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InfoQ Homepage News How a Scrum Master Helped a Team to Increase Their Agility

How a Scrum Master Helped a Team to Increase Their Agility

At the Agile Testing Day Netherlands 2015 Claar van Houtum shared her experiences from initially working as a tester and then moving onward to become a Scrum master at SnelStart, a company that develops accounting software for medium size companies. SnelStart has been professionalizing their testing organization by moving from waterfall to agile testing. They are using Scrum to develop their products.

Initially most of the testing van Houtum did was scripted testing for the new regression test. They choose to script the regression test to be able to do the tests more often in the same way and ultimately, to automate them. Using situational testing the test team used other tactics for different purposes. Functionality known to be buggy and layout flaws were tested through bug hunts, because documentation was less important and finding as many existing flaws as possible in a short time span was the goal. User acceptance tests were done with session based testing. By starting with the scripted testforms and moving towards the more exploratory testing activities, van Houtum saw that the agility of the scrum team wasn’t optimized however.

Van Houtum explained how she noticed by looking at the daily things that people did that they weren’t really working agile; they did agile activities, but didn’t accomplish more productivity because the whole didn’t come together. She saw how different people worked on same part but didn’t know about each other’s activities. When the experts were away work took more time. The developers and testers worked separately most of the time.

The Scrum master was a very good developer, but not very passionate about improving the process. He lacked the skills to coach the team. So van Houtum became the Scrum master. She started facilitating the team more and arranging things that the team needed. For instance she planned and prepared meetings, thus helping the team members to be more effective in the meetings. She used timeboxing which people didn’t really like initially, but that changed when they saw that it worked for them.

Initially Snelstart had a big backlog with many user stories. User stories were sometimes unclear, they didn’t really know when a user story should be set to done so there were many unfinished user stories from past sprints. Doing planning poker helped them to check items before planning them, they got rid of black boxes by discussing the items. The team learned their velocity and became able to discuss the backlog with the product owner to prioritize user stories and have the important stuff finished.

Van Houtum also introduced pair programming which initially felt uncomfortable for the team members. She asked people to try it. People discovered that it made things go quicker, working together they found problems earlier. Although it was initially hard, it turned out to be fun to do it. Pair programming is effective and gives better quality said van Houtum.

Some of the learnings that van Houtum mentioned in her talk were:

  • The process has to be right to make the product right.
  • People should do the things that they are passionate about.
  • Being a Scrum master can give you power to change things, although you always need the team to actually establish change.
  • Giving people a job title limits the things they will do.
  • You improve by looking what makes you better, not by doing things because you need to do them.

Van Houtum’s talk included several pieces of advice for doing change in organizations:

  • Communication matters. Tell people what you see, listen to them, and build up trust.
  • Find out what is working and what not.
  • Tell people to look around and don’t just do what their job title says.
  • You don’t have an excuse, if you see things you have to do something about it.
  • Don’t be shy, dare to tell about the things you see, and try to help people.
  • All of the above sounds obvious, and it is, but you have to actually do it to get there!

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