Confessions of a Scrum Master

Rabid and Story Inc have been working collaboratively on an amazing project called Together We Make a Nation, an interactive documentary about former refugee women living in NZ. Initially developed in my 20% time, it was then kindly funded by NZ on Air and supported by the NZ Red Cross and became a real thing. You can watch it here

Rabid built the interactivity and platform using Ember.js and Ruby on Rails, and the video player is customised Video.js.

We launched at the end of January in the middle of international criticism of women’s rights, Muslim rights and refugee rights, so we fell right into the centre of a storm. We feel these stories are the perfect antidote to all the “bad” press out there – they are inspiring, full of courage and about our wonderful new citizens of NZ (so please watch, like and share; sorry, not sorry, shameless promotion).


OK, so that was the buildup to my confession but what could I possible have to confess?

Long pause………

I have a superwoman complex and I don’t ask for help, ever.

Why? Because for me, asking for help, or saying No, feels like failure.

You know that saying “if you want to get something done ask a busy person”?

Well I am that busy person, I don’t say No and I am often stressed as a result.

Workplace stress and burnout is a serious problem and one that needs to come out of its dark hiding place into the light of day. It came up in a recent retrospective and I’d like to share some of our findings.

On this project I was feeling particularly stressed, not only was I the Producer, Product Owner and Scrum Master, but we were making something really, really important and I wanted to make sure we represented these wonderful former refugee women in a way they truly deserved. Even though I had an amazingly supportive team around me, I could feel the collective weight of that pressure.

I think the whole team felt it – the pressure to make sure this project was successful, to honour these women. Plus of course there were the obvious things – time and budget constraints!

When multiple ‘stress’, ‘pressure’ and ‘burnout’ stickies appeared in the Sad column of our retrospective board I knew we had to have a bigger conversation about it and that it was up to me to confess my feelings about stress. The first thing I asked my teammates was to raise their hand if they felt saying they were stressed, or not coping, or needing help was like admitting failure. I thought I would be the only one with my hand raised but everyone put up their hand. Mind blown!

I am amazed that society has conditioned us to feel like this. That we can’t openly admit we are not coping well, that we can’t ask for help for fear of being considered a failure. That it might be a mark against us at our staff review or we might be penalised come promotion time. Or that I (as Project Owner/Scrum Master) can’t fail in front of my teammates.

This is a vicious circle. The more we don’t ask for help, the more we don’t say No – the more stressed we become and the more likely we are to burnout.

So how did we as a team break this cycle as we headed toward our go live deadline?

We agreed that we would tell each other at stand-up if we felt stressed or needed help.

We agreed we would be more watchful of each other in our final Sprint.

We acknowledged that it might be hard to ask for help, so we would accept offers of help if they were made one on one.

But most of all we acknowledged that admitting you needed help was a learning opportunity, not a failure.

Not all stress is bad – sometimes it can help you to stay productive and focused; I know I work better when there is a deadline. But when it starts impacting your physical and emotional health then you know it’s time to reassess things. But most of all, time to talk about it and ask for some help.

Rabid has recently signed up to EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) providing staff with personal and workplace support. It’s an opportunity to go and talk to someone (trained) about things like stress, depression, bullying, relationships and career planning to name a few. This is a another great way we can support each other by encouraging teammates to seek help through EAP.

Stress is something I am actively trying to change in my life – to ask for help and not take on so much work. And I am learning to say No – in the nicest possible way 🙂