Live My Life of Scrum Master

Read on if you have always wanted to know more about Agile and the jobs related to it!
Marivi joined PALO IT Hong Kong 4 months ago, bringing along with her more than 15 years of experience as an Agile Coach and Scrum Master.
Discover how she became a Scrum Master, appropriate skills and mindset required to be a great one, and the best toolbox to make daily life easier!

Hello Marivi! Can you tell us more about you and how you became a Scrum Master?

Marivi: I am a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Science, majoring in Systems Software Engineering. My first job in IT was as a Systems Support Engineer in a software company focusing on rural banking system. I was part of the roll-out and implementation group at that time. It was an exciting job for me as the experience requires a lot of travel, meeting different people and dealing with different customers at different levels (from system users to bankers).

After some time, I was transferred to the Quality Assurance Dept. The job exposed me to better understand the importance of delivering a quality product to our customer. Upon recommendation of our customers, I was given an opportunity to do a proof of concept in Project Management. I built the process of this division which requires a lot of inter-departmental communications. I rolled-out the process which later on was recognized as an added value to the company. I had several exposures in this area: Strategic Planning, Project Planning and Management, Marketing & Business Development (in which I became an Officer-in-Charge on this area) and several others.

I was in BlastAsia in 2008 as a Project Manager when Agile Scrum was introduced. I was one of those who helped in reviewing and establishing the Agile process in the company. I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2011 when I got my formal training and certification as a Scrum Master. From then on, I fully embrace Agile up till today.

Tell us why you decided to join PALO IT?

Marivi: I’ve decided to join the PALO IT team because I believe I will exercise and gain different perspective in implementing and promoting Agile effectively. I learned that PALO IT organizes several knowledge sharing sessions, on a monthly basis (e.g. BarCamps, Meetups, conferences, workshops) that help expand our knowledge beyond what we know. What attracted me most at PALO IT is the support from on these activities. This is one major factor for in deciding to join a company. Lastly, the culture of the company as a whole was a motivating factor for me to join. Indeed, there is a lot of fun and you regularly collaborate with inspiring people from all over the world!

According to you, what are the most appropriate mindset and skillset to become a Scrum Master?

Marivi: Becoming an Agile Scrum Master is not as simple as we think, especially if you came from the traditional approach of being a Project Manager. To become a Scrum Master, you must know how to draw a line between the role of being a Scrum Master and a Project Manager. A Scrum Master is more of an evangelist, he/she is in control of the process (not the people), he/she lets the team grow and owns the project. A Scrum Master teaches the team to be a self-managing team. While, a Project Manager is someone who controls everything, most of the time he/she follows the Project Plan set for the project. Though, there are some abilities of a Project Manager that you can take advantage of like good People Management skills and ability to see the whole picture of a project.

The Scrum Master must understand the value and principles of Agile — promoting the “Agile Mindset” which is the baseline of everything. A Scrum Master is someone who can guide the team in the whole Scrum process, he/she ensures that the team is fully functional. He/She guides the team to continuously improve and increase productivity. In a timely manner, he/she must be able to communicate with the Product Owners and Team. He/She should have a great problem solving ability where he/she could identify the issues that needs to be prioritised on and escalates issues that cannot be resolved quickly.

Aside on having an “Agile Mindset”, it would be an advantage to have a working experience on the processes and tools in Agile. He/She may suggest to the team on the best engineering practices (see my article named “7 engineering practices to adopt in an Agile Environment”).

What does your typical day look like? Who are the main stakeholders you work with?

Marivi: I have various set-up in terms of how I work, it depends on the project and team set-up I’m working with. For the purpose of demonstration, I will take the example on how I worked with a distributed team (Asia and Europe, sometimes in Canada). First, it is important to know the time zones of each countries and what is the most common time for everyone (highly recommended, must have a big overlap). We also need to understand inter-team dependencies and set team rules. Team rules will set boundaries and discipline based on what the team has agreed on.

With the distributed team set-up, I usually start my day in the morning by checking my inbox, check the status of issues (if there are any), speak to my team, visit the Scrumboard / Dashboard, check the burndown chart and gauge how far or near the team is in accomplishing the sprint goals. Since it is a distributed team, we use electronic tools to share all information in one common area (e.g. Congfluence, Jira, shared folders etc.). The team is the owner of maintaining the information being shared on and it is important that information is always updated. On my part, I ensure and monitor this information as there were tendencies that one misses to update and could bring chaos or might result to misunderstanding.

For the regular meetings, we usually start our Daily Scrum/Daily Stand-up meeting in the afternoon (morning for European counterparts). Everyday we would do video conferencing with other team members and Product Owners (recommended instead of using phones). We have backlog grooming activity each week with the team and Product Owners, where we discuss the requirements of future items so the team will have more time to inspect or research and do an impact analysis when necessary.

Every end of the sprint, the team will then present the features done to the Product Owners to gather feedbacks. It is also an opportunity to review the system and identify improvements that can be planned later on. Afterwards, we will do a Sprint Retrospective meeting at the end of the sprint to know what can be improved, what went wrong and things that went well during the sprints. At the start of each sprint, I would also facilitate the Sprint Planning sessions with the team and Product Owners.

Aside from the above regular activities, I usually have a regular meeting with other Scrum Masters which is the Meta Scrum Meeting as we call it (a.k.a. Scrum of Scrums) to get a common ground on the status of the project and discuss any impediments that would need to be addressed immediately.

We also practice DevOps, it’s a discipline in which the team is not only focused on the development but also in charge of activities like solving server issues, deployment, switching load balancers. This kind of discipline helps the team resolve issues faster, reduce complex problems, ensure continuous delivery, helps in building a much stable environment and increase productivity.

Last but not the least, part of my activity is to review the roadmap with our Product Owners and Projects Managers who served as our stakeholders. It is a regular meeting with them to discuss the overall plan and projects in the pipeline. We discuss the status of items we planned and if there are some changes, POs and PMs will re-align the plans.

What are the main sources of satisfaction you have in your role?

Marivi: I have three main sources of satisfaction:

  • Being able to teach my team to be a high-performing and self-managing team.
  • Nothing beats having a happy customer! This is a key indication that they like what you are delivering and that what you have delivered is useful to their business.
  • Return of Investment, which means we were able to bring profit to the company.

Though personally, my ultimate goal is to be able to gain and share more learnings to our future leaders.

Can you share with us your toolbox?

Marivi: Sure! There are a number of good tools in implementing Agile Framework. Following are the tools we used from my previous work.

1/ Jira Cloud
It’s a good tool where you can manage the issues, versioning/releases of your projects. 
Epics and user stories are being maintained where information such as requirements and result of conversation between the Team and Product Owners could be recorded here. In this tool, you will have a clear visibility on the sprint status (of course, team must religiously update the status, otherwise it will not be reliable!). The versioning/releases and sprints are maintained by the Scrum Master, while status of the sprints are developers’ responsibility. An electronic dashboard is also available, where you can see the movements of the items in the sprint, it works like you are pulling the post-its from the physical board. There are reporting tool as well, such as viewing of burndown charts. Jira’s new version is tailored with Agile (Scrum or Kanban approach). This is a good tool in terms of maintainability such as setting-up of workflow, customizing, linking to Bamboo, FishEye and other development tools. Though the team is the owner of the Jira, there is still a need for a Jira Administrator for Jira maintenance, as this will require time.

2/ Zephyr
It is a software testing tool that is linked to Jira. Here you can create test cycles for each sprint/releases and build the test cases and link to Jira. You will be able to visualise all test executions by story and get a better view on the quality. Test cases are re-usable and will definitely save time.

3/ Version One
Another tool on which you can maintain your releases and sprints. VersionOne is quite straight forward as it will guide you on the Agile process. It will allow you to plan and track all your epics, user stories, issues, tasks etc. The workflow in-placed will help you accelerate the adoption of Agile process from planning until your sprint review.

4/ Atlassian Confluence
It is a document collaboration tool where everyone could centralise their ideas from planning, defining the product requirements, sharing of design and ideas that is essential for your projects. It can also be linked to your jira items, epics and sprints. Security of information could be administered/set as well, you have the options on who are the audiences allowed to read/write on your page. You can also centralise the schedule of everyone and easily track on who’s on official leave or holidays. It’s a tool where you can upload your different types of documents. One good thing I like in this tool is the versioning of changes and files you uploaded, you can always go back to the history. This tool is very helpful in terms of traceability and visibility of the project.

5/ Cisco Webex
This is one of my favorite tool. Since I am working on a distributed team, this tool helps me connect to everyone globally. We often use it for collaboration especially when our Product Owners and some members are not collocated. With this tool, my team could always speak to our product owners and present ideas when necessary through screen sharing, thus, eliminating the time in composing and answering emails. It is a good investment as it would reduce costs and time on frequent traveling. Webex could function like a whiteboard, you can put markers on it while presenting. It allows you to give control to the audience as well. This tool is very helpful not only for the team, but for management or customer collaborations.

6/ Tandberg Video Conferencing System
Another favorite video conferencing tool. Usually setup and connected to different locations. It’s very easy to use. You can just dial the no. you wish to call (e.g. registered no. in Europe let’s say) and would be automatically connected. It’s still different when you can connect to your colleagues anytime of the day as if working closely with them. This makes the conversation more personal and faster.

7/ Flexibility on Software
Yes, you read it right! Since 2004, I’ve already worked with several teams and projects from standalone system to sharepoint and web-based projects using different technologies and platforms (to name a few: SQL, ASP .Net, AJAX, Windows Server 2003, Windows SharePoint Services, DotNetNuke, Java, Flash, HTML, TFS etc.). One of the key factor is the ability to work with any technologies. What matters most is how you would develop an empowered team and how you will guide the team and POs throughout the process.

According to you, how possibly could evolve your position in the next few years?

Marivi: When I joined PALO IT I knew there would be a range of opportunities in terms of career path. I think, continuously growing my skills will make me an effective coach through joining and exposing myself to different events related to agile and technology, active participation on conducting trainings and workshops (both internal and external), attending seminars and formal trainings and getting certifications. I would also like to learn on the business side, improve my presentation skills, make business proposals and Agile contracting. On top of this, I believe, gearing myself towards the direction of the company like Design Thinking, Innovation Games, DevOps, Big Data etc. will play a very important role to me. Later on, I would like to lead a group in Agile transformation. If in the future, there will be new practices, I am keen to learn and practice it.

Thank you Marivi for sharing your experience and giving us some helpful tips and inputs about your job!



Emeline MOY
Emeline MOY

Outside of championing the PALO IT brand accross the world since 5 years, Emeline loves sharing knowledge and feedback over a hot chocolate... or a coconut cocktail! If she is not cuddling a cat, she can be found out in hiking, enjoying yoga sessions and exploring the best running routes and the craziest party hotspots in Hong Kong!


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