blog

An assortment of thoughts.  Mostly tech related.

Agile Australia 2017 - Pre-Conference Thoughts

To say I have been looking forward to Agile Australia 2017 is an understatement.  Australia's biggest Agile conference is descending, and it starts today.

So...my plan.  I'm taking in the workshops session today and have been able to score a place on the session that Esther Derby is running on "Coaching Agile Teams".  I think coaching is a good fit for my personality, and I'm building my knowledge and developing my coaching experience at every opportunity, so the chance to spend some time working with someone like Esther will be really valuable.

As for the conference itself, for now, I have this as a (current) plan of attack:

Wednesday

Thursday

  • Keynotes by Barry O'Reilly, Jez Humble and Esther Derby
  • Forecasting using data - by Troy Magennis
  • Cultures of Innovation by Tatyana Mamut, Amazon Web Services
  • Continuous Learning: Ignite the curious learner in you - Belkis Vasquez-McCall, McKinsey & Co.
  • Aligning Impact from boardroom to pixels - Michael Le, Pivotal Labs
  • Global Nomads - Fabiano Morais, Envato
  • The Groupishness of Groups - Katy Rowett, Thoughtworks
  • The contagious impact of deliberate leadership - Julie Baird, The Drum (ABC)

Friday

  • Keynotes by Neal Ford, Melissa Perri and Esther Derby
  • Coaching is for Losers - Benji Portwin and Simon Cohen (Spotify)
  • The art of building a roadmap - Sherif Mansour, Atlassian
  • Can anyone adopt Agile? - Holly Brown (Australian Red Cross) and Michelle Stephens (Thoughtworks)
  • Deep dive with Sami Honkonen (Tomorrow Labs)
  • Lightning Talks (Various)
  • (fr)agile: a retro for the implementation of an Agile mindset - Kylie McKiernan and Darren Oliver from Herron Todd White

I'm really looking forward to catching up with a few people and meeting others I've read and watched online.  There's lots to learn this next few days and I'm ready to soak it all up.

Agile and the challenges that come with being a good employer

Technology is constantly improving and more and more work is classified as knowledge-work. Set these changes against the backdrop of the high cost of commercial real estate and organisations are readily changing the way they ‘house’ their employees and how (and from where) they let their employees work.

At the same time, as good employers, many private and public sector organisations are generously offering employees the opportunity to develop a better work/life balance and offer flexible working to all, enabling staff to work from a desk, or a bean bag in the office, to the coffee shop or the employee’s home office.

In the offices, staff are encouraged to float around with their laptops 'Google-style', setting up wherever they choose on a given day and to do the work they need to get done however and wherever they see fit.  Encouraged to move around and work where they please, which it must be agreed can help in breaking down organisational silos and improving communications on one level, but at the same time, it’s decimating the way teams work together.  Whatever happened to Team Spaces??

Is this Agile?

Many consider this approach to be an Agile way of working.  And I guess it is…depending on how you define “agile”.  Flexible it certainly is, but supportive of “Agile Manifesto” - flavoured "Agile"? Well, I'm a lot less sure of that.

Teams should be self-organising, and that obviously should involve organisations giving the teams the scope to choose how they want to work together, including what their work environment looks like and where they work from, and how.  Flexible working might work for the team, but they need to have a choice about that, too.

These are big obstacles

Organisations almost need to look at having a “Super Scrum Master” for the whole organisation - someone who looks at the way the whole organisation is working, understand the common impediments and obstacles across Agile teams and petition the organisation to make accommodations for a truly Agile working environment that enables self-organising teams to work as they wish.

What does the Agile Manifesto say again??

Organisations should remember the first of the four Agile Values:

People and Interactions over Processes and Tools.  People. And. Interactions.

…and too quickly we have forgotten the 6th principle of the Agile Manifesto too:

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”

…and the 5th:

"Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the **environment** and support they need and trust them to get the job done."

...or even the 12th:

“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”

But we've got tools...

Skype, Google Hangouts, Screen Sharing, Slack, HipChat, videoconferencing and telephones et al are all great communications tools, and they certainly enable communication in teams, but they're no substitute for face-to-face communications and there's more friction involved in any tool, than being adjacent to your team - in the flesh.

TFS, JIRA, AgileCraft, Rally etc are all really great tools for managing stories, flows of work, tasks etc, but none are a substitute for a physical board that can be reconfigured in seconds.

There's a cost to this

Organisations must accept the impact these kinds of 'good employer' decisions around working practices have on a project team’s ability to become a high-performing team and accept that without significant changes to those system conditions, a ‘well-performing’ team might be the best they can get.

Distributed teams have a really high cost to them.  That cost needs to be factored in to planning, team moral, and budgets should be boosted to enable teams to gather for critical all-of-team meetings, and for regular get-togethers to ensure forming, norming and storming have the greatest chance of success.

Back to the Manifesto...

Sadly, it seems some of the values and principles have been too quickly overlooked and forgotten.

If you’re new to Agile, these principles are covered in the first couple of hours of ANY Agile training course, book or presentation, but maybe we learn too much and miss out on the important messages the Manifesto contains.

Going back to basics, and having a fresh look at the Manifesto in the context of a modern workplace might be a journey worth taking. 

My thoughts on the PSM I (Professional Scrum Master) Certification test

Multiple choice, open book - easy, right?  Nope.  Wrong.  Dead wrong.

Over the years, I've done a bunch of technical certifications with online examinations - I've done Red Hat, Microsoft, Apple and other exams, all of which have been fairly similar.  Sure, you need to go in to each with a pretty solid understanding of the subject matter and you're on your own  given they are all proctored and closed book, but they have been similarly matched in terms of difficulty, and the amount of time allocated to complete the questions.  They each felt like they had some breathing space.  This one is different.

Agile experience to date

I've been developing my Agile experience over the last 18 months and have been collecting some certifications along the way.  I've completed a few of the ICAgile courses and certifications (ICAgile Certified Professional, ICAgile Certified Professional - Business Value Analysis and ICAgile Certified Professional - Agile Team Facilitation), but I was missing something to give me some Scrum chops.

Scrum Master certification

While the ICP-ATF covers team facilitation practices for some of the Scrum ceremonies, it wasn't deep enough into Scrum for my liking, so I decided to pursue one of the Scrum Master certifications too.

I went with the PSM I (Professional Scrum Master - I) over the better known Certified Scrum Master (CSM) from the Scrum Alliance for a few reasons:

  1. It's an exam - you're tested on your knowledge and so it *should* have a little more value.  It's not just a 'certificate of attendance', like some of the other certifications I've collected.  It's a real test of knowledge of the Scrum Guide
  2. It's from Scrum.org...the people who wrote the Scrum Guide, so it kinda comes from the horses mouth when it comes to pure Scrum.
  3. You can just sit the exam WITHOUT having to do the course, so that saves a bunch of time and money.

BTW Nothing against the CSM cert at all.  If I could just sit a CSM exam, without doing the course, I think I would have.

Cost

The exam costs USD150 to sit, or a little under AUD200 at the time of posting.  That's for one attempt of the exam, so there's a little bit of cash riding on it so I did some decent prep.

Exam preparation

For me, it mainly involved poring over the Scrum Guide countless times, writing plenty of flash cards and doing plenty of the Scrum Open samples tests. You get slightly different questions each time you do a sample test, so do plenty of them.  These tests are really worth doing repeatedly.  I got a small selection of questions I had seen before but the vast majority were new. 

I downloaded the audio version of the Scrum Guide (recorded by Michael Vizdos) which was excellent, and really handy in the car and when doing chores around the house.  I also bought Jeff Sutherland's : Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time - this was an interesting audio book, and provided some good context and history, and I'm sure some bits helped, but the exam is all about your comprehension of the Scrum Guide itself. 

The Test

The test is organised through Scrum.org.  I was prepared to sit the exam on a Saturday evening, but part way through registration learned that the password code would be emailed within 1 business day. Luckily, within seconds of submitting my payment, the password came through with other registration details and so I could sit the exam straight away

80 questions in 60 minutes means you get just 45 seconds per question. And that's not very long.  The pace is frenetic.  At 8 minutes to go I still had 20 questions left, AND 9 questions bookmarked to review (I only managed to review 4 of them in the end - I ran out of time).

Pass rate is 85%, which means you can't get any more than 12 questions wrong.

The open book nature of this exam, may make it sound easy.  After all, the Scrum Guide is only 17 pages long so how difficult could it be to look up all the answers?  Most of the questions are phrased in such a way that would make that hard to do.  You need to know your stuff to get through this - double-checking the Scrum Guide is only going to take up precious time.  Be warned.

All in all, this was absolutely one of the least comfortable online exams I have ever completed.  And I felt I was pretty well prepared for it.

Result

The result.  Well, I passed, and I was very pleased (and relieved!) with my result - 93.8% or 75 out of 80 questions.  But this is far from easy, and so makes it feel like more of an accomplishment to get through it.

Be very well prepared for this exam and get to know the Scrum Guide like the back of your hand before having a crack.

WANTED: PAKMAN Parcel Mailbox

Last seen: Bunnings Warehouse.

I'm really trying to track one of these down.  I need and want one.

If you happen to know of any, anywhere, PLEASE let me know.  PAKMAN no longer manufacture and distribute these parcel mailboxes, which is a travesty.

I've contacted Mayo Hardware (parent company of PAKMAN, I think?), but no joy.  Since then I've also been in touch with a half dozen Bunnings stores close to home and further afield.  I even contacted Bunnings' head office and had someone looking for clearance stock across stores around their country.  No dice.  There are a few bits and pieces of PAKMAN gear around the place. For instance, I've found some of the mailbox tops and the frames that allow you to bolt/build a PAKMAN into the wall, but it's the main tall, parcel mailbox I seek.

Let me know if you come across anything?  It's a long shot, I know.  TIA.

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