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Scrum-master and Coxswain: the rewards of being a servant-leader

Making waves with IT and on the Irwell. One of our talented colleagues, Helen Craven, dives deep into the similarities between rowing and Scrum.

Let’s start with a quick game of Guess Who…

My job is to track our team’s progress throughout a sprint, to reduce the obstacles that arise, and do all I can to ensure that we collaborate harmoniously to achieve a common goal. Who am I?

I assume, given the typical audience of this blog, that your first guess is that I am a Scrum Master: the facilitator of an agile development team. However, the more astute amongst you (particularly those who’ve read the title) may suspect a more water-based role – the coxswain of a competitive rowing boat.

The correct answer, and feel free to give yourself a pat on the back, is both.

During the working week you’ll find me at sprint ceremonies, stand-ups and with my eyes glued firmly to a Jira board. Part of my role is to ensure that goals are understood by the Scrum Team: to coach my colleagues in self-organisation, to promote cross functionality, and to remove any blockers to progress in our project.

On a weekend morning, you’ll find me sat small at the stern of an eight-man rowing boat. Here my role is to ensure that our coach’s training plan is executed, to coach my team through any needed technical refinements, and ultimately to make sure that we don’t hit anything (floating fridges, for instance, are one of the many joys of the Irwell as it flows through Manchester!)

I like to think of the Scrum Master as a ‘servant-leader’, and this analogy applies to my role in the boat too. Both positions require an endless amount of enthusiasm and a constant desire for improvement. Some days, you just don’t win the race – but the key thing is how you pick your team up and make swift changes to improve future performance. Whether in a meeting room or on the river, it’s my job to keep the team energetic and engaged. Sure, there are some differences: sometimes in the boat I just yell ‘sit up and do better’ which I suspect wouldn’t work in a sprint retrospective! However, central to the success of both roles is deeply understanding the team dynamic and then using this to achieve our goals.

My joy in both roles stems from a passion for bringing the best out of others. The coordination of team activities, whether that be through stand-ups or training drills on the river, is imperative to success. At times we can hit choppy water (more often when rowing, thankfully), yet the challenge of bringing our team together gives me great personal satisfaction. My teams know that I always have their back. Personally, I don’t think there’s a better feeling than that.

I have been fortunate to experience both roles as a student: as part of my university boat club, and over the past year with Informed Solutions. Find out more about the placement and graduate programmes at Informed Solutions, and explore our current opportunities (rowing experience not required).

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