I joined Payconiq more than 2 years ago. I started out on a small project and soon after that, I joined the Fast & Furious team. The Fast & Furious team can be considered the core payments team for the iDEAL and Payconiq products. After a few months of being in the team, our scrum master left, which was the perfect opportunity for me to pick up that role. Before that, I had already followed some Scrum Master training, so I was familiar with the concepts, but I didn’t get to practice them yet. It’s in my nature to always be curious to see how things can be improved. I like to ask a lot of questions and challenge things. I figured that this would also help me whenever I would become a scrum master. In this blog post, I will talk about some of the things that are important to me in my day to day (work) life as an engineer and scrum master. With this post, I hope to inspire other people to try some of the things that I’m trying 🙂 .
About two years ago, I stumbled upon a book written by Rick Pastoor called “Grip: Practicing the art of working smart“. The book talks about the fact that we learn many things in school, but we never learn how to work efficiently. It helped me a lot in finding a daily and weekly structure that works for me. I used to be a person that could keep everything in his head. From tasks that I still needed to do to appointments that I would have in a few weeks or months. But lately, I’ve noticed that things would slip from my mind. I blame getting older. This is where my to-do list comes in. I use an app called Todoist. It allows me to synchronise my to-do items between my devices. I can also schedule to-do items on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. Whenever I need to do something, but I don’t need to do it immediately, I will put it on my to-do app. This has saved me several times. I do not only use my to-do list for work-related things. I also use it for the daily chores that I have to do around the house. That keeps my girlfriend happy as well!
Another thing that I’m a big fan of is doing a weekly review. I always do those on Monday morning and it’s a perfect way to start the week. In my review, I look back on the previous week and write down a few bullet points in what I have accomplished or what things were challenging. This can be both work and personal life-related. Next, I go through all my emails that I still need to process. I practice inbox zero, which means that my email inbox is kind of my second to-do list. After that, I will also check my calendar to see what meetings are coming up this week. This makes sure that if I have to prepare for anything, I don’t have any surprises later in the week.
In these corona times, I found it a bit difficult to focus sometimes. To combat this, I use a pomodoro timer. I set the timer to 25 minutes and in that time, I will purely focus on any task that I’m currently working on, with no distractions. After that, there is a small break of 2 minutes where I will often stand up, stretch and sometimes even have a small dance. I have noticed that this helps keep me motivated, and it also makes my back happy because I’m not sitting for hours straight.
I love being distracted. I would say that getting distracted helps me build a mental image of the company and the projects that I’m involved with. In Slack and Teams, I have all notifications on by default. I also follow a lot of channels, this includes both the more general channels and all the team channels. By spending some time each day in those channels, I easily learn about the things that other teams are working on. This helps me connect the dots between problems or challenges that my team or other teams face. Another fun thing I sometimes do is browsing our confluence pages. Occasionally I just check which pages are recently edited by people from my team or other teams. This leads me to all sorts of interesting design pages or other projects that are going on. I always love the feeling I get whenever I hear someone mention something in a meeting which I would already have read about on a page. It helps me to get involved in discussions easier and faster!
For almost 2 years, I’ve been the scrum master of the Fast & Furious team in Payconiq. To be honest, being a scrum master in this team is not very challenging. Our team consists of capable people that can handle themselves very well, even without a scrum master. This gives me a lot of space to experiment with small things, and it also means that I don’t have to be a purely traditional scrum master. It’s in my nature to always try and solve problems that we’re facing, so becoming scrum master of the team was a logical next step.
One important part of the process is the retrospectives. In those sessions, we reflect on the last sprint. In those sessions, we usually start with something fun. This can be anything ranging from a few minutes of exercise to doing a small breathing session. I noticed that this helps to get everybody engaged in the meeting, especially when working from home. One key element of the retro is that we want to come up with action items that we can tackle in the next sprint. To ensure that we follow up on those items, I will create a placeholder story in Jira and add it to the sprint. The action items will be added to the story as subtasks to track the progress on each of them.
Last year I learned about Liberating Structures which are a way to get better results out of meetings. I don’t fully apply those structures to all of our meetings, but I like to pick and choose elements from them so that everybody is involved.
Prioritising merge requests
All code changes that we do need to go through the four-eyes principle. This means that at least two people need to approve a Merge Request before it can be merged. Out of experience, I know that it can be very annoying if you have to wait a few hours to get approvals for your changes. That’s why I made reviewing Merge Requests one of my top priorities. At Payconiq, we like to keep our changes small and concise. This means that reviewing them most of the time only takes about 10 minutes. When there are many review comments, we often set up a short call to discuss them. It usually means that someone didn’t understand the requirements correctly.
Having fun is really important to me. I work 40 hours which would be very tough if there’s no fun involved. Luckily the Fast & Furious team makes it really easy to have fun all the time. Everyone in the team is really outgoing and loves to share stories. We often start our standups with 5-10 minutes of chit chat. This includes sending funny pictures or videos to the group or telling about something that happened in our life. Especially when working from home, those small moments are critical because we miss out on all the water cooler chats. Another way to guarantee fun is to have a Fun Session every week. We usually have those on Friday at the end of the day. Each week we assign one person in the team to be the Fun Police. The purpose of this role is to prepare the Fun Session. This session can be anything from just talking to playing online games or doing some funny Kahoot quizzes together. This session is often a great start to the weekend!