Five books every ScrumMaster should read

I have several books here, I would recommend every ScrumMaster to read. It’s a mix which will help you to understand ScrumMaster role in much broader perspective. In addition to the ScrumMaster guidebook which summarizes all you need to know to become the great ScrumMaster, you need to get better at forming great teams, team coaching, servant leadership and change management. Enjoy reading 🙂

  1. Great ScrumMaster: #ScrumMasteWay is a guidebook for all ScrumMasters, Agile coaches and leaders who want to transform their organizations. It’s intended to give you a reference to general concepts which every ScrumMaster should understand and point you towards resources which may help you in resolving difficult situations. It was designed as a slim illustrated book, which you can read during the weekend and won’t get lost in too much heavy stuff. However, it is supposed to be your starting point in searching for help or ideas on where to go next. On top of that, it’s full of practical examples of how to apply each individual concept.
  2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable is the world’s most definitive source on practical information for building teams. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team outlines the root causes of politics and dysfunction on the teams where you work, and the keys to overcoming them. Counter to conventional wisdom, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they don’t die easily. Making a team functional and cohesive requires levels of courage and discipline that many groups cannot seem to muster.
  3. Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition is a guide to the role of Agile Coach. Most people are wondering, “What is my role in a self-organized team?How do I help the team yet stay hands-off?”  Many respond by going too far to either extreme.  Coaching Agile Teams turns these questions into answers, and answers into action by offering practical ways to adapt skills from professional coaching and other disciplines to coaching agile teams toward high performance.
  4. Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders is how-to manual for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution. Since Turn the Ship Around! was published in 2013, hundreds of thousands of readers have been inspired by former Navy captain David Marquet’s true story. Many have applied his insights to their own organizations, creating workplaces where everyone takes responsibility for his or her actions, where followers grow to become leaders, and where happier teams drive dramatically better results.
  5. Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions has all you need to know about the change management. It is a simple story about doing well under the stress and uncertainty of rapid change. The tale is one of resistance to change and heroic action, seemingly intractable obstacles and clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles. The penguins offer an inspiring model as we all struggle to adapt to new circumstances. After finishing the story, you’ll have a powerful framework for influencing your own team, no matter how big or small.

It’s all about the relationship

Some time back I went through the ORSC – Organizational Relationship and System Coaching and wrote this article to share my learning with the Agile community. Now it’s time to share some experiences. I tried most of the concepts with maybe few exceptions (like Deep Democracy). I kind of digested the overall idea and simplify it back in my mind into “it’s all about the relationship”. I still remember my first ORSC class when one of the facilitators come and reminded us of not to coach the problem but the relationship. I looked at her with surprise. “If the relationship is strong, it will solve all the problems itself,” she said and I got my first aha moment. I guess it took me much longer to truly understand that.

As a time went I realized, that the whole idea of coaching the relationship and looking at organization and team from the system perspective is the key to 99% of my work with organizations, teams, managers and leaders and ScrumMasters. The ability to look at things from the top detached from details and stop evaluating what is happening, because “who knows what is right and what is wrong” and “everyone is right but only partially” was enlightening. It gave me a freedom in a sense and allows me to be much more effective in changing the organizations and working with leaders. As I wrote in the Great ScrumMaster: #ScrumMasterWay book, one of the key metaskills ScrumMasters need is curiosity, have a culture anthropologist mindset. This simple change in the approach will unblock the most of the ‘unsolvable’ situations. And it’s not only true for ScrumMasters but Agile Coaches, managers, and leaders of the organization.

Look at the organization from the system perspective. Don’t evaluate. Be curious. Focus on inproving the relationships.

Have a good team spirit and collaborative mindset. Good relationships solve the problems and enable the organizational success.

My intention was not to explain you any ORSC techniques as you need to experience them in several days program followed by your practical implementation but start a conversation with fellow Agile coaches about their experiences with ORSC and the need of ORSC in the Agile space.

So, if you write your experience with ORSC in a short text, I publish it or link it from here and if that goes well, maybe we can create a blogs series about ORSC@Agile.

Agile Leaders are the beginning of modern management

In order to achieve success at the organizational level, we need to start management talent development program to create leaders who will help to grow a company, make quick decisions and stay ahead of others. Modern leadership style is no longer applying the traditional model of the “leader-follower”, i.e. one decides and the other executes orders. Nowadays, when most employees are from the category of creative workers and the company is looking for innovation and creative ideas to stay competitive, the leader-leader model is a more effective one, where the leaders’ main goal is to help others to be successful leaders. What is modern Agile management or Agile leadership about?

Excellent Agile Leader has four core competencies: Ability to define the vision, motivate, gain feedback, and ability to influence through themselves, others and system.

The ability to formulate a vision is the engine of change and motivation. A vision is not necessarily linked to product and business but should be focused on the organization and its purpose. The second competency is the ability to motivate and give the energy. It is a competence closely related to the vision. If you have a good vision, it motivates itself. Agile leadership builds on so-called internal motivation to strengthen the autonomy of individuals and teams. The third of Agile leader’s competences is feedback. Feedback is DNA component for Agile Organization together with openness and transparency. The art of getting system-level feedback is critical for the leader. The last is the art of influencing complex environments. Change things, people and their behavior, support and consolidate culture. Agile leadership begins with a change of self, your judgments, values, and behavior, style of work. Great leaders start with themselves as a role model, to change the way they show up, how they interact with others, and how they can inspire people around them to collaborate, create a team spirit, and become leaders. They are capable of working with the entire system and influence the whole organization and its culture.

Agile Leader-Wheel

Agile Leader Wheel also defines four supporting competencies to help leaders define the right approach. When is it better to decide and when decisions can be delegated and it’s better to collaborate. At the same time, when it’s better to take a role of facilitator and when start coaching. We do not talk that much about coaching individuals, which of course may be useful, but coaching the whole system – teams and organizations as a whole. Excellent Agile Leaders have not been born as Agile Leaders, but they are constantly looking for new ways to get better and to gain and strengthen the above-mentioned competencies.

Are we Agile… ?

Are we already Agile? How do we know we are Agile? What level of Agility have we? It’s hard to say. On one hand, you never touch Agile as Agile is like a star on the horizon. On the other hand, you can feel it after the first 15 min you enter the organization from the energy, level of the positivity, interactions from people, and company space setup. A bit later you might search for more tangible proofs of Agility / non-Agility. But the initial sense if usually right.

It’s so hard to measure as once some authority publish the assessment questions, companies make those things happen and fake it. It will most likely not even be conscious, as people are starving for simple recipes. So such assessment can only work once in life. Here are the first seven ideas which come to my mind. If you like to answer, be honest and use the whole scale <0 .. 10>.  No organization is ideal, and so there is low chance you will be the ideal one.

I can continue, but firstly people can only answer few questions, I hope 7 is not too much and secondly, it’s just a short test which is only valid for the first time you do it, next time when we meet during my Agile coaching, I will ask a different set of random questions :). It’s not any complete assessment, just a fun test which can possibly make you think about yourself and your way of work.

If I got enough replies, I will publish them in some of the future posts.

ScrumMaster State of Mind Model

The state of Agile and Scrum understanding in organizations is not, in any way, great. Many Scrum implementations are failing not because Scrum doesn’t work for the particular organization, but because companies lack the core understanding of the Agile and Scrum mindset. During the Certified Scrum Classes (CSM) I have taught across the world, I realized that even ScrumMasters who were supposed to be Scrum experts are often struggling with understanding the consequences. That was the key motivation for writing a book dedicated to all ScrumMasters and leaders of Agile transformation in organizations: The Great ScrumMaster – #ScrumMasterWay, which is published on Amazon.

ScrumMaster State of Mind model

One of the concepts described in the book is the ScrumMaster State of Mind. It shows ScrumMasters how their day should look like. What are the approaches, they should use in different situations. The ScrumMaster State of Mind model defines four quadrants, with four different approaches you can decide to apply. They are all equally important and each of them can be used in all team development stages.

Teaching, Mentoring, Sharing Experiences

This approach builds on top of your knowledge and experience. Especially at the beginning of your Scrum adoption journey, you have to be clear on the purpose of the individual practices. Teach individuals, teams, and organization about the mindset. In later stages, you shall share your experiences, teach new practices, and help people to improve.

Removing impediments

The second approach you can take is removing impediments. It’s critical to take off the team’s frustration, but this is not the goal of great a ScrumMaster. A great ScrumMaster is not any team assistant, so don’t take this approach too often.

Facilitation

Facilitation is more than just leading Scrum meetings. As a facilitator, a ScrumMaster should know how to make conversations efficient and smooth. A ScrumMaster should know how to help people and team to agree and make a decision. The ability to facilitate is critical for team success.

Coaching

As the last approach, there is coaching. The fundamental difference between coaching and mentoring is that as a coach, you don’t share your own experiences, but ask questions so the team will realize where they want to go. They are the experts, not a ScrumMaster. This approach is critical to your long-term success, as without good coaching, you can never create great teams.

ScrumMaster State of Mind Model
ScrumMaster State of Mind Model

Observing

Even though the mentioned approaches are important, there is one in addition in the middle. This middle circle is about observing and making intentional decision on where to go. It should always be your base position. The place where you start, and return back again when you apply one of the approaches, to see how it landed with a team. It helps you to react on different situations differently. Even when you make a wrong decision, and for example, teach a team who believes they know everything better already, using the State of Mind concept helps you make corrections early enough.

Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching – ORSC and Agile

Recently I passed extensive training on ORSC – Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching. Not sure if you know ORSC, so let me introduce it first. ORSC is a coaching model where we focus not on the individuals but systems and the relationships in it. System – for your understanding – could be anything like pair, group of people, team, department or organization. The latter mentioned are exactly what makes me interested and curious. Coaching teams is something each Scrum Master is doing so let’s get some different framework which can help here. Coaching organizations as an entity could move Agile transformation to the next level and give Agile Coaches another tools how to make it happen. So I was in.

The whole program was divided into five classes – Fundamentals, Intelligence, Geography, Path, and System Integration. I passed the first ORSC class in London and the rest in Toronto. It’s always great to combine work and holiday and Canada was just awesome 🙂 In between of classes I’ve got some time to try individual concepts at my clients and got used to the new models, terminology and approaches.

I’m going to share a couple of my favorite concepts which I found easy applicable in Agile environment.

#1 DTA – Design team alliance

I apparently knew this concept for a few years as it has been introduced at Agile Coaching Institute class: ‘Moving to the Next Level’, which was created together with ORSC leaders. However, it took me some time before I fully understood the importance of such agreement. What is it about? Seems to be simple – let team agree how they would like to be together, what makes them great team, and what are they going to do if things go difficult. Actually it’s quite similar to the retrospective with exception of the fact that you do it up front. You might link it to the futurespective, as that is a kind of similar as it looks forward, but it’s still something else. With DTA we focus on relationships and not so much on the particular potential problems and solutions. You need to coach the team to stay out of those concrete solutions. Because even if they brainstorm a lot, they never come up with every possible future issue. So we are looking to the system from the top, trying to straighten its connections to survive any potential difficulties. Don’t forget we are not solving or preventing potential issues, but agreeing on the way how we are going to solve such situations in the future.

#2 Everyone is right but only partially

When you start to look at the group of people as a system, which you can imagine as looking down on the team from few kilometers / 10 thousand feet high distance, the particular issues and problems are not so important from that point of view. You are focusing on the linkage among the people instead of individual persons or their problems. From such viewpoint this System Rule – Everyone is right but only partially – is extremely helpful. It helps you to coach system and don’t let yourself to take sides. Moreover, every system is intelligent by itself. It will tell you if there is something wrong. And your entire job as System Coach is to listen for those signals and reveal them back to the system so that the system can react and possibly solve the issue or improve itself. You are not here to solve it for them, you shall only help them to straighten their relationship, and let the relationship to fix it.

#3 Importance of Appreciation and Positivity

We, Europeans, are never using so much of an appreciation as our US colleagues. And it’s been a challenge for me and also for one German girl during the class. However, despite on how silly it feels, it works. So I’m going to appreciate more. Even if it is painful.

The second concept which is actually quite connected to the appreciation is positivity. Especially for always complaining Czech society it’s extremely useful :). Did you know that good teams have its positivity: negativity ration at least 5:1? And how is it for your team? Positivity will not just happen, you must garden it, search for it, help it to become an integral part of your system.

#4 Toxins or so called Horsemen

There are four toxin behaviors which team should avoid. Defensiveness, Blame, Stonewalling, Contempt. Everyone does bit of it from time to time, however just educate on them would limit their dominance. So my learning point here is to educate teams on toxins, and coach them to understand the impact of them to the team health. I believe the awareness by itself will help team to be better.

#5 Three Levels of Reality

Finally, there is a concept which made my day. At the beginning, it had been completely incomprehensible. I was lost. Our trainers mentioned we may only get it at the end of the module. But I was completely desperate. What the hell it means? But sometime during the last day of the module it got to me all at once. And I realized that understanding this concept is a key factor for thousands of situations I’ve been trying to improve in my Agile Coach work.

And here is my challenge with it. It took me full three days to get it, so how am I going to arrange such experience to my clients in much shorter time? I guess using the ORSC coaching framework. But still, it’s a challenge.

What is it about? That there are three levels of reality. Sentient Essence Level, Dreaming Level, and Consensus Reality Level. And you often need all three to succeed. And me as a System Coach can help to navigate individuals, teams and organization through essence to start dreaming and through that understand or change their consensus reality. It’s very powerful. And if you feel like ‘too fluffy’ or ‘what the hell is interesting there?’ just note I’ve been struggling a lot with it at the first time as well.

Recommendation

Finally, would I recommend you passing ORSC training? It cost quite some money so it’s better to ask, right? I would say it’s been one of my best decisions. However, I believe you need some Coaching education and experiences before you go on and sign up. For that background I would recommend you start with Agile Coaching Teams and Agile Facilitation class – both classes are from Agile Coaching Institute. And then go on with ORSC – which I would recommend to all Scrum Masters who want to move their role to the next level and focus more on the organization and systems then individual Agile practices. And to all Agile Coaches, because without it you are not true Agile Coach.

 

 

Agile at Saigon, Vietnam

I had an opportunity to spend some time with teams in Vietnam. Explain them Agile and implement Scrum process, bring in the understanding of it, and help them to apply it. It’s always good to travel for your work to some nice places, and Saigon is indeed very nice city. Very friendly people. How was it? Quite different. The way of explaining things needed many detail examples, however there were fewer problems with having people accept the whole idea.  The most difficult part was I guess to explain the agile mindset, implement agile culture. They always used to be organized by strict hierarchy. Who reports to whom. And now we had a cross functional teams consist of both developers and testers, so who do I report now? Who is going to assign me new tasks? And all those questions. If you for some reason put one person out of the teams as a shared resource, he immediately stop working and did just management decisions from that time. When we asked why, it’s because only the team members are here to do the work. And I’m now more important. So I don’t do any usual daily job. On the other hand, once they understood the process, they follow it. They don’t discuss if they should or not, no complains that they are corporation with specific habits so why they should change them.  Once you explain it so they understood they do their best to make it working.

Agile community

I’ve always tried to meet with local community while I’m traveling. It’s fun. They sometimes reply and you organize something together, sometimes there is no response at all. Agile Vietnam was a surprise; they have extremely active Facebook community. I’ve sent an introduction and in a few seconds I’ve got several replies. So already the first night at Saigon I’ve met with a group of people to talk about startups. Small group, not really from IT environment, but trying to learn new thinks, improve English, it was nice evening.

The next day I arrived on Barcamp. Huge event with 3500 people registered, kind of unconference where attendees are voting for presentation to be presented. I was talking about agile implementations, some British lady about bringing Broadway Theater to Saigon. You can talk about anything. Audience is deciding whether it is interesting or not.

The last event I had there for the community was free Starting Scrum workshop. One afternoon the organizers of Agile Vietnam invited everyone to Saigon Hub. And we had two hours to try basic Scrum principles. I introduced a game where the teams were building a high tower from marshmallow and spaghetti. It was fun. The very good think is the game was working well even in this different culture. They did a great job, and learned a lot about how Scrum process works with respect of the delivery of PSP at the end of every Sprint, communication to the customer, team development.

Back home

So to summarize my experiences, I would love to come back to Vietnam or another interesting country for work. It’s different, it’s fun, and it’s working. The training itself will not make any big difference to them. To change their way of working and mindset you have to be there, you have to spent time and help them understand and apply the theory. This is something which I as an agile coach can help them.