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Interview with a Scrum Master

Scrums and agile development methods have been hot topics over the last few years, but a lot of the process takes place behind the scenes.

Derk Dreeszen is a scrum master with Cambria Solutions, working on the state's Child Welfare Digital Services project. Dreeszen has been a program and project manager, making the jump to scrum master in 2012. He now leads projects in the Certification, Approval and Licensing Service (CALS) portion of the program.

Techwire: What is a scrum master?

Derk Dreeszen: A scrum master is a servant-leader; a small-team psychologist; a master of ceremonies; a teacher; a neutral party; a bridge between leadership, technical teams and business teams; a referee; a coach; and a number of other roles that need to be filled, depending on the team they are working with. In some cases, they can also be a technical team member or lead, or a delivery manager and product owner.

In some cases not only do they play these roles, but they play them on multiple teams, depending on their experience and how many teams they can handle.

To understand a good scrum master, though, is to understand the role of a servant-leader. The scrum master is there to guide the team in the best practices of the agile method they have chosen, remove obstacles the team faces so the team can focus on doing what it was hired to do, and to make sure there is a healthy environment for the team and its members to perform at their optimal capacity. For instance, you want your developers writing code, not trying to corral everyone for a meeting on technical standards. You want your business SMEs (subject matter experts) to be helping writing user stories so that they get the point across as to how the software is supposed to respond, but they don’t have the technical experience to know what the developers need, so the scrum master helps to train them.

TW: How does this work fit into the state’s mission?

Dreeszen: For the state, the goal remains the same; for team members, the scrum master helps teams that have been working in silos, on repetitive tasks and not understanding the vision, become better-performing, more engaged individuals. Scrum masters will also drive workshops to craft better or more easily understood visions that leadership can use to get everyone moving in the same direction. Scrum masters will also help with the organizational change management that needs to happen.

TW: What other solutions could this work produce?

Dreeszen: One of the things that drew me to being a scrum master is the flexibility and new challenges I see every day. I am no longer an individual contributor to the projects I help; I make those projects more focused and efficient in moving toward their goals. My skills for streamlining process and delivery flows, removing obstacles through better communication and facilitation, lend themselves to any project or program.

TW: How long have you been acting as a scrum master?

Dreeszen: I was initially introduced to agile and the role of a scrum master while working at Delta Dental in 2006. I became a certified scrum master in 2012 while working at Cisco Systems.

TW: How did you get into it?

Dreeszen: I got into it during a large data warehouse project at Delta Dental. As a project coordinator, I saw the benefits of agile right away, and the results showed quickly. After reading a bit more about it, I incorporated a number of agile practices into my traditional project management practices. Over time, my skills grew, and then in 2012, while working at Cisco, an opportunity came about to become certified and to start working with an agile engineering team on a daily basis as a scrum master.