As a recent Agile adopter (our marketing team moved to Agile at the end of February), I wanted to to dig into this world a little more. I sat down with our Scrum Master, Dave Burland, to discuss his role and what thoughts and advice he has for those considering the switch to Agile.
My job as the Scrum Master is to facilitate all of the Agile ceremonies, including the daily stand-up (DSU), sprint planning, backlog grooming, sprint review, and the retrospective. I’m working with four teams at this point. I also have somewhat of a mediation role. For example, if there is a disagreement on the team, it is part of my role to be objective, bring everyone together to have a conversation, and get to the bottom of the issue. Outside of that, I do the Agile analytics — that includes things like the team agility dashboards and I coordinate meetings with the product owners (key stakeholders) as needed.
How long have you been helping teams embrace Agile?
I’ve been working with the Agile methodology since 2010. My past experience includes being a Project Manager/Scrum Master at companies such as Boingo Wireless and The Walt Disney Company.
Where does your passion for Agile stem from?
I’ve been a project manager for 30+ years now, and I spent a lot of time in non-Agile (waterfall) environments. In this traditional style of project management, you often end up delivering something that the customer or end user didn’t actually want or need. This happens because you gathered all the requirements up front and while the requirements likely changed as you went through the project, you didn’t check in and adjust for those changes. So I think it was a transformation for me to learn Agile. I found out that a lot of things I was doing intuitively as a waterfall project manager were actually related to the Agile methodology. I think after that I became very passionate about it because I could see that being an Agile project manager was more of an active role, where traditional project management can be more passive.
I also really enjoy working with people — I think that’s the other thing that really led me to the Agile methodology. It allows for a lot more team communication and collaboration than waterfall project management does.
What are the immediate benefits you see from teams who switch to Agile?
The immediate benefits you get from Agile is ownership and accountability. The accountability portion really comes out of the box because we have a daily stand-up where you have to accountable and show up for that meeting ready to collaborate. You’re also going to get more information and details on what’s actually going within the group, be able to bubble issues up faster, and have insight into what each team member can commit to finishing in a given time period. Usually you can tell right away if a team is committed or if they’re having an issue with the new methodology.
What can you do if you have someone on your team who isn’t committed or is having trouble adopting Agile?
Since this is a team process, it’ll come up within the group several times. For example, if you have someone not showing up on time, usually the group will influence that because they’ll mention it in the retrospective (a group reflection on what went well and what didn’t in the past two weeks). A lot of times that immediate “peer review” helps the behavior to improve or stop. I’ve seen that work pretty well. There are others who resist change in general or are having other issues and I might have a separate conversation with them. This is one place where the mediation side of my role comes into play. However, there are also times when the Agile process doesn’t work for a specific group and the whole group may come to this realization, and that’s ok. I don’t believe in adding process where it doesn’t add value.
What are the most difficult things to get used to when moving to Agile?
In the beginning, many teams have trouble being transparent. People can be reluctant because they really have to be open and honest about what’s going on, and that can be intimidating in front of other teammates or their manager. However, I think it important to have all the cards on the table. Once you get to the point of embracing that transparency and visibility, it’s a good place to be. Once everyone is open and honest about what’s going on, you can really make progress.
What advice would you have for a team who is considering the move to Agile?
It is recommended that you start small. Start with a daily stand up and the retrospective. You don’t really even have to do sprint planning at first and you will still get a sense of what Agile will bring to the table. If you have a daily process and a reflective process, that is the foundation of Agile and you can build on that.
How does the company-wide use of Agile at NimbleUser benefit our customers?
The biggest benefit for customers is that, by using Agile, we are committed to ownership, accountability, transparency, and collaboration. It helps us ensure that we are continuously aligned with our customers’ needs and can quickly react if or when requirements change. All of these things make for a much better customer experience, from discovery to implementation and beyond.