“Scrum” has been a buzzword since the 1990’s and it is widely used in the implementation of Agile in software development and project management. With Scrum, the team can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value and quality.
Scrum offers a framework for teams that is ready to use; they do not need to interpret the Agile Manifesto and related principles themselves. When teams are coming from a traditional background, they have been used to heavy process where they document everything, even if they know it is going to change tomorrow, and a “command and control” culture where they are told what to do by their manager. Being given a blank canvas and told to decide within the team, is often too much of a challenge to begin with, as organisations transform to agile.
With Scrum, the teams have some ceremonies (meetings) that they need to attend on a regular basis. This is something they are familiar with, although the number is probably far less than what they are used to and the duration too. There are certain roles, the Product Owner and Scrum Master, that whilst they do not manage the team, are there to provide guidance and knowledge on the process.
One of the key benefits that it provides is some structure for those that have just come from a very structured methodology. Having defined meeting and roles makes it easier to adopt.
In my 25 years in the IT sector, I have worked with hundreds of teams using Scrum, ranging from small individual ones to multi-scaled. Of course, there are differing challenges depending on the size of the team and the numbers of teams that need to collaborate together or integrate. This is the value of Scrum, as it can be applied across a wide range of projects and organisations.
It is really interesting when I go into a new business to conduct an Agile process maturity assessment or drop into a team to provide coaching. Sitting, or rather should I say standing, with the team at their Daily Scrum normally gives me a very good view of the problems that they are having. It is surprising what information you can gain from a 15 minutes meeting.
For example, if the majority of the team are reporting to the Scrum Master rather than the group, this tells me that they are still in the mindset of “command and control” rather than self-managing and self-organising. If the team gives their reports in order of how they are standing, then they are not collaborating well.
Changing corporate culture
Corporate culture is a tough one to tackle, but it needs to be one of the first things a coach must work on with the senior management and the individual teams in order to have a successful transformation. As an individual, you cannot have culture forced onto you and, equally without senior management support, the organisation is not going to change its culture. The change needs to be bottom up and top down at the same time.
There are many aspects of the culture that need to change, but here are few suggestions:
- Safe to fail. Experimentation is part of Agile, and if teams do not feel they can do this, then improvement and innovation is unlikely. Sometimes there are going to be failures and care needs to be taken to ensure that these are not treated as a waste of time, but rather a great learning experience.
- Open communication is another, ensuring that you have access to the Product Owner at all times. The Scrum Master needs to focus on ensuring the team are continuously collaborating using techniques such as the Power of Three for example.
- Continuous learning needs to encourage team members to gain new skills. This means that the organisation needs to invest in appropriate training, not, as I have often seen, where the team has a one-day workshop and is then expected to be experts in Agile or Scrum. Here again the Scrum Master needs to provide guidance and mentoring.
This is a key differential for a good Scrum Master. Can they guide a BA on how to write testable user stories or a tester on which testing technique to use to get the correct coverage for testing?
A solid foundation
Getting certified is not all about learning the theory. Too many Scrum Masters have just taken an exam and profess to have the skills needed in order to be a servant leader and coach the team. Many teams are failing because this is just simply not true.
With many organisations also scaling in Agile, this is getting worse. If the foundations are not there, trying to build a 30 floor skyscraper on top of it will only result in it crumbling to the ground. The framework or methodology will then be blamed, when really, it is the people on the team that do not have the right skills or support.
The iSQI Scrum Master Pro course does not just teach you what you can read from a book or blog, such as the mechanics of the ceremonies. The course is built on the premise that it takes you through the days in the life of an iteration from the eyes of the Scrum Master, including having a case study which reflects this. There is plenty of discussion points throughout the course, so you can bring your own pain points to the classroom and collaborate on ideas.
There are also plenty of exercises so that you learn a bit, do a bit and then master. This hands-on way of learning definitely gets great feedback from candidates. This gives you the opportunity to experiment yourself so that you can help the team when you go back to the office.
There are varied options for the course training. You can attend a public course; or maybe you want a number of people from your organisation to attend together, possibly at the Iteration Zero where they can use the discussion times to really focus on specific challenges. Online may be best option if you do not have a large training budget, are solely financing the training and/or the travel budget, or unable to free members of your team from projects for couple days to do the training. If you take the online option, I would suggest that you have group sessions to work on the discussion/exercises together.
Get certified today
Certification is a recognition of reaching a certain level of competency or gaining a skill. Often it is used by employers as part of the recruitment process to identify suitable candidates, along with whatever other criteria they use.
It is fair to say that not all certification is of equal merit, and if employers are using it, then they need to understand what value it gives based on the exam and/or training provider. Some certification is based on local standards, whilst other may provide an international qualification recognised worldwide.
For the candidate, it is one way to allow them to judge themselves against others in their field. Where there are multiple certifications in the same competency or discipline, it is important for candidates to do some research about which provider is going to give them the best value or provide them the benefits based on their goal of study.
Are you looking to gain knowledge about a subject or practical application of a skill? Or learn from the experiences of other practitioners in their field? All of these may impact your choice.
Part of being Agile, rather than just doing Agile, is continuous learning. Taking a certification is a way to test your retention of that knowledge and assess that it is understood, rather than just being read.
Do not wait for your manager to authorise training. Take your career growth into your own hands and ensure you have the right skills for this age of transformation.
The full version of this article originally appeared in the May 2018/#04 issue of SQ Mag.