What’s it like to be a Lead Scrum Master in HMRC?

About me

I’m Craig and I’m the Lead Scrum Master for the HMRC Digital Delivery Centre in Newcastle.  Having lived and breathed everything to do with Agile methodology for several years now, I see the role of the Lead Scrum Master as being about taking the best bits of all the Scrum teams to make all the teams work better – and in a fun way!

About my role

No two days are the same in the HMRC Digital Delivery Centre.  With so many teams busy delivering the HMRC digital agenda there are always new challenges to address and new opportunities to seize hold of.

The Digital Centre embraces an Agile mindset when it comes to the delivery of services and it’s a hive of activity from the start of the day till the end. Daily standups (think of a rugby scrum!) within and across teams kick off a day of activity that usually embraces:

  • Design sessions focusing on feedback from users
  • Service development using some of the latest open source tools
  • ‘Show and tell’ sessions to make sure business stakeholders are happy with results, and
  • Scrum retrospectives – the feedback loop – that confirms the delivery teams are operating at their best.

The role of the Scrum Master, and the Lead Scrum Master, is to ensure the Agile approach is being effectively applied and, where possible, being optimised for HMRC.  One of the surprising things I have found, as someone from a commercial rather public sector background, is how much eagerness there is to not only embrace the new delivery model, but to also challenge it and make sure it is really suitable for HMRC’s needs.  My mental model of a “command and control” hierarchical organisation, which I held before walking into HMRC, just simply isn’t the case.  Agile is about empowering teams to deliver high-quality, on-time, services, and HMRC’s management are really supportive of this.

The Lead Scrum Master plays a key role.  Typically working with ten or so Scrum teams, they:

  • Coach and nurture newly trained Scrum Masters
  • Give guidance on Scrum best-practice, based on their own significant experience
  • Encourage teams to be bold and embrace Agile, whilst at the same time providing a shield from some of the wider business conversations so the teams can remain fully delivery-focussed.

Agile delivery has a “fun” core and, personally, it’s been really satisfying to see teams fully engage, establish friendships, and create a lively working environment.  Sweet treats are usually not too far away either!  This all results in team that’s more productive; more willing to support, as well as challenge, one another; and one that can organise itself to get things done.  On a one-to-one basis I’ve also enjoyed working on embedding the latest Agile thinking into the many teams through the Agile coaching sessions I run with the Scrum Masters.  By embracing the best experiences coming out of LinkedIn, Netflix and the like, HMRC can keep themselves at the forefront of the Agile digital landscape.

Forget any pre-conceptions you may have about “the taxman”.  I think HMRC is as dynamic and vibrant a place to work as any in the commercial sector.  HMRC has its challenges like any large organisation but within the Digital Centre people are living and breathing the latest delivery methods in a first class working environment.  As more and more HMRC services “go digital” the thirst for quality individuals in the digital space will still need to be quenched.  You will also be supported by on-going personal development tailored to you, and offering the latest training and development methods.

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