Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughts on Certifying Scrum Developers

Diploma Tied With Blue Ribbon
Responding to Ron Jefferies request (via Twitter) for thoughts on a Scrum Alliance Certified Developer, I put together these ideas. I'm sure many of these thoughts have already been covered in Alliance conversations and the exhausting threads covering this on various lists, but it helps me organize my thoughts. First, allow me to start with a bit of my background, in case that helps set the context I'm coming from, with regards to certifications. I was a charter member of Microsoft's Certified Application Developer (.Net) certification, a Certified Scrum Master and a Certified Scrum Practitioner.

The interested parties in certifications are the people wanting to be certified, the people hiring them and the Alliance as the certifying authority. Are the interests of all three equally weighted? I thought of another interested group the training/testing delivery people.

Looking at my experiences for why I pursued certifications, one primary reason, especially for my MCAD and CSP ones, was to differentiate myself in the eyes of potential future employers. A secondary interest for the MCAD cert and a primary one for CSM was to learn more in those areas. Differentiation and education are pretty common for others I know that have pursued certification, usually pretty heavily weighted to the former. As such the pursuer of certification wants the certification to be difficult enough to provide real differentiation but still achievable in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable cost.

Looking at what I have liked and disliked about each, I feel that the CSM certification is too easy to obtain, an opinion I expressed to Mike Cohn after he delivered my course. Some of that is an unfortunate side effect of the title Certified Scrum Master. I'm being certified as a Master of something after a couple of days of training? Really? And then that is the most recognizable title in the field? I wish the toothpaste could be put back in and the initial certification was as a Practitioner (or Apprentice), the later one as Master. I liked the extensive application process for CSP. That felt more substantive. Unfortunately, I have not discerned much talk int he community of the importance of being a CSP or any difference in interest from potential employers. This is a current interest since Borland was acquired by Micro Focus a month ago. :) For the MCAD, I liked the Core + Elective set up so that you could focus on areas of interest or relevance. I did not like that it was a developer certification based on multiple choice tests.

Turning a bit to the hiring company side, I wrote here about some things I look for when interviewing candidates and I've been thinking about this conversation on the Software Craftmanship list about selecting for the wrong things in the interview process and this post on weeding out gross incompetence. I'd like to see the certification be tiered, just not with 'Master' at the first tier. When meeting someone with the first tier of certification, I'd know that they had a base level of understanding of the Scrum methods having been in a course for a couple of days. When meeting someone with the higher tier, I'd know that they had been on Scrum projects for some amount of time and had to go through an application and review process to be approved. An unanswered question in my mind is related to the Craftmanship discussion - how do I know they were effective as part of a team delivering software? It is probably too subjective to be answered in the certification process. The quality control aspects of both the course (material and delivery) and the approval/review process being under the purview of the Scrum Alliance are also important to the certification retaining value for the certified developer and the companies.

Going from the starting point Ron specified- that there will be a Scrum Certified Developer what would like to see it entail?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Staffing Agile Teams - What to Look for in a Team Member

Businesspeople shaking hands

Another of my posts from Borland's Agile Transformation blog. I know a lot of people looking for jobs right now and I'm hoping that this helps shed some light on the perspective of what the people on the other side of the interview are looking for in an Agile environment. Or, at least what I look for:

I read an interesting post about Scrum related job opportunities increasing and the author (Robin Pillay) posed three good questions to his readers:

  1. Where do you see Scrum in 5 years time in organisations?
  2. Every day I come across many candidates with no Scrum background that very keen to work for organisations that use scrum. The issues that I’m facing is many organisations always seem to want candidates from a Scrum background what would you recommend to candidates with no previous Scrum experience?
  3. What changes have you seen working in organisations that use Scrum compared to organizations that don’t ?"

I want to look at question #2, since I think there is a parallel question: If I'm staffing a Scrum (or Agile) team, what do I look for in candidates who don't necessarily have Scrum experience?

In my role as a ScrumMaster I've been involved in the interviewing process for many Scrum team members. Often these folks don't have prior history with Scrum, so I first give them a quick overview (this picture is really useful). A candidate without experience in Scrum should at least know how it works. Mountain Goat and others have lots of good (and free!) introductory material. For me, it's important to see that they've done that homework. Having some questions for the Scrum team on how well different Scrum practices work would be a plus for a candidate.
After the overview, I like to see is how the candidate contrasts this description of Scrum with the way they currently work. Do they seem leery of the change? Are they reluctant to work in such a highly visible and accountable way? Do they see benefits to Scrum from their current job? Are they eager for the high amount of interaction with their team? Will they pitch in to accomplish the goal or want to stay in a specialty?

It is also important to have lots of time in sessions with other team members. Not only are the other members in the best position to assess if the candidate is technically excellent, but they also have a great read on how the person will fit in with the team. Good teams are very vested in the hiring process since they know they'll be relying on this person to help them achieve the team goals. The best advice I can give to the candidate going through this process is the tried and true "honesty is the best policy". Don't try to bluff your way through since you'll be working really closely with these folks if you are brought onto the team. Sometimes flexibility and eagerness are more important anyway.

Finally, some thoughts for those candidates who do have Scrum experience. I'd expect to hear questions from them about adaptations the team has made to "by the book" Scrum, and for the candidate to be able to describe modifications their current team made over time. This shows the interest in learning from retrospectives and a dedication to continuous improvement.
I'd be interested in hearing from others. How do you assess candidates that aren't experienced with your methods?

Originally posted by Michael Maham on February 05, 2009 at 12:30 PM at

Update: There is a good conversation related to this on the Software Craftmanship group.

Update II: I like Richard Banks' approach to understanding technical competence

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do you design your work?

close-up of persons hands demonstrating on a lit up blueprint
Happily, I was finally able to attend the Lean Software Austin group's meeting this past Monday. Scott Bellware was leading the discussion on Kanban and applying it to software development. Unlike some groups where the meeting is like a lecture, this was very participatory with lots of dialog from different folks. Maybe this is because the group is still comparatively small, or since the area is still new so everyone is willing to share and try to learn from each one is worried about feeling like they don't do it "right" (yet).

One of the facets of Kanban that caused interesting discussion was the idea that work units should be the same size as they pass through the work flow. This is the ideal since it promotes smoother flow and is necessary in order for the Work In Progress (WIP) limits to be effective. Can it always happen? Of course not, but could it happen more often if we tried. I believe it was Scott who said, "Design the work and design the implementation".

After the initial revulsion to Big Design Up Front (BDUF), we've come to the understanding that you don't ditch design (of the implementation) altogether but you design appropriately. That the further away something is from being implemented, the lower the fidelity of the design. In a similar way, in the Scrum world, there's also the understanding that estimates of size get more accurate for a user story as you get closer to implementation. And there is some other "design of the work", but I think a lot of it is accidental and could be improved if it was done explicitly. For example, after sitting through a few interminably long poker planning meetings, Scrum teams, or part of the team-usually the more senior members, start to sit down with the Product Owner before the planning session to "groom" or "prep" the top part of the backlog. These sessions take a look at those stories that will likely be included in the next sprint and make sure there is at least enough detail or understanding for the team to be able to have the conversation during planning. Often, the result of these sessions is the Product Owner needs to further refine his thoughts or gather more information before planning.

One benefit to being more intentional about designing our work would be gaining more learning about how we did in retrospect. Teams spend so much time in planning doing story point estimation, but rarely have I seen them spend much effort at the end of an iteration looking at how they did on those estimates so they can be more consistent and more accurate in the future. In a Lean environment, inaccuracies in sizing the work would be apparent sooner since work that is larger than the standard will slow down the flow- starving the downstream parts and backing up the upstream ones. Just like designing the implementation, we want to achieve a balance to have "good enough" design of the work. For estimates of size, that might mean t-shirt sizes (Small, Medium, Large) for work that is some ways off and more detailed estimates as the work comes closer to being taken on.

Another benefit to designing the work, beyond the area of sizing, is it gives us a chance to recognize gaps in our skill set by looking ahead, or special circumstances that might apply. The larger the gap, the earlier we should look out how we're going to fill it, maybe by bringing in a specialist on a contract basis so we can learn from her, getting some training, doing early experiments or some other option. Special circumstances might be recognizing that a piece of work might be better done before someone on the team leaves for vacation. So, the work could be moved up in the order to take advantage of his special knowledge or skills.

How much time does your team spend designing your work? How does this compare with the effort in designing the implementation?

For those of you in Austin- hope you make it to the September Lean Software Austin meeting!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The What More Than The How

I read a really good blog post on Mike Cottmeyer's Leading Agile blog titled "Why the Re-think?". I originally found Mike's blog via a link on Twitter (if you're on Twitter, I'm michael_maham, if you're not on Twitter, you're missing a great stream of information)

It is on getting the important things right- not a methodology or process improvement for their own sakes (the HOWS) , but because you're trying get value delivered to your customer (the WHAT).

One quote really stood out to me: "Its the value behind the practices... the WHAT behind the HOW... that is really important. We believe this is the secret to sustainable agile adoption in the enterprise."

I think the last sentence understates the case. It's not just the the secret to sustainable agile adoption (or CMMi based improvement or any other process improvement), but is the secret to sustaining your business. Great businesses know that- even as they are trying to find the next WHAT or a better HOW they don't lose sight of continuing to deliver that value to the customers. If a new WHAT is too fanciful, it won't benefit customers and should be dropped. If a new HOW delays, rather than delivers, value to the customer, it is not right for them. Even if that HOW has a fancy label like "Agile" or "best practice".

Fortunately, for those of interested in the HOW, when we keep our eyes on the goal of delivering value, there are lots of improvements devoted teams can make that really are remarkable and don't become dogmatic headaches.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Mature Agile Organization

Oil + Water = CMMi + Agile?

Another post I had on Borland's Agile Transformations blog:

Here's a quick note about a recently published technical note from the SEI: CMMi or Agile: Why Not Embrace Both? There's talk about it from some of the authors: David Anderson, Hillel Glazer and Jeff Dalton. I saw them and Mike Konrad discuss the draft at an impromptu session at last year's SEPG Conference and am heartened to see the progress being made in the communities working together.

I'll have some more thoughts on the technical note itself, but a bigger question in your mind may be "CMMi and Agile? Those can't go together." I heard that comment from a colleague the other night at dinner. I disagreed and my answer was "A poorly implemented CMMi based process improvement- one that mistakes the model for a process description and that doesn't keep a firm eye on the goal of delivering business value- won't be very Agile. And, a poorly implemented Agile based improvement effort- one that doesn't recognize the amount of discipline required, for example, or doesn't address what's necessary to scale up to an enterprise level- won't look good from a CMMi view. But, I don't want either one of those things!"

Do you agree that there's value to an Agile organization in looking at the CMMi?

Originally posted by Michael Maham on December 16, 2008 at

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's missing from the Agile manifesto?

Continuing the reposting of my posts from Borland's Agile Transformations blog:

Coincidental to my fellow blogger Dale's attendance and coverage of the Agile Development Practices conference, iTunes downloaded an interesting podcast into my StickyMinds conferences subscription. It was for a short Q&A with Brian Marick about his keynote address at the conference with the intriguing title "Seven Years Later: What the Agile Manifesto Left Out."

Questioning the Manifesto? Isn't this, like tugging on Superman's cape, one of the things you just don't do? Well, since Brian 's one of the original thirteen signatories, he's in a good position to offer
commentary on it. The full text of his keynote is found on his blog, but the thing I took from
the interview was a main weakness in the Manifesto is not describing the internal values necessary for Agile to be successful, as opposed to the external values to make the business and dev team interaction successful. In the text, he lists the internal values as Courage, Working Software, Ease, Being Reactive, Fast Feedback, Naivete', Visibility to the point of Exhibitionism, and Joy.

One line from the written text that jumps out at me is "There are always tradeoffs between the values". To me, that means not just between the items on the left and right on each line of the original Manifesto, but between the lines. While this is not missing from the Manifesto, more people need an appreciation for this and to think about when it makes sense to trade off one against another. And that it is ok to do this. Everything can't be priority #1 at all times.

Two things I think are missing from the Manifesto are a recognition that it should change over time and laying out the means for such change. It seems remarkable that a document putting "Responding to change" as one of the top four values for software development would not see value in acknowledging that it, too, might need to change along the line. Brian touches on this in the interview and sees it as remarkable enough that the thirteen signatories could come together and come to agreement once. The odds of getting this to happen more than once are just too low, in his opinion, to believe it could happen. Still, that disappoints me.

Interestingly, a difference between the interview and the written text is that in the interview he mentions Skill and Discipline, not just as values but as ones that are lacking (in the case of skill) and more necessary (in the case of discipline) to make Agile work. I think these are very good points and are often overlooked. Do some of the values, such as fast feedback, visibility and working software combined with courage (to be honest about them and not fudge them for appearance's sake),
require discipline? A different set, like working software + ease, might require strong skills?

I'd be interested in hearing Brian's take on the relationships between skill and discipline and his other values. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't more discussion of these two in the text of his talk since I'd say those are two big gaps in the internal workings of teams.

I leave readers with a different set of questions:

* Are we doing enough to recognize what skills gaps there are in our teams?
* How are we addressing those rather than making the team relearn all of the ideas that really experienced folks know?
* Are we sending enough developers out to conferences or other events with peers?
* Are teams putting up information radiators to reflect to themselves how disciplined they are?
* What do you think is missing from the Manifesto?

Originally posted by Michael Maham on November 26, 2008 at 09:04 AM at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Intro #1: What School Are You?

I always like when there is some introductory material on a blog- it gives you a sense of where someone's coming from and can help you understand their perspective. I'll have a couple of these posts- I have one from my former company's blog and I'll copy it here. Not because it is so valuable it needs to be reprinted :), but I'm not sure how long Borland's "Agile Transformation" blog will remain up now that they've been bought by Micro Focus. And I think it does a pretty good job of presenting where I'm coming from on process issues. So, here is "What School Are You?" (originally published at: :

"I kicked around several ideas for an introductory post, trying to balance giving some personal background with something of broader interest....Trying to balance answering "Who am I?" for you, without being vain enough for you to instead ask "Who does this guy think he is?" Asking the question in the title gives me a good balance.

One of the ideas that has really helped me on understanding "Agile Transformations", both in myself and in teams that I see and work with is the concept of "shuhari", which defines the stages of mastering Japanese martial arts. Shu is the level when you start and are loyal to the "school" you are learning from- you're following the practices by the book. Ha is when you are understanding more of the principles behind the practices so you can go beyond the practices you learned in your school- how to extend them to situations not originally envisioned or what to do when a practice used to work or what ideas from another school you'd like to mix in. I get these two, but Ri? Ri is defined as transcendence when all moves are natural. I'll let you know if I experience this transcendence! In my book, it's not too terribly important where you start since people around you will get to the point that they're pulling in ideas from other schools. Or they'll be dogmatically stuck to the starting school and you won't want to hang around them.

So, what "school" are you when it comes to development and how to improve? For me, I started out seeing many different approaches to doing things better- some measurement driven, some from a maturity model, some from a vendor. It wasn't until we started using Scrum inside Borland that I saw something that I really believed in - the other results I saw from the others were just too mixed. Sure, Scrum's results are mixed but the experiences I've seen are much more on the positive side of the ledger. So, would I say I'm of the Scrum school? Or even the Schwaber Scrum school since that is the first book I had? Or the Mike Cohn Scrum school since he was the trainer in my first ScrumMaster training?

Nope. None of the above. While appreciating Scrum, serving as a ScrumMaster and seeing the way it benefits teams, I was exploring other areas of the Agile world and finding other approaches that resonate more with me. I haven't done hardcore XP. I'd like to say I'm of the Real Options school, but I'm not sure I could pass the entrance exam. The area that resonates the most for me is Lean, whether described by the Poppendiecks, David Anderson or Corey Ladas and crew. My personal exploration and experience with these schools of thought will be one of the many areas I cover in this blog.

So I'm interested to know, what school are you? "

(Originally p