Howard and Melissa, please share with us one interesting thing about you.
HOWARD: One thing people might not know about me is that I have owned my own real estate appraisal business for about 30 years. When I was introduced to Scrum and agile principles about 10 years ago, and saw what they could do for teams and companies, I brought those ideas to my established business with great success. I also love to scuba dive. But my favorite thing to do is to connect with people, and to connect people with one another.
MELISSA: Many people do not know that I’m a Certified Agile Coach—more specifically a Certified Enterprise Coach— so I did actual hands-on agile coaching for many years before coming to Scrum Alliance. People are also surprised to learn I was the lead singer for a metal band (when I was much younger). My favorite thing to do, though, is to show people how much their lives can change when they are open to learning and trying something new.
Vision, as the main topic for this edition is a very wide topic. We had an opportunity to hear your speech at the Global Scrum Gathering Vienna 2019. You were very inspiring to the audience. So, what is the vision for Scrum Alliance?
Enabling sustainable agility is also the best way for a company to be adaptable and able to thrive in the “VUCA” world we are all living in: one filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
HOWARD: The vision for Scrum Alliance is to transform workplaces around the world so that they’re joyful, prosperous, and sustainable. We believe that agile principles and practices, such as Scrum, when done for the right purpose and with the right mindset, are a powerful way to move the world of work in the right direction. Enabling sustainable agility is also the best way for a company to be adaptable and able to thrive in the “VUCA” world we are all living in: one filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
After the vision, it comes to the mission. The mission is probably the most important element of success. What do you think?
MELISSA: The most important element for success is the people—the teams working to implement the mission and the vision. Leaders need to empower their teams to create the right solutions for their customers, to make decisions about what their customers need—within the boundaries of the vision, the mission, and the overall company strategy.
What is in your opinion the secret sauce for successful collaboration?
MELISSA: We are co-leading this organization, which isn’t all that common and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It’s something we have to commit to and work on, each of us bringing our individual strengths to make our partnership stronger and more effective.
HOWARD: I’d say the secret sauce is trust… and probably communication, which goes hand in hand with trust. We need to be aligned, which means talking, sharing, spending time together thinking through options and opportunities.
In order to succeed, the team has a crucial part. How do you create such a great team?
MELISSA: The teams create their own greatness. We just create an environment where they can succeed. We designed a structure and culture that supports each person in our organization to be their best self through autonomy, teaming, training, and opportunities for continuous learning. We offer every employee the immediate opportunity upon joining us to attend our Certified ScrumMaster or Certified Scrum Product Owner courses, then support them through coaching.
The teams create their own greatness.
HOWARD: Yes to all of that. Plus we encourage teams to take risks, to try big new things in small, inexpensive ways. The cost of failure is cheaper than it has ever been. We don’t have to spend years building before we bring a finished product to a customer. We can spend a week or two building something, some small piece of a larger idea, and get it in our customer’s hands right away. If it’s exactly what they need, great! We’ll build the next part. If we need to tweak and try again, we can do that too. And if what we hand customers is a complete disaster, so what? We’ve only spent two weeks of one team’s time to find that out. It’s the learning we’re after.
The cost of failure is cheaper than it has ever been.
What is the Scrum Alliance strategy for the next few years (or months)?
MELISSA: Our strategy is to continue to build awareness that agile isn’t a noun; it isn’t a thing you can buy or a framework you can adopt. It’s an adjective. Agile describes a movement and a mindset. To become more agile is to be more adaptable to change, more team-focused, less hierarchical, and less centralized in decision making. For agility to be sustainable, it must be a part of the organization’s DNA—part of the culture. It’s not just “something the IT teams are doing.” It’s a whole company shift, from HR to Finance to Marketing to the C-suite.
Agile describes a movement and a mindset. To become more agile is to be more adaptable to change, more team focused, less hierarchical, and less centralized in decision making.
HOWARD: And we believe the best way companies can begin to shift their culture and mindset is by engaging with Certified Agile Coaches. Our Certified Enterprise Coaches and Certified Team Coaches know Scrum, sure. But they also know other tools: things like Lean, organizational change, Design Thinking, and Kanban. More importantly, they know how to help shift mindsets, how to change the culture, how to enable transformations that stick… how to bring sustainable agility to your business.
There’s a lot of buzz about coaching at Scrum Alliance. What is your direction about coaching?
HOWARD: Our direction is fast forward. In the US last month, there were over 10,000 jobs advertising for agile coaches. We currently have around 150 certified coaches. There’s a tremendous demand out there for people with proven experience and expertise in helping organizations reach their goals—and a lack of supply. We plan to change that.
MELISSA: But in changing that, we don’t plan to lower the bar for what it means to be a coach. We require several years of hands-on coaching, a certain expertise with agile principles and practices, and a peer review. It’s a rigorous process. We don’t want to change what it means to be a Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coach, but we do want to make sure more people have the opportunity both to become one and to engage one.
HOWARD: And we’re not saying that coaches should live inside a business forever. We envision agile coaching as one part of a broader approach that includes some training, some coaching, some consulting, and then a transfer of skill and knowledge to internal sources inside the business. ScrumMasters can become great team-level agile coaches with some time, mentorship, and experience. Experienced ScrumMasters can learn to become enterprise-level coaches. We have resources to help with that—free ones that anyone can access. We have over 80 videos on our website right now to help people who want to get better at agile coaching or even pursue a certification one day. And we’re planning much more content in 2020.
The final words should always be impressive. So, impress our readers …
MELISSA: Here’s what I want to impress on the readers—what I want everyone to understand. Agility isn’t something you buy in a box, something prepackaged and ready to install. And agility isn’t something you can just implement overnight in three easy steps. Anyone who tells you that is probably trying to sell you something. At the core of the agile principles is humanity. Agility is heart, soul, and connection—with each other, our customers, and our purpose. You can’t buy that.
HOWARD: I agree with everything Melissa just said. We are a not-for-profit, which means we aren’t trying to sell you anything. What we are trying to do is give everyone the tools, the resources, and the people that they can trust to help them transform their world of work, whatever that work is and in whatever corner of the world it’s happening. That’s us in a nutshell.