reliable as possible to avoid such incidents; however, network or data center outages would still stir us up.
- Trust and support can create magic. My team always had the back of my team lead. We had many open and honest conversations on a level playing field and learned to appreciate a lead who listens, supports, gives and takes feedback, strives to develop you, trusts, cares.
- To spread the word about how we work and how others might improve and become happier as well, I started to share my knowledge, train, coach and support other teams in the organization. The teams loved it, but upper management was not happy about that at all. My desired "bottom-up revolution" did not work out, I realized you need to include all hierarchy levels, otherwise you might put people off. So I tried to get upper management on board as well but sadly it seemed we continued talking at cross purposes.
- As I was new to my Scrum Master role, I started to read and learn a lot about Scrum, agile, and teams; I could also correct some misconceptions I had. I made it a habit to learn something everyday and hone my craft. This proved invaluable as it gave me so many more options and ideas. If you'd ask me before, I would have never believed that I would voluntarily do so much for my profession in my free time as I do today. I'm still surprised how sometimes I cannot let go of reading just one more blog entry.
Adhering to what I promised myself, I told my team about an awesome offer I received that I wanted to take. I did that on my own risk. My team was really sad but highly appreciated my honesty so they could immediately prepare for my highly potential leave and invest more effort in searching for my successor. But others unmistakably told me that they disliked my action, that I unnecessarily stirred up my team. Well, even if I would not have received this offer, my personal decision was made; I would have left anyways. After three years helping to build up this team and enjoying all ups and downs, it was quite hard to leave people behind. But my team mates told me that I could not let my loyalty infer with my personal growth and that at this point I had to think of myself. Wise words.
I never regretted having taking the offer. Plus, I didn't lose the people. We're still meeting each other in our private time, just like I do with my former "roller coaster" team. I love to keep in touch with people I shared so much with, to see where their ways led them and to learn from their experience. In the end, it's all about the people.