Scandinavian companies are increasingly leveraging nearshoring services and expert consultants in Poland for their development needs. In this interview, we talk with Ewelina Wielemborek, a freelance consultant currently working as a Scrum Master on a large-scale project for a Scandinavian bank.
What project are you currently working on?
I am currently involved in a project for a large Scandinavian bank that aims to deliver a key online banking system, and it comes with a mobile application. The work is set in a distributed environment split between Warsaw and Copenhagen. Basically, we are delivering software of high complexity on an enterprise-scale, in addition to being responsible for the maintenance and development of the current solution that is yet to be replaced.
What is your role?
I work as a Scrum Master or rather, I am a servant leader of a Scrum development team. It means that I am responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum by helping everyone understand this light and agile approach. My job is to empower and help everyone fulfil their potential and bring them to the next “agility” level. I do this by removing obstacles and make their work smoother.
I am working with three teams with each team consisting of around six to nine people; one team is responsible for maintenance, the second one for the backend, and the third team for the mobile applications. We are delivering complex solutions in an environment with many challenging variables. It is a complex project with a complex product.
How is the project going?
The project is coming along very nicely. We are delivering features in the production, which allows the client to start using the new solution. All while following the step by step procedure of the agile framework.
For more than half a year, I have been on this project. We have made a lot of improvements. We are getting more mature. And as a Scrum team, we are getting smoother and adapting to new things quicker. Effectiveness is speeding up, and we begin to look forward to new challenges.
How did you make these things smoother and more effective?
We decided to use Definition of Ready to our PBI’s (Product Backlog Item). Thanks to this approach, we were able to remove blockers before they occurred. We were preparing our tasks before we started implementing them. So, when we began implementing certain features, every part was well prepared, which allowed us to focus on developing the different parts, and further helped, minimizing the time spent on solving problems. But the project planning aspect is where we have made the most significant improvement.
We started to make the estimation in story points instead of hours, and this is where we saw considerable improvement. Because of this change, it is now easier to predict how much work we can deliver in our sprints. Furthermore, when it comes to finding a solution that can facilitate change in the organization. We found that a slow adaptation and incremental implementation of Scrum was key. For instance, why making the estimation in story points would be better than making it in hours, describing the benefits of this, and further detailing how it will improve work and benefit the organization.
"We need to understand the agile values, and work according to the Scrum principles and treat change as a way to learn and grow."
- Ewelina Wielemborek, Scrum Master
Overall, the keywords are facilitation and education. Making improvements step by step. First of all, create a Definition of Ready, then make the estimation in story points, then something else - one piece at a time. Making small adjustments as we go along. Observe, view the results, and conclude. Make an adaptation, and if needed, make an improvement.
Add all these small adjustments together, and you start seeing significant change.
What has been challenging?
The main challenge has been to introduce the Scrum approach to the rest of the organization. Scrum helps to embrace change and adapt. There is a need to start to be open to this concept as well as a need for a shift in mindset, in order to not think of Scrum as a negative.
We need to understand the agile values, and work according to the Scrum principles and treat change as a way to learn and grow.
What have you learned?
People in organizations should work together and follow the same values, but getting to that point is hard work. Along these lines, it is hard to work efficiently, when only select Scrum rules are followed. Scrum only works if you implement it by the book. Cherry-picking some aspects of Scrum will not work in the long run, i.e., choosing to work in a sprint without Definitions of Done or Ready.
How has COVID-19 affected the project?
COVID-19 did not impact the project much, as most of the work was set up before the pandemic hit. We had several three-hour workshops prior to COVID-19, and they would have been difficult to do virtually, but as all processes were up before COVID-19, it did not affect us much in terms of the production.
We only needed to switch to full remote mode. But seeing as we were a distributed team already, it was pretty much work as usual. We are using the same online tools for meetings and workshops like before COVID-19. The only change was that business trips were cancelled, and the opportunity to build strong relationships with other people. I have certainly missed the good vibes and atmosphere in the office and the odd face-to-face chat with your colleagues around the coffee machine.
Why did you become a Scrum Master?
It gives me great satisfaction when you get to observe the effects of your work. In my role, I am able to create change by influencing and improving the environment consistently. And I enjoy the moment or turning point you could say, when people who were initially somewhat skeptical of Scrum, start seeing the positive outcomes and the possibilities of working with the agile frameworks. They go from being skeptics to becoming active participants of the Scrum Process and a part of the change. Furthermore, even though I have a technical background, I like to work with people. Working with people simply gives me more satisfaction than working with code. The role puts me right in the middle of all these things. For me, being a Scrum Master is a demanding role but also highly rewarding.
Why is the Scrum Master role demanding?
The Scrum Master role is demanding because people generally do not like change. We tend to prefer our usual routines and habits and remaining in our comfort zones. And it is tough to change these habits.
Then you come across concept of Scrum. You see how it works, how it makes your environment better. This is why I enjoy Scrum. At the same time, I prefer it to the traditional methods. I have experience in delivering software in the waterfall model, and that was difficult compared to Scrum, as it is much less flexible.
"The rigidity of the waterfall model simply does not align with the demands of modern software development."
- Ewelina Wielemborek, Scrum Master
The rigidity of the waterfall model simply does not align with the demands of modern software development. For instance, due to the sequential nature of the waterfall model, the whole analysis needs to be done before you start the implementation part. You need to have all the open questions covered. But imagine if there is a change in the environment, it could be new EU regulations from the European Central Bank (ECB), then, we, should not and essentially cannot go back to the previous analytical stage to adapt it for the project properly. The rigidity of the waterfall model simply does not align with the demands of modern software development.
What is it like working for a Scandinavian client?
I appreciate and admire the values of Scandinavian companies. Equality is a big one. I feel that everyone in my team are equals. There are no differences between people. We can be ourselves. There is no micro-management, and you do not have someone checking up on you and making sure that you have done everything, every 5 minutes.
"... the approach to work is very transparent, and there is a great feedback culture, which provides the opportunity to improve as a professional."
- Ewelina Wielemborek, Scrum Master
However, this freedom comes with a great deal of responsibility. You are expected to do your part, and people rely on you. You must take ownership and be independent; it is critical. The structure is flatter, which makes it more desirable to communicate and get ideas out in the open for constructive discussion. Furthermore, the approach to work is very transparent, and there is a great feedback culture, which provides the opportunity to improve as a professional.
As for the ProData Consult offices in Warsaw, they are great. The people there are super friendly, and there is a lot of support. If you need help, you can get it. The tone is professional and friendly, and it is a pleasure working from them.
I look forward to going back to meet and say hello to some of our new team members once COVID-19 restrictions ease up.