Working remotely as a Scrum Master in pharmaceuticals

Grayce Analyst, Jack Hadingham shares his experience as a Scrum Master in pharmaceuticals.

I've been on the Grayce graduate Development Programme since March 2020. I’m currently working as a Junior Scrum Master within Digital Health R&D at a leading, global pharmaceutical company in Cambridge.

My goal is to support data science teams working within the Advanced Analytics space; improving efficiency, collaboration and instilling agile practices. Teams within Advanced Analytics are working to deliver industry-leading modelling for recruitment, randomisation and retention rates within clinical trials. These models are designed to aid my client in reducing trial length, cost and crucially improve patient experiences.

I find my assignment very meaningful as my support and advice to these teams can have a real impact. In my short time in this role, I have already supported many project deliveries, including clinical trial predictive enrolment modelling, and more recently visualisations conveying the impact of COVID-19 on clinical trials.

A day in the life

Every day I organise and hold my team’s daily stand-up. I use Jira to receive updates on each of their current tickets and review their progress, identifying any blockers my team may have. As a scrum master I also organise, prepare and hold all other scrum ceremonies. Any work related to sprint planning, review or retrospectives is my responsibility and will take up a large proportion of my time.

As part of my role, I liaise with a wide range of stakeholders. For example, I work closely with the Project Owner for my team, ensuring the latest requirements are communicated and the sprint backlog on Jira is prioritised and cleaned accordingly. Furthermore, the work my team conducts is heavily dependent on other teams in different workstreams. My team regularly holds ‘sync up’ meetings with teams they have dependencies on to improve communication and transparency. It is my responsibility to attend such meetings and record all minutes on Confluence. Recently I have started to work alongside another team, supporting their current scrum master and advising them on how to better utilise Jira and Confluence.

COVID-19 effects

COVID-19 has significantly impacted the strategic and operational focus of my client. A significant proportion of company resources and efforts have been diverted towards the COVID effort; varying from efforts to develop an effective treatment, to opening testing labs and distributing PPE across the country.

The significant change of focus and diversion of efforts has directly impacted my team and my role. Around three weeks ago, my team were told to halt all work on other projects. The team were tasked with delivering visualisations for the impact COVID-19 has had on clinical trial recruitment.

Remote working

My biggest challenge so far has been starting a new job while working from home. This has meant certain aspects of my role as scrum master have been adversely affected, such as holding physical daily stand-ups with team members in the Cambridge office. Fortunately, my client operates globally and has the technological infrastructure to sustain remote working effectively. Through utilising tools such as Microsoft Teams, I have been able to hold stand-ups virtually.

It has been challenging trying to start a new job while working from home, but by being persistent and flexible it can be done. I believe the current situation caused by COVID-19 has shown many people how adaptable they can be. I made an effort in my first week to schedule a Skype call with all members of my team I had not met. Utilising software such as this and Microsoft Teams has enabled me to build a rapport with my team and successfully become a valued team member.

Making an impact from day one

Working among a team of data scientists, I believe the most valuable aspect I bring to my client is a contrasting perspective. I have little experience with data science; my area of expertise centres around business and project management. This allows me to see problems and tasks from a very different perspective. Providing the team with this project management support and guidance I believe is where I deliver the most value. For instance, in my short time with this client I have already made changes to the way meetings are organised and recorded, providing the team with support in areas previously missing.

To expand, I was recently given the responsibility of organising and gathering all the necessary elements to complete the sprint planning session for my teams next sprint. I saw this as an opportunity to introduce a number of improvements I had developed through my observations. I gathered detailed requirements from the Product Owner and Head Data Scientist in order to construct a detailed EPIC. Within this EPIC I wrote a number of user stories, which I further broke down into a range of tasks. These elements were fully linked and added to a sprint backlog in Jira. This was something the team had not previously utilised fully and improved the understanding and transparency of the work needing to be completed in the next sprint.

As well as writing a clear, timeboxed agenda for the planning session, another element previously not implemented, I scheduled a ‘Code Planning Session’ to run after this session to aid all team members in understanding the deep technical requirements of this next piece of work. I received some great feedback from my team for my efforts, improvements and ability to lead a successful sprint planning session.

Why Grayce

I think my pharmaceutical client uses Grayce Analysts because we are professional and adaptable in our approach. We offer clients a fresh perspective on their current challenges as we are passionate about change and continuous improvement. We build valuable and long-lasting relationships with our clients by offering them support, as well as promoting clients to question assumptions and their current approaches.

Find out more about the Grayce graduate Development Programme

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