Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, November 27, 2017

Experience Matters in a Scrum Coach

Leadership experience is not pretty but necessary
Plenty of issues crop up in the day to day life of a scrum master.  Impediments need to be resolved and each day you are a living example of how Scrum is supposed to work.  As a fellow coach, Ryan Ripley remarked on how some individuals with little experience with agile are marketing themselves as coaches.  Ryan feels pretty strongly about the subject, and so do I.

There are two lines of thought about leadership.  The first school is called the “great man theory.”  This school firmly believes that great leaders are not made but are born.  This notion has been used for generations to support monarchs and other forms of tyranny.  For each leader born into greatness, there are numerous counterexamples of individuals who fall woefully short.  There is also an elitism and snobbishness associated with this school of leadership which says that only specific groups can aspire to leadership.  I also find this type of thinking has plenty of sexist and racist baggage associated with it.

The second school of thought is the notion that leadership can be taught just like any other skill.  I am a firm supporter of this idea.  When I was a teenager, I benefited from leadership training from Boy Scouts of America and Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.  I had the Boy Scout Law ingrained into my personality at an early age.  The outdoor activities forced me to learn to help younger scouts cope with being alone and away from home for the first time.  Being caught in a rainstorm surrounded by wet and tired twelve-year-olds is a good measure of your leadership skills.

Marine Corps JROTC taught me self-discipline, my left form my right and that leadership is more about credibility than shouting at people.  I met some remarkable people.  David Ogle was a survivor of combat around the Chosin reservoir and a USMC boxing champion.  He served in Vietnam and became a Sergeant Major.  Richard Weidner was a company commander in Vietnam and taught me about the less than glamorous things leaders have to do.

Together, Boy Scouts and Marine JROTC gave me a good foundation from which to build.  I took that knowledge with me into the sales profession, the casino business, radio, and finally into technology.  I am entering the fifth year of being a scrum master.  The experience of shipping software at the end of each sprint changes a person and their style of leadership.  Working with offshore teams changes how you relate to others.  Those experiences make you a better scrum master and coach.

We can teach leadership, in my opinion.  I also feel experience acts as a multiplier of leadership skill.  A good leader does not ask someone to do something which they would not do themselves.  That means if you ask a developer to write a unit test you better be willing to write a few of your own.  An agile coach who has not led a retrospective or shipped code is not a coach because they lack the practical skills to make agile successful.  They are faux coaches, and you should steer clear of them.  An agile transformation is like performing a heart transplant on a person running a marathon; you would not trust that job to a first-year medical student.  Anyone can call themselves a coach, it takes time and experience to be a valuable coach

Until next time.