Ambling Madly: #1 Helsinki, January 2009

Ambling Madly — The Travels of a Certified Scrum Trainer
#1: Helsinki, January 2009

Short days, low suns, frozen sea. Grey buildings. Serious people. Fish. Those little rock-hard lumps of sugar that never seem to melt in your coffee. This is Helsinki, my first stop on a series of twenty-five CSM courses throughout 2009. I have set myself the task of writing a Scrum Trainer Travel Blog. This is intended to help me reflect on what I do as a trainer, and hopefully to offer some light reading to counterbalance all the heavy process and technical blogging that surrounds us. You know that feeling of eating too much rich food? Sometimes you just want a light salad. I am the lettuce.

This Helsinki class is small, just seven people. Generating the right energy for learning is harder with such a small group. I find Finns to be a little austere, a little serious in nature, which makes it perhaps harder still. It is such challenges though that keep this work interesting, and allows for continuous re-conceiving of both the format and the content of the course.

You see, Scrum is so simple it can be taught in a couple of hours, maybe half a day. The rest of the two-day CSM course is taken up in different ways by different trainers. My preference is to immerse the participants in exercises of an interactive and physical nature, in order to embody the principles and values of Scrum. This is done through game playing and/or complex problem solving exercises. A few courses ago, I abandoned PowerPoint slides. It was liberating! This freedom allows me a great deal of flexibility from course to course, as I am not tied to a format, but rather driven by the needs of the group. It means I have to sharpen my listening skills, stay alert.

But this is all general stuff. What about this Helsinki group? It took me most of the morning to break the ice here (ice is thick at this latitude). I was struggling to have this small group of seven take responsibility for their own learning. There was an opportunity here for this group to simply be a Scrum team, but it wasn’t happening. So I asked: what would a good Scrum Master do? and I remembered my own advice about “management by leaving the room”. I set a clear goal to the team to come up with a vision statement and a set of themes for the next day-and-a-half of training that expressed their common needs. I gave them a time box of 15 minutes. Then I left the room. I went for a walk… and guess what? It was cold.

When I sneaked back in after about 10 minutes, I observed more activity and felt more energy between the participants that I had for the whole first part of the morning. People were moving, writing, sticking things, having conversation. Get out of the way — it’s a good principle for Scrum Masters, coaches and it turns out, even for trainers.

The Vision exercise also created a sense of trust between the participants, and I observed a greater comfort in speaking up, offering comments and questions, listening to each other. The rest of the day was a lot more fun, very interactive, rather silly in content, but always serious about experiencing the principles and values of Scrum.

And tomorrow? I’m not sure what we’ll do yet, but I am confident we will figure that out as we go. And we have a great framework to guide us. It’s called Scrum 🙂

Do it. be it.

Tobias Mayer

Download the PDF version: Ambling Madly Part One_blog

Posted in Agile
5 comments on “Ambling Madly: #1 Helsinki, January 2009
  1. Michael James says:

    I also have days where nothing gets done until I leave the room. After self organization gains some momentum, I’ll sometimes sneak back in to watch, and perhaps nudge a team that gets too stuck.

    Getting the most from a Scrum Development Team means negotiating clear goals during the Sprint Planning Meeting, getting out of the way during Sprint Execution, then holding the whole team accountable for the goals at the Sprint Review Meeting.

    As a ScrumMaster I sometimes had to contend with teammembers reporting to me in the daily Scrum, instead of each other. I suggest Ken Schwaber’s trick of looking down (so they have to look at each other), or even Keith Johnstone’s trick of lying on the floor.

    Tobias and I avoid the term “team lead” during Sprint execution. The term is conspicuously absent from Scrum jargon because we’re looking for leadership to emerge naturally on the team. The team members have a better idea than the org chart who they can count on for technical guidance in particular areas, who can act as the social glue, etc. The leadership is sometimes obvious to outside observers, and other times subtle.

    Outside the world of Scrum, Semco CEO uses the term “self propelled team” in Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace. These teams get work done out of love for the work, camaraderie with their teammates, and commitment to goals they themselves negotiated.

    Building this takes time, the right conditions, and the right people. Other times we can’t wait for real teamwork to emerge, and we can get by with a conventional boss/worker working group. I wouldn’t call this Scrum though.


  2. JRyan says:

    Enjoyed reading the above plus MJ’s comment. There were things there I could relate to as a teacher in a totally different setting. You are each making points about ways of emphasising learner responsibility and it was interesting (and so familiar) what you were saying about how the facilitator had to get right away in order for that transference of responsibility to occur. It’s like the purposeful silence I use with my students when the answer has been given and now its time to dip the toe in the water! People learn through self development, not through being filled with information, I do believe, so I am all in favour of this approach.

    Good luck

  3. Marko says:

    I was student on Danube and Tobias’s CSM course in Vienna (December 15-16, 2008). Almost everybody new basics of Scrum, read at least “Scrum in 5 minutes”, few guys even more (some books). I was actually practicing Scrum in teams for two years (as developer), but always felt that something isn’t right and that I was missing the point. Of course, I read many books and tons of articles about Agile and Scrum itself.

    As Tobias already mentioned, our Vienna CSM group didn’t need power point slides, but real stuff. And that’s the point. I felt as a member of real Scrum team. Doing exercises one by one, my perception of Scrum and Agile was changing, getting more mature, foggy vision of how to implement Scrum in my software department was becoming crystal clear. When I returned in my hotel I started writing ideas about changing my department in Scrum (and Agile) way. Now, I have clear vision about what to change and how to do it. Now I’m aware that this is not easy job to do at all.

    And how I realized that? I learnt from Tobias that it is not about talking to people about Scrum. It is not about teaching them about Scrum terminology, telling them what, how and when to do.

    It is about changing people’s perspective, even getting out of their way. Perspective on their jobs, they’re already doing. Changing people’s habits. And you can’t make them to do it. This change must come from themselves. And your job is to induce and to facilitate this change. You have to empower them to change. That’s why it is so hard.

    And that’s why Tobias is doing great job. That’s why he made great impact on my Scrum/Agile.

    Tobias, thank you for these two days in Vienna. And thank you for the change.

  4. Peter Hundermark says:

    Hi Tobias,

    Thanks for the refreshing post and good wishes in your new work home and for 2009!

    I’ve just arrived in Düsseldorf, Germany to present my very first CSM class tomorrow. I’m armed with a Linus’ blanket of slides to provide a framework for my course. I hope I also reach the point where I can ditch them…



  5. Mike Cohn says:

    Hi Tobias–
    Congratulations on joining Danube.

    I enjoyed your blog entry. This has been my experience in Finland as well. I love going there but people are quieter in classes than in other countries I’ve visited. A few days before your blog posting, I noticed this article in Psychology Today which reports something very similar to what you say:
    Finland: No Need for Words

    –Mike Cohn

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