I’ve been working diligently to demonstrate and spread the Scrum techniques and to properly train others in the mindset of agile development. As a step along that path, I decided to pursue my Certified Scrum Professional® credentials.
As of 20 September 2016, my application was accepted and I am now officially certified. One of the essays on the application was especially thought provoking. The essay topics was , “We want a sense of what you have really taken to your heart and mind as you embrace Scrum and Agile concepts. We want to see more than a listing of your work history and your accomplishments. We want to see how using Scrum and Agile has changed the way you view work.” I wanted to reiterate some of my thinking for the audience of Agile Leadership Edge. The transcript below is part of the application for CSP.
When I started using applying agile in 2005 under the official title of scrum, I was more concerned with following the scrum rules than I was with embracing agility.
Through interaction with different agile coaches and leaders, I began to see the scrum framework as the pivotal structure that can achieve truly finished product results with the minimal amount of time and funding.
Components of Good Agile: Mindset and Leadership
At the center of good agile practices are good agile thinking (aka “Agile Mindset”) and good agile leadership.
The concepts of decomposing a problem and analyzing it to find it’s minimal viable alternative have been key to delivering the most valuable applications to customers.
Earlier in my career as a software developer, I really enjoyed writing code and writing it with a rich set of features, an incredible thoroughness, superbly decoupled components and an architecture of extensibility.
Some of these aspects of my software development behaviors lead me away from the concepts of agile minimal viable product (MVP).
But as I dug deeper to uncover my own mindset, I uncovered some aspects of my personal process that could be enhanced by agile practices. Even from my high school coding days, I used test-driven development (TDD) to create applications.
Coupling together the concepts of TDD and MVP I helped myself and others determine what the first “test” of an application should be.
The hard work in this approach is to find out which test is the most valuable from your customers perspective. The process for getting to the first test can take the form of a simple interview or it can expand to a facilitated event with post-it notes and planned exercises. I’ve personally conducted many facilitated sessions and find them exhilarating as the customer comes to understand their own problem better and can see a steps-wise plan from experiment through meeting their business objectives.
The tag line for my learning regarding TDD and MVP is this: Once the next simplest test is determined it can be an MVP.
But Agile Mindset is also a learning mindset, which means that every step of the way there is also a learning objective. In the event a team is working with a new technology that carries a risk for the project, it’s best to insist on short-term learning goals that are on the same vector as the MVP.
There are three aspects of learning that I think are important to keep at the forefront: technical learning, product learning, and team process learning.
When a team struggles to decompose difficult or risky technical tasks from a backlog, I coach the team with the questions, “What can we learn if we do approach X?” or “What do we need to learn to be successful?” These questions focus the team on a specific problem instead of ALL the problems in the world. This has been invaluable for keeping teams from becoming overwhelmed as well as avoiding a behavior of constant experimentation without a result.
If a customer is confused about what they want or different approaches to the problem, I coach them to find a small experiment that might help bring closure to any ambiguity that plagues them. Agile calls this the MVP. And it’s amazing that this MVP can sometimes be a set of drawings and other times require many lines of code.
Team Process Learning:
One of the hardest things in life and work is sustainable behavior change. It’s easy to talk about how other people impact your life and how you wish another person would do this or do that or write better Stories. It’s harder to analyze the root cause, to dig out the sore spots of inter-team behavior and then identify actions to take and be accountable to do what you plan.
The Scrum methodology provides many opportunities to introduce learning throughout the development process.
One agile antidote for keeping control of experimentation is the timebox or sprint which creates a great working space to tackle technical risk but without excessive duration and waist.
An antidote for ambiguity is the grooming meeting which provides excellent cooperative learning for both the team and the Product Owner.
And the retrospective provides another opportunity to gather data, analyze the empirical information and improve the team’s performance. Doing consistent retrospectives has been a superb outgrowth of the adopting agile processes and is both a great team behavior and an excellent personal behavior. If used with regularity and discipline changed behavior and accountability are the earned outcome of the retrospectives.
Agile practices alone are not a standalone solution for a company or organization. Adopting effective agile practices is a transformation in the philosophy of how to work rather than just a mechanical process change. A transformation from one state to another state requires energy and also requires an Agile Leader to guide the process. In my most recent position, I’ve seen how effective leadership took an organization from chaos to agile. When analyzing the inputs to this transformation, I came up with description of an Agile Leader:
“A person who has Knowledge, Mindset, Skill, and Character to lead, guide, coach and encourage others in the use of Agile Mindset and Agile Practices.”
Knowledge of Agile practices like scrum, XP and kanban are fundamental building blocks for the Agile Leader.
Mindset is the lens through which a person sees the world. A more objective lens will enable a leader to see problems more clearly. The mindset of learning will give a leader the patience to see missteps as learning rather than fatal flaws. The lens that sees the glass half-full versus half-empty will have is likely to have a more creative approach to problem-solving.
Skill in influencing people and also in creating activities that introduce, grow and institutionalize agile principle as part of the culture in a team, department or company is crucial for transformation. Skill in analyzing problems and finding solutions rather than looking for solely external causes will result in teams that are self-organizing and proactive.
Character is essential to the Agile Leader because he or she will need to make commitments and keep them through the journey from chaos to agile or from waterfall to agile. Building trust with customers and with team members is critical. Ensuring transparency and clear communication are crucial. Even in times when the truth is not pretty, honesty and integrity are necessities in the agile quest.
Being an Agile Leader means that you are a person trained with the knowledge of good practices and that you are skilled in facilitating and influencing people and that you are a person with character such that you build trust and exhibit transparency.
Agile thinking and practices have affected my mindset and my behavior. I think differently. I work differently. I lead differently.
I focus on creating a plan with practical testable components that start with MVP. I encourage learning as an objective in addition to a working product.
And I lead others in a style that enables them to grasp hold of best practices in agile as well as self-awareness and unreproachable character.
Hope you enjoyed the read. If you have questions about the certification processes or any questions about why you would want to acquire this certification, please send me an e-mail.
“Certified Scrum Professional.® is a certification mark of Scrum Alliance, Inc. Any unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.”