Confessions of a SPC Cheating on the Scaled Agile Framework

I’ve developed a knot in my stomach. I feel like I’m about to cheat on one of my early Agile loves – SAFe. It’s just exploring, right? Well, maybe… maybe I’ll go back, but then again maybe not. I guess I won’t find out until I try, right?

I am a SPC, a Scaled Agile Framework Program Consultant, and I’m going to a Scrum@Scale class next month. Not just any Scrum@Scale class, but one taught by Jeff Sutherland. [insert giddy giggles…]

Jeff isn’t the only draw.

I’ve been a SPC for almost five years and was on the team that explored how we might be able to implement the Scaled Agile framework at a former employer. In fact, I may have been the very first Product Managers who was certified as a SPC. It was a big deal and I was very excited about it. Who doesn’t love the SAFe Big Picture?


That Big Picture was a huge draw for us to evaluate SAFe in the early days of our Agile transformation. It was a natural extension of what we had recently accomplished by adopting Scrum. There it was; a recipe book for how to build software at scale in our large, complex environment. For that reason, SAFe took hold in the organization.

As Jeff and the team at Scrum, Inc. have aptly pointed out, not all companies, and certainly not all Scrum implementations are the same. I would add that as you mature along your Agile journey, the recipe book that was once comforting might now feel a bit restricting. I’ve heard it from some of our customers, “…we really like parts A and C of SAFe, but D and F feel like overkill and unnecessary.”

Additionally, I have recently been working with Scrum teams that don’t build software, but need to scale beyond the single Scrum team. Although those smarter than me may disagree, SAFe doesn’t quite feel right in these instances either. Scrum has expanded beyond the domain of software, and we need to find ways to scale that fit.

And this is when I started to explore...

Let’s inspect and adapt not just how we apply Scrum and other Agile methods, but how and why we should scale. My interest in branching out as a consultant and coach, and even as a SPC, is to explore how we might help those that don’t quite feel that popular scaling frameworks like SAFe “fit.” The lighter weight, modular, fractal structure that we see in Scrum@Scale may be just the right approach to scale an organization.

Stay tuned. In about a month I’ll let you how it goes. Meanwhile, anyone want to cheat with me?  Scrum@Scale with Jeff Sutherland, November 8-9, Durham, NC

Registration Link
 

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Letting Go of Blame

Every year I try to attend training. Last October, I participated in Christopher Avery’s The Responsibility Process Intensive in Munich. I approached the workshop as an opportunity to improve my coaching. Surprisingly, the workshop profoundly improved my personal life as much as my professional life. Christopher shared that many people come to the workshop to help others with responsibility, and usually leave realizing they first need to improve their own understanding and practice of responsibility.

The first key to taking responsibility is awareness. When something goes wrong, I have become much more aware of how I react. Christopher explains that we naturally respond to something that upsets us by laying blame. “Who did that?” “It’s his fault.” And so on.

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As you can see in the image of The Responsibility Process model, Lay Blame is the starting point. Christopher’s training provides tools to mentally navigate from the bottom to the top – to Responsibility. Now that I am much more aware of my response, I can let go of blame faster. Further, since my response is natural, I forgive myself for being there, even for a moment.

Why does this matter? I have two children, my son started college and my daughter started 10th grade this year. We have an active household, and occasionally things go wrong. When they do, blame comes very easily, but doesn’t help. “I can’t believe you didn’t mow the lawn!”  I was angry. I asked my son to mow the lawn last night. But yelling doesn’t help, and could upset him, too. Instead, I let go of blame and consider what I could do differently to request and obtain his help. By letting go of blame, I completely avoid anger. I’m happier and he’s happier. With a clearer head, I can spend energy on a new approach.

I’ve seen the same scenario in my work. “Scrum won’t work because management won’t support dedicated teams.” Blaming management doesn’t improve the situation. And getting stuck in blame won’t lead to a solution to the team’s problem with focus and commitment. Letting go of blame provides the clarity to explore solutions.

To learn more about The Responsibility Process, I encourage you to download the first chapter of Christopher’s new book or to register for his upcoming workshop in Raleigh.

 

The Scrum Alliance Problem We’re Not Solving……Yet!

As of today, the Scrum Alliance identifies 322,157 people as Certified ScrumMasters (CSM). You can find 66,813 people identified as Certified Scrum Product Owners (CSPO), and a number of people have both certifications. Although the anemic number of Product Owners relative to ScrumMasters raises some questions, the more serious problem is the drop-off in people reaching the next level. Only 3,943 people achieved the level of Certified Scrum Professional.

This is not a small problem. This is an order of magnitude problem! And we need to solve it.

We need more people with three or more years of Scrum experience and demonstrated initiative to continue learning.

We need more people who have learned how to be successful leveraging Scrum to increase organizational value. And we need them to continue their success and to help others achieve success.

We need more Scrum coaches - both enterprise coaches and people striving for the new team coach certification. We need organizational change experts or, at the very least, people who have been through at least one change experience and have learned what works.

And we need more trainers. The 191 trainers and 80 coaches aren’t getting any younger. At the current rate of growth of CSPs, we may have a shortage of certified trainers and coaches within five years.

So, if you agree that the Scrum Alliance does have an important problem to solve, you may be wondering the same thing as me…What’s going on with the hundreds of thousands of people who haven’t reached CSP yet?

Could the certification be too hard to achieve?

The answer is subjective. To apply, people must:

  • Be a current holder of an active CSM, CSPO or Certified Scrum Developer credential.
  • Have at least three years of Agile/Scrum work experience within the past 5 years implementing Scrum in any role.
  • Gather and submit 70 Scrum Education Units (SEUs) from the past three years.
  • Invest $100 to apply and $150 when approved.

And people get a head start - 16 SEUs from the CSM class, up to 24 from CSD, and/or up to 16 from CSPO - and those certifications could have been earned more than 3 years prior to submitting the application. All other SEUs need to be earned within 3 years of the application.

So, over 300,000 people meet the first requirement. Based on membership statistics, over 150,000 people meet the second requirement, assuming they continued to apply Scrum after their classes in 2012 or earlier.

Perhaps the SEUs present a challenge?

  • Up to 45 SEUs may be earned from Scrum events like gatherings, local user groups or other Scrum Alliance events - 1 hour of participation = 1 SEU.
  • People can earn an unlimited number of SEUs working with CSTs, REPs and coaches. People can apply their initial training for this category. 
  • The next category is up to 15 SEUs at events outside the Scrum Alliance - like Agile conferences or other training.
  • People can also volunteer to provide non-compensated Scrum services for up to 15 SEUs.
  • The next bucket of up to 15 SEUs is independent learning - reading a book, preparing a presentation, watched a training video, writing a blog post or article, almost anything could apply.
  • The last category of up to 15 SEUs is other collaborative learning.

My subjective assessment is that gathering 70 SEUs isn’t too hard. So many activities qualify for credit that getting involved and continuing to learn in multiple ways seems very possible for most people.

Could the certification lack value?

Objectively, the market perceives relatively low value. A quick (unscientific) Monster.com search yielded 57 jobs for CSP compared to 1,432 for CSM and over 1,000 more for Product Owner. Further, while the number of CSPs continues to grow, the rate is nowhere near CSM or CSPO growth, which leads me to believe potentially qualified members may not perceive a lot of value either.

Subjectively, the value far exceeds the effort. For at least the short term, the CSP designation distinguishes people within the Scrum Alliance as high achievers. In the long run, CSPs will advance to team and enterprise coaching certifications and/or Certified Scrum Trainer. Beyond the extrinsic value, completing the Scrum professional certification provides intrinsic value - achieving the next level of personal mastery. 

Could the membership lack awareness?

Based on the people I meet in my CSM and CSPO courses, I observe very low awareness about the Scrum Alliance certification path and I make time to discuss what people can do next. In the past year, we collected additional qualitative and quantitative data that also shows relatively low awareness in the community. The upside - people ask a lot of questions about what to do next once they learn about CSP and the more advanced credentials.

Now What?

The Scrum Alliance community, particularly the certified trainers and coaches, as well as current CSPs, needs to increase CSP awareness and encourage more people to apply for CSP. We also need to reach out to organizations, particularly human resources, managers and other people who plan hiring and write job descriptions to explain the different credentials and the value of CSP (and the coaching designations).

And we need to offer help to navigate the journey. While the CSP FastPass program exists to provide extensive in-person and online training, one-on-one mentoring, group discussions, SEU tracking and application assistance, we continue to assist CSP candidates outside the program. If every trainer and coach helped one person a month in 2016, we could triple the number of new CSPs compared to 2015 and nearly double the total number of CSPs globally.

Let’s Go!

A CEO’S PERSPECTIVE ON AGILE

DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta

DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta

I recently attended and spoke at the inaugural internal Agile conference by DBS Bank in Singapore, which to my surprise opened with comments by the CEO Piyush Gupta. The term “comments’’ fails to describe Piyush’s exceptional articulation of how Agile connects to the bank’s strategy. He covered three major topics - agility, Agile and the way forward for DBS.

“Agile with a little a”

DBS wins awards and justifiably claims the titles “Asian bank of choice“ and “best bank in Asia.” Interestingly, the five year journey to the industry leading position started with the executive team focusing on values, then the “plumbing” of the bank or how work gets done. The end of the journey is a nimble, “Goldilocks-sized” bank - not too big and not too small, that is agile with a little a. Decisions happen quickly, service groups resolve issues fast and DBS measures innovations in days or weeks. As a result, the bank has a foundation to tackle future challenges such as a wider set of competitors, extremely high customer expectations for performance and great experiences, and customers that “need banking, not a bank.” He sees an existing product delivery framework incapable of delivering at a competitive speed to create “moments of joy” for customers.

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“Agile with a big a”

Piyush started this segment of his talk briefly describing the problem with traditional software development. People create written specifications, which are often wrong or captured incorrectly. Then other people design and develop a solution. Then a new group of people test the solution and find problems that have to be fixed by the developers. Then the product goes live and is often not what the customer needs or no longer viable in the market. 

Interestingly, Piyush identified “limitations of the human brain” as the problem. He channeled Jeff Patton’s comments in User Story Mapping by stating that we are incapable of sufficiently capturing the sum total of the requirements for a new product on paper. The person recording the requirements probably misses 30% of the information and the person stating the requirements probably hasn’t even realized another 30% of what they need.

Agile gets out of this conundrum through small teams working daily with the business in short cycles to see the outcomes along the way. The teams rely on conversation instead of paper. As a result, customers see new products quicker. DBS tests and learns faster from more frequent customer interaction. To get there, the bank needs to “fix the kitchen to get the right meal to the right customer at the right time.”

Agile in a large bank raises concerns of chaos. How do 20 teams “own the thing?” How can we ensure security? How will we manage defects while developing new products? What is the change management process? Then Piyush got a laugh from the audience. “Agile doesn’t mean a Bohemian, hippie-like attitude to managing core banking systems.” He set goals for rigor in DevOps, test automation, daily regression tests and disciplined, parallel processes - Agile to build new solutions and DevOps to deploy them.

The Way Forward

While DBS is well positioned in Asia, Piyush sees a long way to go compared to Silicon Valley and other Asian companies like Alibaba. Apple Pay threatens all big banks. Apple builds faster and better than the banks. DBS must “operate like those guys” at Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

“The road ahead is longer than the road behind.” DBS needs to quickly figure out how to effectively develop solutions across multiple Asian countries; how to reimagine jobs, roles and skills; and leverage human-centered design to always keep the customer in mind.

A DBS conference attendee during a session

A DBS conference attendee during a session

Piyush beautifully described how the lines between application development, business people and product managers are and must keep blurring. Silos must go away as DBS integrates digital customer experiences, new technology and new approaches to delivery. “Agile with a big a” is not just about technology, he said. Ultimately, every project must leverage Agile for DBS to compete.

He certainly kicked off the two day event on a high note. I have participated in several, similar conferences and had not seen such a senior executive begin the conference let alone speak about the connection of Agile to strategic challenges with conviction and clarity. Piyush’s words led to a deeper, richer and focused experience for the attendees and the six international speakers. As we closed the conference with an interactive exercise for attendees to reflect on what they discovered and remaining “puzzles” followed by an informal panel session to discuss a few of the puzzles, I felt confident and optimistic about the prospects for the DBS Agile journey. I met great people who want to be Agile and they have an exceptional leader who knows what that means for DBS. 

conference speaker laura richardson

conference speaker laura richardson

from l to r: DBS conference organizer howard lim, dbs conference organizer soh wai zee, speaker russell healy, valtech coordinator elin wai, speaker laura richardson, speaker xavier renaudin, valtech MANAGING DIRECTOR HENRI PETITET, SPEAKER JASON TANNER

from l to r: DBS conference organizer howard lim, dbs conference organizer soh wai zee, speaker russell healy, valtech coordinator elin wai, speaker laura richardson, speaker xavier renaudin, valtech MANAGING DIRECTOR HENRI PETITET, SPEAKER JASON TANNER

MY DBS "speaker buddy" and friend freddie yeo. he did a great job making sure i got everywhere i needed to be on time and shared all sorts of new cuisine!

MY DBS "speaker buddy" and friend freddie yeo. he did a great job making sure i got everywhere i needed to be on time and shared all sorts of new cuisine!

singapore skyline from the top of the marina bay sands resort where we adjourned to celebrate the end of a fabulous event

singapore skyline from the top of the marina bay sands resort where we adjourned to celebrate the end of a fabulous event

Getting Product Off the Shelf - The Launch Plan

We’re currently supporting a startup client who plans to launch the first GA version of their product in 60 days. While everyone continues to work hard toward a successful release, they lack a comprehensive launch plan, which led to this post about the strategy and tactics of planning a launch.

Maiden launch of Shuttle Atlantis. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Step 1: Set meaningful goals that unify effort across the entire company. Overall sales, new customer acquisition, product usage and other goals enable functional groups to plan specific actions.

Step 2: Determine the launch strategy, then identify the tactics and deliverables. A step-by-step checklist executed without a strategy could lead to wasted time and energy. At a minimum, identify who you’re targeting and why, how and when you will reach them and what you’ll need to be successful. Think of this as the mission statement and the goals as the intent.

Step 3: Nail the tactics. Now is the time to leverage a prioritized launch backlog in support of the goals and strategy. Consider the following backlog ideas listed by category. Note: You may need to decompose some of these big items into smaller items to be prioritized, completed and validated in short iterations.

Public Relations

  • Analyst collateral
  • Analyst briefings
  • Press briefings
  • Press release

Beta Program

  • Recruit beta customers
  • Execute beta program
  • Gather beta customer quotes

Collateral

  • Messaging
  • Datasheet
  • Brochure
  • Online demo video
  • Demo scenarios and scripts
  • White paper
  • FAQs
  • Competitor comparison

Web Marketing

  • Web site
  • Google, Yahoo, Bing ad programs
  • SEO
  • Social media plan and execution

Advertising

  • Print
  • Direct mail
  • Radio/TV
  • VAR/Channel

Customer

  • Existing customer notification/marketing
  • Training for existing customers
  • Update training for new customers
  • Release notes
  • User documentation
  • Administrator documentation

Internal 

  • Sales information sheet
  • Sales training
  • Sales presentation
  • Product pricing
  • Internal FAQs
  • Support training

Events

  • Industry events
  • In-person events
  • Webinars

Channel

  • Channel training
  • VAR demo purchase program
  • SPIF
  • Marketing programs

While this post provides broad guidance to plan a launch, a future post will dive much deeper into a whole product bill of materials.