Being scrum master in a SAFe-setup

Interview with ProData-consultant Troels Jakobsen, Scrum Master in BEC

A large reorganization in BEC is changing processes and workflows for all the employees in the development organization. In this interview, ProData-consultant Troels Jakobsen tells about the scrum master-role and the advantages of working in a SAFe-setup, along with how to tackle some of the most crucial challenges in a big agile transformation.

BEC has a mission. The mission is to implement SAFe® and agile workflows in the entire development organization – a huge reorganization that affects everyone. As scrum master in BEC, Troels Jakobsen’s most important job is to ensure that the agile principles and the approach to the SAFe-method is embedded at team level. He is responsible for the team’s ability to handle and coordinate its own tasks. In a transformation of this size, the role of the scrum master is to act as change agent, facilitator, and coach.

“I help my team embrace SAFe and the agile mindset. I support and coach them through the new workflows and make sure that they do not fall backwards but gain the intended value of the method,” says Troels Jakobsen.

It may sound like a simple task but it takes persistence to change the way people think and the culture in a large, well-established company where everyone has been used to do things a certain way.

“It is an immense exercise to convert people from planning to finish tasks in 6 months to doing so in 14 days. It is a fundamentally different way of thinking and a big change of the way people work,” says the scrum master.

Several advantages of SAFe

BEC is still well under way of implementing and embedding the SAFe-model but it is already clear to Troels Jakobsen that SAFe contributes with some obvious advantages to the organization. The advantages are particularly evident at the so-called PI planning sessions. Here, deliveries, dependences, and risks are planned and mapped for the upcoming 3 months. You get an overview of how each individual team’s deliveries fit into the joint vision for the entire Agile Release Train (ART) which is the central unit – a team of teams. 

“You get an overview of the dependences between the various teams. You are more abreast of what has to be delivered and when, and how this fits into the larger picture,” Troels Jakobsen explains.

In a large organization, it can be difficult to figure out the relation between the various scrum teams and, therefore, it can be problematic for the team to know how their deliveries are connected to the big perspective. SAFe gives an overview of this. 

”The team can see the value of their work and how it makes sense. It is a good feeling when your work is brought to use in a sensible manner. This is rendered visible with SAFe and it is highly rewarding for the team but also for the scrum master,“ Jakobsen elaborates.

SAFe makes it obvious how the team’s performance and deliveries add value to the organization and thus the clients. The PI planning sessions ensure that the gap between the decision makers and the executors is reduced. The sessions also create a better understanding of coworkers’ issues across the organization. With this overview, you are also more capable of prioritizing, and it generates a transparency in the organization, which makes it possible for relevant decision makers to adjust scope, resources, or time, if necessary.   

Change happens from inside

During the reorganization, the employees in BEC have gotten new roles, new colleagues, and new ways of working. Even though there has been profound obligingness towards the work with SAFe, there will be inevitable resistance to the change in such a big transformation, according to Troels Jakobsen. The key to success is to make the change happen from inside by getting the team to take ownership in the new initiatives. According to Troels Jakobsen, this will make it more trustworthy and apparent for the team why SAFe makes sense and how it adds value. To make the change happen from the inside, the scrum master tries to establish some ambassadors within the team who takes ownership and can show the rest of the team how to succeed with the new methods. 

“You cannot push anything through. It has to be the team that drives the change forward. If it comes from the scrum master, it can appear like management requirements that are forced upon the team. Instead, it is important that the team members train and guide each other based on their experiences, for the method to be properly embedded,” the scrum master says.

It is also important that there is an understanding of the joint responsibility the team has to one another but also to the entire ART. This is an aspect that can help carry on the change.

“It is important that the team members report to each other and not to the scrum master. It is crucial they understand that they are accountable to each other and handle the tasks they are facing jointly. It can take time to create a culture like this.”

And to oblige to the frustration a team might face in a transformation phase, Troels Jakobsen always makes sure to nudge the team. He uses every opportunity to clearly and openly brief the team about what is next and why. Troels Jakobsen says:

“The clearer the battle lines are drawn the fewer surprises the team will experience. This generates security and clarity for the process and purpose.”    

SAFe causes learning, solutions, and innovation

Working with continuous improvement is a fundamental element in SAFe. You have a retrospective approach to learning and development both in the individual teams but also across the ART. Joint problems across the ART are handled at workshops, where solutions to the shared challenged are discussed. The exchange of experiences helps the team to continuous improvement and optimization of workflows and processes within the SAFe framework.    

But in addition to handling problems there is also room for innovation. In a meaningful context, the team gets 1,5 days at the end of each ‘PI’ to be creative and think out of the box. This offers an opportunity to find alternative solutions and create further improvements.

“For example, we have tried to combine two different technologies. In the beginning we did not know if this was beneficial for the ART, but we managed to apply the new technology. A solution we would not have found if we did not take time to be creative.”

Fundamentally, BEC has had an open-minded approach to learning during the transformation. According to Troels Jakobsen, this has paid off as they have taken the time to get to know the framework and methods instead of just forcing it on people all at once.

“BEC has used a ‘step by step approach’. We learn as we grow. That is an approach that works,” the scrum master concludes. 

The scrum master's role in SAFe®

"Scrum Masters are servant leaders and coaches for an Agile Team. They help educate the team in Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban, and SAFe, ensuring that the agreed Agile process is being followed. They also help remove impediments and foster an environment for high-performing team dynamics, continuous flow, and relentless improvement."


Who's who:

Name:Troels Jakobsen

Title:Scrum master, ProData Consult. On assignment in BEC


Edu.:Civil Engineer, DTU

Troels Jakobsen is SAFe SPC4 certified and also has certified scrum coach and scrum master on his CV. Since 2016, he has worked as scrum master in a SAFe-setup at Nordea and presently BEC, but he has more than 10 years of experience working in agile environments – for example as scrum master.