On Certifications

When I share with others what training I’ve had, I get questions like “Aren’t you just feeding the certification machine?” or “What do you think all those certifications will get you?” and “Aren’t all of certifications just a racket to take your money?” I guess I could maybe answer yes to two of those questions. As for what I think these certifications will get me… I think they get me a better seat at the table. The reality is this: these certifications mean something to SOMEONE, and many job listings require you to have at least one of them. If you want to advance – like I do – to become a trainer or an agile coach, then these certifications are necessary. However, the other very real benefit to me is maybe a little less tangible to others: I get a rush from learning with like-minded individuals. That rush then translates to real action when I get back to work, so I find these courses – certification or otherwise – valuable.

Still, there’s a cost.

As of the writing of this post, you can get certified as a scrum master through several entities: Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Agile Alliance, Project Management Institute (though the certification has a different name), and Scrum Study, just to name a few. Each entity also has a plethora of other certifications you can get to advance beyond CSM. They all mean similar things, and they all cost a considerable bundle for the initial course. Afterward, you need to pay a fee each year (or every two years depending on the entity) to maintain your certifications. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that if you hold multiple certifications then you’ll be paying a LOT over the years to keep them current.

In the last two years, I’ve gained three certifications: A-CSM, CSPO, and CS@SP. I intend to go for a few more in the near future. Why would I do this, you ask? I do it to further my career, even if the courses haven’t taught me much more than my nearly 15 years of experience has. These certification courses have reminded me of some values and principles and have given me a new perspective on others, but they were not life-altering. I can say, though, that they did breathe new life into my resolve and my passion for Scrum and all things Agile. For those reasons, the certifications were worth it to me, but I was curious as to what others thought.

I asked folks within my network how many certifications they held and whether or not they felt the certifications were worth it. Most of them agreed that these certifications were indeed worth it, but some were hesitant to continue renewing them. Manny Segarra, Agile Coach at Kaiser Permanente, said, “This may be the last year I renew my certs … I have been an Agile Coach for 10+ years now … If I can’t convince someone in 5 minutes that I am the real deal, that is on me … Not sure I need someone else to validate me, aren’t we supposed to validate ourselves?!” Wendell Bickford, Sr. ScrumMaster at Integral Ad Science, had this to say, “I have CSM, CSP, CAL, SPC4. I think they are important but I believe being selective is worth it. But getting the certificate is one thing, but immersing yourself in an environment and practicing daily the Agile framework and scrum process is key.” Chris Wistrom, Sr. Scrum Master at Billtrust, said she thinks certifications feed her “psychological conditioning of ‘leveling up.'” She also feels that “learning is worth the effort” but “one doesn’t need the cert for the learning.” She has seven certifications.

So, where did I go for my most recent certifications? I took the A-CSM class in May of 2018 with Angela Johnson. I’d seen her speak at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego, and I’d joined a few of her webinars. I liked her no-nonsense approach to what it means to be a ScrumMaster, so I signed up. I wasn’t disappointed. In December of 2018 my boss told me he had leftover training budget so I jumped on the opportunity to get my CSPO. I loved the perspective this gave and I enjoyed the interaction in the class. Brad Swanson gave very organized training and encouraged very interesting discussion. It drew me to the conclusion that if you have only your CSM or your CSPO, you should get certified in the OTHER one. Six months later, I took the Scrum@Scale class with Rob Frohman & Melanie St. James from CO8 Group. I really wanted to learn how to scale scrum without doing SAFe. I’d say I learned more in this class than I did in the previous two combined, and I brought a lot back to my teams.

As with most things, becoming a Certified Scrum Master – or Certified Anything, for that matter – is a personal choice. Renewing those certifications year after year is also a choice. I’m fortunate enough to work for an employer that reimburses me for those fees, but not everyone has that luxury. Overall, I think getting and maintaining certifications helps my career and keeps me current. I love the learning that comes with these endeavors, but I can learn on my own, as well. Isn’t learning what this is all about anyway?

Fire Hazards

Once upon a time there was a team of dedicated, intelligent, passionate developers and QA engineers who worked on XYZ platform at ABC company. Every day they came to work with the intention of building the best dang platform that ABC had ever seen. However, this team was NOT the original builders. They were the folks who had taken the place of the original builders and had done their best to improve the platform that already existed. They made it their business to make sure they knew EVERYTHING about XYZ Platform.

One day the team noticed a few broken and poorly constructed things that were – let’s say – fire hazards. They decided that everyone needed to know about these fire hazards so they told anyone who would listen. They told their managers. They told the C-Suite. They told the maintenance teams. The listeners agreed wholeheartedly that something should be done about the fire hazards. In fact, everyone agreed that something should be done.

So the team, being dedicated and passionate, laid out a plan to get rid of the fire hazards, but it required that they stop building XYZ Platform and go into maintenance mode for a short while to properly eliminate these fire hazards. And that’s when all the listeners put up their hands and protested. “No,” they said. “If we stop building XYZ Platform, our competitors will build something better!” But the team assured them that if they didn’t fix the problems, then the whole platform would crash and burn. To this, the listeners replied, “We’ll worry about these fire hazards later. Nothing is on fire right now, so just keep building XYZ.”

And the team did what they were told. They continued to build, and they left the fire hazards alone. To their dismay, however, the more they built, the bigger the fire hazards became. So they once again warned the listeners about the fire hazards, and once again the listeners told them to keep building XYZ. One day the fire hazards really did catch on fire, and indeed the whole platform crashed a burned. Everyone ran to and fro trying to extinguish the flames, and after much effort, the fires were put out.

Once the dust settled and the smoke cleared, the listeners called a big meeting. They wanted to know why the team had allowed the system to get to such a state. And the team replied, “We tried to warn you about the fire hazards, but we were directed to keep building XYZ.”

The listeners rubbed their chins and considered this. “But we had no idea it had gotten this bad.”

To which the team replied, “We’ve been telling you for ages!”

“Well,” replied the listeners. “We must take further precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again. When you see fire hazards from now on, make sure you fix them.”

“But that will mean taking time away from building XYZ,” the team replied.

“We’ll worry about that when it happens. It’s fixed now. Back to building!”

What’s the moral of this story? Listen to the dang Dev Teams and you won’t have a fire! I don’t know how to stress enough that middle and upper management needs to not only listen to their people, but they need to HEED what they say!

Why am I sharing this on a Scrum blog, you ask? Because transparency is important, that’s why. But, as evidenced in the example, transparency doesn’t guarantee that your “listeners” will actually listen. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all witnessed a platform crash and burn when it could have been prevented. No matter what, as agile professionals it is our job to keep up the good fight and continue to shine that flashlight on fire hazards!

Back to Basics Series – Principle 1


Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.


https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html

What Does It Mean?

There are many interpretations of this principle, but this one is mine. Honestly, I’m not looking to make any ground-breaking revelations here. I’m looking to break it down to get back to basics. It means what it means. In the software world, the path to customer satisfaction should be delivering early and often, but things are not always that black and white. Let’s take an expository approach in evaluating this, the first agile value.

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer.

This principle says that we will satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. However, I think there’s a reason why the group at Snowbird listed customer satisfaction first. Without customer satisfaction, we have no business. Bottom line. According to the great (or not-so-great) collective that is Wikipedia, customer satisfaction “is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation.” Whether or not the software you and your team work on is customer-facing, ultimately everything we build has an end-user. If that end-user is not satisfied (that’s a whole other blog topic), then we need to go back to the drawing board to make sure s/he is. Customer satisfaction is why we do what we do, and their continued satisfaction keeps the lights on.

Early & Continuous Delivery

I actually dreaded writing this entry because I’m currently stuck in quarterly release hell. My present reality provides no fabulous insights or special instructions to get your company (or mine, for that matter) releasing early or often.

But what does it mean? At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, delivering software early and often is just that. A better question is why should we do it? The sooner we deliver working software to our customers, then the sooner we get feedback. We can then inspect and adapt that feedback to better form what’s in our hopper (roadmap, battle plan, whatever you want to call it). We do this to keep our customers happy, so they continue to pay us, so we continue to stay in business. Yes? Yes. If we do this in regular, short cycles, then we’ll hopefully align ourselves with ever-fluctuating market demands. This actually points back to the “customer satisfaction” part of this principle.

Valuable Software

The final part of this principle is valuable software. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of valuable is having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities OR is of great use or service. Google “valuable software” and a myriad of articles pop up on what actually constitutes value. Quality is obviously a factor (but that’s also listed in a later Agile Principle; we’ll cover that), but ultimately, the team needs to determine what is valuable to the customer. That could mean anything from an intuitive user interface to speedy access to data. If the customer finds no value in what you’ve delivered, then what’s the point? This part, too, points back to the “customer satisfaction” part of this principle.

Customer Satisfaction is Key

To wrap it up, customer satisfaction is the key. Early and continuous delivery provides the feedback loop that keeps us informed, and delivering valuable software keeps our customers happy.

Back to Basics – Overview

About a year ago, Atlassian took to Twitter with their #RetroOnAgile campaign and asked followers to tweet something they liked and something they wished about agile. Under my @MomofXandM handle, I tweeted the following responses: “#ILike the Agile principles and values. #RetroOnAgile” and “#IWish more folks followed the Agile principles and values rather than trying to hammer away on process and methodology. #RetroOnAgile

I still like the agile principles and values, and I still wish more folks would stick to the basics outlined in them. Instead, command-and-control runs rampant in Corporate America, and now more than ever we all seem beholden to process and methodology.

What should we do about this? As ScrumMasters it’s our job to coach our team to better practices, so I think a return to the basics might be well-warranted. I am therefore setting out to do a series of posts focusing on agile principles and values, so that I can re-center myself and my teams on the simplicity that matters. Let’s start with an overview.

Many know the story behind the Agile Manifesto. 17 developers met at a ski lodge in Utah to discuss the way software development seemed to be going at that time. They weren’t happy with the hyper focus on processes, tools, reems of documentation, and constant contract negotiation, so they penned the manifesto.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.  Through this work we have come to value:


Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan


That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.


https://agilemanifesto.org/

There were 12 principles behind the manifesto. These coupled with the manifesto birthed the Agile movement. There were plenty of forerunners, but these are the principles the Agile community points back to regularly. Some even treat these words like gospel.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

In the coming weeks, I’ll explore each principle and value in more depth. I welcome feedback and conversation, and it’s my hope that you take these discussions back to your teams.

Scrum Bubbles Recommendation of the Week

Have you checked out the Agile Uprising Coalition yet? If you haven’t, you should. According to their website, they are a “purpose-built network that focuses on the advancement of the agile mindset and global professional networking between and among practicing agilists.”

I check out Agile Uprising regularly to see what my fellow agilists say about things like Mike Cohn’s new Better User Stories course, to see how everyone is measuring flow efficiency in Kanban, or to listen to podcasts (They interview great minds in the industry).

There are plenty of other forums out there (I belong to several), but this one seems to be an open and effective way of sharing thoughts in the agile space.

 

“Size doesn’t matter…”

Anyone who tells you size doesn’t matter hasn’t tried to complete a huge mobile app with just two people… in two months. So yes. Size DOES matter.

But how big is too big? How small is too small? What is just right?

I set out to get some ideas not only from folks I work with, but from industry experts. First, let’s reacquaint ourselves with what a scrum team actually is, as stated in the 2017 Scrum Guide 

The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity. The Scrum Team has proven itself to be increasingly effective for all the earlier stated uses, and any complex work.

Jeff Sutherland himself (co-author of the Scrum Guide) has been quoted as saying 7 teammates (+ or – 2) is the sweet spot. I did hear Mr. Sutherland say at the 2017 Global Scrum Gathering that he is rather fond of the number five; he admitted he loves fractals. Bob Galen, someone from whom I’ve taken some valuable guidance, wrote a quick blog post describing the “Goldilocks” team as being 6 or 7 people, excluding the Product Owner and Scrum master.

I tend to agree with Jeff and Bob. 5 to 7 people seems to be a manageable number. In my experience, anything larger could become unwieldy during scrum ceremonies such as daily stand-ups or the retrospectives.

What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments.