Category Archives: classes

Should Engineers Take Scrum Product Owner Training?

I was recently asked if engineers or other members of the scrum team would get value from a Certified Scrum Product Owner workshop.

Our Certified Scrum Product Owner workshops are designed to build knowledge and skill in three main areas:

  • How scrum works and how to use it effectively
  • How to build shared understanding of the requirements between stakeholders and the development team so the team builds the right thing
  • How to identify and focus the team’s efforts on the most valuable deliverables

These are topics every member of a high-performing team should be versed in. Having engineers participate in product owner training helps them understand the context within which they do their engineering work, and helps them understand how to interact better with product owners around topics such as the business value of paying down technical dept.

For products that are extremely technical, engineers usually work closely with the product owner in order to define and refine the user stories. If the engineers lack story writing skills, then the resulting ‘stories’ are often little more than a restating of the architecture and technical design. The problem with this is that many of these ‘technical stories’ need to be implemented before there is anything meaningful to the stakeholders. Once those engineers have been exposed to the story writing and splitting techniques in our workshop, they are better able to define/refine stories in such a way that they stay pertinent to stakeholders at all times.

I’ll also point out that all scrum masters should take the product owner training, as scrum masters are the scrum experts who provide guidance to the scrum team and the greater organization. Frequently, the scrum master will be called upon to coach the product owners in the various skills needed to be effective in product owner role.



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More fun with internet memes: “What does a scrum product owner do?”

We learned earlier what it is a scrum master does. Now it’s time to see what makes a product owner tick:

If this makes you want to become a scrum product owner (and we’re certain it does!), you can take one of our product owner certification classes. The next one is February 25-26, and includes a free Kindle.

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Kindles for all our CSM and CSPO students this month

We hear that the traditional year-one anniversary gift is paper. Does e-ink count? We think so! The Elements of Scrum is a year old, and to celebrate, Agile Learning Labs is giving a Kindle to every student in our Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner classes this month.

And what a year it has been: The Elements of Scrum has become a runaway bestseller on Amazon and is being taught in the hallowed halls of academia and by scrum trainers around the world.

Your free Kindle will come pre-loaded with The Elements of Scrum as well as the complete catalog of 2011 titles from our publisher, Dymaxicon. Whether you’re a fan of mysteries or an avid gardener, there will be something extra for every reader. Here’s everything you’ll get:

  • A Detailed Man David Swinson’s bestselling detective novel
  • BeBop Garden Ricki Grady’s soulful book about finding syncopated bliss in your own back yard
  • The Bad Mother a novel about Hollywood street kids by LA journalist Nancy Rommelmann
  • The Queens of Montague Street Nancy Rommelmann’s memoir of being a teenager in 1970s Brooklyn, excerpted in the New York Times Magazine
  • The Sushi King’s Daughter a novel of 1980s Japan by Larry Kronish
  • Shooting Stars Hillary Louise Johnson’s comic mystery novel featuring Hollywood hit woman Carlotta Novak
  • Physical Culture Hillary Louise Johnson’s first novel, a Dymaxicon Cult Classic re-issue

So sign up for a class, and all this bounty will be yours. Details and registration links below:

Certified Scrum Product Owner Earlybird pricing through Feb 11th
February 25-26 in Redwood City

Certified ScrumMaster Earlybird pricing through Feb 13th
February 27-28 in Redwood City

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Elizabeth McClellan: An artist’s interpretation of scrum

Artist, illustrator and graphic facilitator Elizabeth McClellan is one of my favorite people, proving as she always does that the kind of work we do here at Agile Learning Labs–and what our clients do when they develop software–is as much art as it is business. Last June, as Chris blogged recently, Elizabeth recorded everything that happened in one of our Certified ScrumMaster Workshops in her inimitable style. This week, she did the same for our Certified Product Owner course in Redwood City. Click on each image to see it in all its detail and glory.

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Test Driven Development – Life Beyond the Insanity

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
~ Albert Einstein

Are you a survivor of insane software development? Design-code-integrate-test-deploy. Maybe it’s time for a different approach.

Test driven development takes some of the insanity out of the software development process by shifting the emphasis on testing from post-development necessity to the first objective in the project. Create a test and see it fail. Then write enough code so that the test passes. Then refactor mercilessly.

The result?

  • 60% to 90% fewer software defects according to an IBM/Microsoft study. That could make the head of your department giggle for the first time in months.
  • More confidence that code changes can be made swiftly and effectively without the recurring nightmare of current functionality heading south of the border.
  • Useful, functional specifications available to be executed by new team members. Now you aren’t the only cog in the software machine who understands how to make this particular hunk of code sing and dance.

Skip any of the steps in test-driven development – and you’re just blindly blazing new trails in the land of insane software development. Instead – make an investment in your sanity.

Agile Learning Labs presents “Test Driven Development in C#” on September 26-28 in Redwood City. Led by TDD-evangelist Rob Myers, this hands-on course delves into the techniques of fearless test-driven development – including test-first, refactoring, mock objects, and more. You won’t be talking about coding – you’ll be working in pairs to produce code using test-driven development techniques. After this class – you’ll be ready to tackle your “real life” software insanity head-on.

Not fluent in C#? Never fear. Rob promises a multi-lingual approach to the class. Get your C# on – or bring a little Java on the side. Whatever the language – this course will set you on a new course towards software sanity using test-driven development.

Early bird pricing for the Test Driven Development class ends September 12. Use code ‘StoptheInsanity’ to save an extra $300 on your registration. Register today!

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Lyssa Adkins, Agile Pop Star…

I was writing Lyssa Adkins the other day to update her on how briskly the seats in her upcoming class are selling, and I almost called her a “rock star”… But it just didn’t feel right. Lyssa has absolutely nothing in common with Keith Richards (which is a good thing, believe me!). She’s more of a Christina Aguilera type, which is kind of the opposite of the dark, moody troubled-but-oh-so-talented rock star: Lyssa is open, magnanimous, confident, snappy with a comeback, and very, very shiny–a classic pop star.

So why do we call high-performing software folk rock stars? Rock stars, as we all know, are rebels. They work and play hard, often at eccentric hours. Their handlers know that the rock star does his best work between 2:00 and 4:00 am, while wolfing Fritos and mainlining Mountain Dew. Which is why they oversleep and don’t show up for meetings. They are aloof, distant, mythological beings who inspire admiration from afar–mostly because they’re extremely trying to be around up-close. So they keep their star-struck groupies at arm’s length, and drive their handlers absolutely insane–often with worry.

Pop stars, on the other hand, tend to be hard-working, driven professionals who get up at six to do yoga while sipping coconut water and reading the trades. They respect the engine of commerce and enjoy contributing economically as well as culturally, which is why they often have side enterprises producing shoes or handbags (or publishing books) and are always looking for fruitful partnerships. Yes, a pop star understand the value of collaboration and knows she couldn’t do what she does without the contributions of others. Pop stars also love their fans, and treat them with empathy and respect. They may not be as “cool” as the rock star next door, but they are far, far more popular.

You’ll notice that I’ve described rock stars in the masculine and pop stars in the feminine. That’s entirely figurative–think of them as the animus and anima of celebrity-dom. Amy Winehouse, for example, is a rock star. And Russell Brand is definitely a pop star (who plays a rock star).

All of which is to say that if you want to get into Lyssa and Michael’s class in Boulder, CO, on December 20-21, you’d best high-tail it over to the registration page now, because it’s gonna sell out.

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A recap of our weekend CSM

This weekend Agile Learning Labs held a memorable Certified ScrumMaster training. We capped admission at 28, and had a wait list–a first for us. The distinguished student body included people who flew in for the event from Tennessee, Michigan and Dubai, and a good mix of current agile team members, independent consultants, and job seekers–fewer job seekers than usual as the employment market improves, we’re happy to report!

The atmosphere was bubbly and energetic from the start. People showing up for “corporate training” on a Saturday morning aren’t always all that fired up, but this group arrived fully charged: when Chris called for order at 9:00am on Saturday morning, the buzz of conversation was so thick he felt as if he were interrupting an open bar cocktail party.

One of the issues we have wrestled with in designing our CSM curriculum is the diversity of experience people bring to it. Our feedback forms told us consistently that however we handled the “intro to agile” portion of our material, people were either disappointed that the class was “introductory,” or frustrated that the class was “too advanced.” The problem is that CSM classes by nature are taken by both Agile newbies, and experienced practitioners retro-fitting their resumes with certification.

Chris’ solution, implemented in the last couple of classes, has been to divide the students into groups and charge each with preparing a presentation on some core aspect of Scrum–this mixes the experienced with the curious into small groups, and lets them learn from each other (hey, if you’re experienced in something, nothing helps you cement that knowledge quite like explaining it to a noob). The students took the assignment to heart–the first group presented their material in the form of a Doo-Wop number complete with synchronized backing vocals, and the team charged with defining “product owner” came up with a set of cheers “P is for…!” that Chris and Jeff singled out later as being astonishingly accurate.

Day two saw four teams engage in The Agile Game, a half-day simulation of an Agile project, completing three sprints–four if you count Iteration Zero. The culmination of all this fun was a graduation “ceremony” in which Chris presented each student with a certificate, a ScrumMaster button, and a secret ScrumMaster handshake (you’ll have to take the class to find out what this consists of, but suffice it to say that it involves Ken Schwaber, a bicycle accident, and a sheep dog).

We’re currently planning our 2011 schedule of classes, which will include CSM, CSPO, as well as brand-spanking-new courses in OpenAgile, TDD and other offerings, so sign up for our infrequent newsletter or check the website soon to see what’s coming up.

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The common roots of Agile & Improv: Reading Lee Devin

Artful Making As a writer and editor, I’m acutely aware of the importance of language and metaphor in framing our experience. It has long been my opinion that our business cultures–and that includes software–have been profoundly affected (dare I say, infected?) by sports and combat metaphorage. We have teams, team players and coaches. We keep score and touch base. We have strategies, tactics and positions, and we can “win” things like market share.

The problem with metaphors is that they can bring along unwanted associations as well. When we talk about business in terms of winning, we imply that it is at root a struggle for dominance, a zero-sum game. And while this may be true in certain segments of certain competitive industries, it is most untrue of software development, where the best ideas are often emergent ones that no one could have foreseen–including the people who came up with them.

What we need is a new metaphor for new product development, especially development that follows a heuristic path, such as agile software development.

Lee Devin, a well-known theatre-wonk, and Rob Austin, a business professor, have proposed an entirely different metaphor for the information age: the theatrical arts. Instead of a team, we have an ensemble. Instead of a leader, we have a director. We also have a tight deadline–opening night–and a goal of putting on the best production possible by that date, achieved by iterating over the play in rehearsal after rehearsal. Sound like agile? Devin and Austin think so, and they have written a book, Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work, that aims to reframe our conversation about “knowledge work,” with specific reference to agile software development, in terms of art, not war.

Devin and Austin dismiss the “scientific” method as well, something Ken Schwaber also did when he pointed out that software development is an “empirical process” not a “defined process.” Devin and Austin declare that we are mis-labeling our activity when we talk of “experimenting.” An experiment, they claim, tests a known hypothesis, and is highly controlled. Instead, they prefer to model the process of serendipitous creation after improv. Try lots of things, don’t censor yourself, just be open to recognizing a good idea when you stumble upon it. The struggle to be agile is usually a struggle with this very issue–the battle against the internal censor, against the familiarity of Socratic debate, the reductive “yes, but.” It takes bravery and rigor to push aside what William James referred to as “the sentiment of rationality.”

Think a book about business and theatre sounds “soft”? If you doubt for a second how mind-expanding and stimulating a new metaphor can be, take their definition of collaboration, based on the convergence of an ensemble of actors, a director and a script: “The quality exhibited by conversation, in language and behavior, during which each party, released from vanity, inhibitions, and preconceptions, treats the contributions of other parties as material to make with, not as positions to argue with, so that new and unpredictable ideas emerge.”

Ideas as raw material, not “positions.” This is the difference between playing a game or fighting a battle, and making something. Which would you rather do all day?

Lee Devin and Tobias Mayer will be co-teaching Building Creative Agile Teams, as part of the Creative Edge Series of advanced agile courses, here in Redwood City on December 14-15.

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Breakfast of Agile Champions (this Monday!)

Breakfast Being Agile is hard. Simple, and hard. Simple because, in theory, all we need to do to achieve a yogic level of Agility is to live by the Agile Principles as set forth in the Agile Manifesto. Hard, because the real world impinges on or impedes this effort every %$(^%&! day.

In light of this, Agile Learning Labs' own Steve Bockman has put together a workshop on the first Agile Principle, which reads, simply:

"Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software."

The workshop is called Continuous Delivery of Software: Maximizing Customer Satisfaction by Delivering Early and Often. The first session will be Monday, January 25, from 7 to 9 am at the Hobee's Restaurant in Redwood Shores (you can see it from the freeway). For the tuition of $50, we're throwing in a full, hearty American Breakfast is included–yep, we're talking bacon, french toast, and chorizo omelets here, not burnt coffee and a shrink-wrapped croissant. You'll also receive a certificate of completion you can use to claim 2 PDUs from the PMI.

PDUs and bacon. What more could you ask for? Register here.

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CSM: The reviews are in…

We're blushing. Drew Powers, the new editor of the SF Bay Area Chapter of the Project Management Institute's newsletter, attended our Certified ScrumMaster workshop in September and has written a thoroughly glowing account of the class, concluding that Agile is indeed highly relevant for Project Managers:

…while migrating from a traditional PM environment may require applying Scrum‘s mantra of "Do, Inspect, Adapt, Redo" to the overall organizational culture, I believe Scrum‘s potential for faster time to market of a high quality products that better meets clients‘ needs will prove itself in a relatively short period of time.

Powers also praised our experiential approach to training, and the "give and take" between our instructors, Chris Sims and Jeff McKenna, but perhaps the most flattering part of the review was Powers' summary definition of scrum. When a student leaves your class able to articulate what he learned this well, you know you did a good job with the teaching:

Scrum is a specific methodology within the Agile umbrella of methodologies that also includes Extreme Programming which are characterized by iterative requirements elaboration and product development. Scrum is based on several principles: Iterative elaboration of requirements, self-managing project teams in which the ScrumMaster acts more of as a facilitator than a leader, and a minimum of documentation. The Scrum mantra is Do, Inspect, Adapt, Redo – that is, give it your best shot the first time, learn from what you do, then do it again. It involves three major roles: The Product Owner, sometimes thought of as the Client, the ScrumMaster, and the Development Team, which may include architects and tech writers as well as coders. The Product Owner supplies and prioritizes requirements from a list of requirements called the Backlog. The Development Team determines which of the highest priority requirements they can bring to a customer-ready state (including QA and user documentation) within a development cycle, normally about two weeks to thirty days in length and known as a Sprint. The ScrumMaster facilitates the entire process, but it is key to note that the development team makes all key project decisions and manages itself. The role of the ScrumMaster is to remove roadblocks and enable the development team to focus on the project.

Thanks, Drew!

If this makes you wish you'd been there, join us for our next Certified ScrumMaster training on the weekend of December 5-6, again with Chris & Jeff.

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