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  6. What Does a Scrum Master Actually Do, Mr. Gubin?

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What Does a Scrum Master Actually Do, Mr. Gubin?

Denis Gubin is a scrum master in the Agile Center of Excellence at Volkswagen Group IT. Sound complicated? The job has a lot more to do with people than it might seem at first glance.

Four weeks have gone by again. It’s time for scrum master Denis Gubin and his development teams to review their collaborative efforts over the past month. Gubin has made a sort of star with tape on the wall. Its five arms stand for “positive”, “negative”, “do more”, “do less”, and “ideas/measures”. Denis Gubin states the subject: The focus today is on coding and software quality. The assembled colleagues write on post-it notes and begin sticking them to the wall.

The objective of this meeting: The team wants to get better. Each team member presents their ideas in turn and distributes the colorful notes around the ever-larger star. For the scrum master, this is a moment for careful listening. Listening, for one, to what the colleagues have to say about the collaboration within the team. But what is almost more important is what they don’t say. Gubin has to pay close attention to the subtext: Every meeting gives him the opportunity to probe whether everything in his teams is running smoothly. That’s why he generally moderates the proceedings. But the mood today is excellent. Denis Gubin clearly did his job well.

We visited scrum master Denis Gubin at IT City in Wolfsburg.

The 26-year-old is a scrum master in the Agile Center of Excellence at Volkswagen Group IT. Gubin grew up in Baunatal near Kassel, Germany, where he still lives today with his wife. After his training as an electronics engineer for automation technology, he came to Wolfsburg by way of Volkswagen’s young professional development program for IT. There he was trained and became a developer and certified scrum master.

  • Scrum – a dynamic interaction consisting of rules and autonomous organization

    The scrum method is based on the fundamental assumption that teams achieve the best results when they are self-organized. The idea is to increase the motivation and fun within the team while boosting product quality and customer satisfaction. That’s why there are fixed roles to ensure that each individual retains the necessary individual freedom – a dynamic interaction consisting of rules and autonomous organization. The agile approach can be applied not only to software development; the design of a car can also be devised as a scrum project. But such an agile process needs someone who establishes, monitors and continuously develops it. That is the job of the scrum master.

Simple Principle, Big Transition

Scrum Master As Coach

Self-organization also means responsibility. So one key aspect of the scrum process is courage. Gubin regularly encourages his team members to make bold decisions. At the same time, he sees to it that they are accepted on the outside. “I’m happy when the teams try things that they would have been hesitant to try previously.” In the process, he never specifies the solution but instead recommends approaches. He’s a coach, not a supervisor.

Denis explains one of his hand-drawn flip charts to one of his colleagues.

This re-thinking and implementation in daily practice requires a lot of effort. Is it worth it? Gubin is convinced: yes! Because his scrum teams determine the course that their projects take, they identify more strongly with the results. Their motivation increases and with it the fun factor. The quality of the developed software benefits from this. The method also holds benefits for the teams’ internal customers within the Group. They can transparently follow what is currently being worked on. And they are more closely tied into the planning of the processes.

You Can’t Be Afraid of Problems

Problems emerge quickly with the tight pacing of scrum and the recurring rituals of the process – which means that they can be addressed more quickly. Gubin sees this as one of the great advantages of the agile method. Of course a scrum master can’t be put off by conflicts that arise. If the team had idle time in the last sprint, for example, then the sprint goals weren’t properly set, explains Gubin. Working together with colleagues to determine how agile requirements management can look in their context is his job as an agile coach.

“I have my own approach for that,” says Denis Gubin as he points to the flip chart behind him. On it is a small factory that he drew himself. Its purpose is to visualize how the assignment of tasks in the project is supposed to work so that team members know what they have to deliver and ultimately a good product rolls off the line. Gubin enjoys drawing comics in his free time as well. And the multifaceted process is made much more tangible with his sketched factory. “If you can’t get people excited about doing things in a new way, then this is the wrong job,” says Gubin in sum. Would he ever go back to working another way? “Nope. I enjoy this.”

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