Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to Hire a Good Scrum Master?

There is an interesting discussion in my linkedin group. The topic is: when you hire a scrum master, do you look for technical skills and leadership skills? Would team members respect a scrum master who is not a good subject matter expert or who is technically challenged? (in case of a software scrum team) 
I have seen so many team members who write great code and develop great applications, but fail in scrum master role when they choose to try it out. Similarly, I've see several effective managers totally failing this role because they did not have control over the team any more. So - while I prefer both - I vote for personal skills, leadership, honesty, desire to help, respect, unselfishness. In terms of hiring, there are situational questions that I find most efficient. Here are some examples:
1. An executive walks into your team's retrospective because he wants to know how things are going. Do you ask him out, and how?
2. At a demo, a business stakeholder not directly involved with your product, starts making suggestions like "why don't you change a label of that button" and "I do not like the color of this screen", and does this for each feature your team demo's. The team members look demoralized. How do you protect your team?
3. You are a scrum master for a new team that has no prior scrum experience. At a standup, two team members engage in a 5-minute long conversation on a specific topic. Do you interrupt them at the standup, right after, or wait until the retro?
4. At a retro, your team members do not speak up, while you know that there are communication issues on the team. How do you make them talk?
5. The team committed to 5 stories for this sprint at a sprint planning, but you know for sure they won't be able to complete all of them. How do you tell them about it so that they don't overcommit, and do you have to? 
There are more complex questions on managing cross-team dependencies, dealing with the business requests to deliver the product by a specific timeline, getting buy-in from the management, dealing with fractional assignments, etc. 
Any other ideas?

On Hyper-Productive Teams

As one of the ways to promote agile best practices, we established Agile Practitioners Lunch and Learn Events (APLLE) where teams share best practices, or teams vote for a topic, and one of Agile CoE members (which I am part of) provides an interactive presentation about. We take turns in being responsible for a specific APLLE event, depending on our own interests and areas of specialization (we are cross-functional, but we still have our roles within the Agile transition team). More about iour Agile CoE here:
Anyway, my next topic is on Hyper-Productive Teams. I did a lot of research. There are two distincts opinions:
1. This is all about having proper technology in place to allow teams be hyper-productive (automated testing, automated build, data virtualized, one-click deployments, etc.)
2. This is all about team building and healthy team dynamics (I love the "team building tree" metaphor introduced by Lyssa Adkins in "Coaching Agile teams").
So while I work on my presentation which will include both aspects, I can't stop thinking: is it people or is it proper tooling? What really makes a team hyper productive? Do you have any thoughts?

My PMI-ACP Exam Taking Experience

In today's competitive job market, primary credentialing is an important way to identify industry professionals with a full understanding and practical experience. It also a way for employers to identify prospective employees with valuable industry experience which is confirmed and verified by the means of widely accredited and recognized certification.
 This is one of the reasons the new PMI-ACP examination ( released in 2011 raised significant interest in Agile community world-wide. As of December 2011, the following numbers on PMI-ACP examination were available on PMI community blog page and some other sources (,
  •   7654 Applications Opened 
  •  1404 Applications Submitted 
  •  827 Exam Applicants Paid 
  •  557 Exams Taken
In December 2011, when the results were releases, it was announced that over 500 of the test takers passed the exam. There may be several reasons for such a high rate. First, those who took the pilot exam were confident about their skills and knowledge, otherwise they would wait until the exam is tested and take this time to prepare. Second, PMI could be favorable to those who were brave enough to take the pilot despite no prep books (apart from the relatively large number of the books to read). These are my speculations though. Whatever it was, the exam is now released - starting January 31, it is open to all participants:
My pilot experience is not fully relevant anymore. But here it is: 
I took PMI-ACP exam in November 2011 and I feel it has been a rewarding experience, which I am happy to share with you. First, I want to share that I embraced the fact that PMI acknowledged Agile by instituting this certification and while I’ve heard a lot of contradictory opinions on this subject, I felt that this exam is a bridge which will fill the gap between Agile and what we call “traditional project management”. PMI-ACP certification exam was welcome by the Agile community.
 Overall, this exam is an remarkable step towards bridging traditional, waterfall project management and adoption of agile practices. Many organizations in multiple industries are adopting agile practices to align their development environment to changing market needs, and with this trend, the requirement for project managers trained in agile practices is going up. In January 2010, Forrester release a research which shows that 35 percent of 1,300 respondents stated that agile most closely reflects their development process and made a conclusion that agile software development  processes, in which software is built in short iterations rather than mapped out fully in advance, have joined the mainstream of development approaches(

The new PMI Agile-Certified Practitioner certification, PMI-ACP, reflects this tendency and addresses the requirement from project management everyday reality. Being an established project manegement boady with high value for the certifications it awards, PMI made this step towards recognizing the value of Agile practices. PMI established its Agile Community of Practice in 2009 and PMBOK® Guide 3rd & 4th edition contain references to iterative development. According to PMI,
For practitioners, PMI-ACPSM helps:
  • Demonstrate a level of professionalism in Agile principles, practices, tools and techniques,
  • Increase professional versatility in project management
For employers, PMI-ACPSM demonstrates a practitioner’s:
  • Knowledge of Agile practices, which shows the practitioner has greater breadth and depth as a project manager,
  • Ability to lead basic Agile projects
While I was excited about taking the exam, I was concerned with the fact that the questions and expected answers from PMI should not violate Agile values and principles. The concerns were triggered by two facts: first, PMI was not involved as an organization (according to my knowledge) in building Agile repository of knowledge so it is acquired methology rather than conceived and lived through; and second, since there is no AgileBoK (at least no single repository of knowledge on Agile), I was concerned about the level of consistency between 11 books suggested by PMI for preparation to this test.

Based on my exam experience, neither concern is in fact a concern for Agile community. I think questions adequately reflect Agile values (I am not aware who exactly was involved in creating the questions, but I certainly feel that exam preparers are Agile practitioners who share Agile values). And while there is certain degree of inconsistency (most obvious one is “Agile project manager”, “project leader”, and “scrum master”; or “team” refers to both “scrum master” vs. “team” and “srcum master and development team” in different questions – you would have to guess what is applicable) but overall, I did not come across significant inconsistency or ambiguity.
Overall, the exam experience was pleasant. I completed the questions in 1.5 hours and took another 30 minutes to go through those 20 questions out of 200 that I was not sure about. But let this not misguide you. This does not mean that exam is easy, though about 60% of the questions were quite straighforward, if you have significant Agile experience and have read the books from the list. You may not need all this time because there are no complex formulas or tricky confusing questions, but the level of knowledge required is adequate. It was not as difficult as PMP exam for me, which required a lot of preparation, but luckily, I’ve read most books on PMO list before PMI-ACP exam was introduced, so my preparation was reasonable. Again, it is hard for me to judge because I do not know the result yet – the results will be made available in early January (originally, it was reported to be Q4, 2011). While everyone would love to see results immediately after taking the test, I understand the reason why this is delayed and the fact that baseline has to be established before providing assessment. I find it thoughtful and support this decision by PMI, though I’ve read a lot from the disappointed test takers who were unhappy that they did not see the results right away. Pilot is a pilot though, and it will establish baseline for future test-takers.
Please note that PMI-ACP is not the only exam in the field of Agile knowledge. Scrum Alliance transformed the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) program starting January 2012 by offering a 150-question exam, which is available at proctored test sites around the world and has a three-hour time limit ( The intent behind the CSP certification program is to offer a clearly defined and well-respected credential in the Agile community, recognized as the primary credential for Scrum Professionals and sought by the employers who hire them. The beta test that was conducted in October 2011 to assure that the CSP examination met accreditation requirements and is theoretically and technically sound, and as of January 1, 2012, Scrum Alliance will be offering CSP as a credential that implies, regardless of the Scrum role in which an individual works, those holding it have a full understanding of Scrum and its implementation.
This being said, CSP certification deserves to be a subject of a separate review, and back to PMI-ACP exam.  For those of you who are planning to take the exam, below is my summary from the test I took in November 2011. While it would be unethical to list specific questions, I will list the areas and my not-so-accurate and definitely subjective estimation of the exam topics and what to pay attention to while preparing for the exam:
1.       Risk Management in Agile – around 10% of questions. This was not an unexpected topic (I read on linkedin that this area will be significantly covered but I was not prepared for the depth of questions asked). Make sure you understand risk burndown chart, have an idea on how Pareto principle applies to risk analysis, and how risks are managed in Agile vs. waterfall.
2.       How Agile delivers business value – around 10%. There were multiple well versed questions on the topic, many related to Lean but some to scrum (hopefully you understand the term “empirical process control” described by Ken Schwaber in “Agile project management with Scrum”). However, in some questions, the concept of business value (or “customer value” – these terms seemed to be used interchangeably) was hidden. Overall, there were multiple concepts tested, such as incremental delivery, time to market, and minimal marketable feature. Separate topic – EVM and measurements around customer value. If you read “The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility”, you got this covered. 
3.       Agile values and principles - around 10%, according to my estimation, but these are difficult to estimate because all test questions relate to them and most were tested indirectly, e.g. the concept of sustainable pace or self-organizing team, however, there were direct questions on literal verbiage of those.
4.       Estimation and planning – largest group of questions, around 15%. Techniques – be prepared for terms like “Dephi technique” or “Monte Carlo analysis” – but if you passed PMP exam, you are most likely very comfortable with this terminology. Other questions were well thought-through questions related to who estimates and what unit of measurement is used with 2 or 3 specific examples where you will be asked to do iteration breakdown. Be familiar with the concept of progressive estimation. Overall, if you are practicing Agile and understand abstract nature of story points and the concept of velocity – and if you read Mike Cohn - you should have no problem with this large group of questions.
5.       Agile methodologies and relationship between them – another 15% or so. I had 5 or 6 questions related to Lean, one related to WIP in Kanban (very basic), and quite a few XP questions – on roles, principles, concepts. Interestingly, there were questions about relationships between those (scrum and XP or waterfall as opposed to Agile). Questions were not overly deep or difficult, but some were quite specific to the term or the concept.
6.       Roles in Agile – 10%. Multiple questions on roles – roles in Agile in general, in Scrum, in XP – roles related to specific ceremonies or artifacts, such as the “Definition of Done”. About 6 or 7 situational questions asking who is responsible for a specific artifact or who should take action in a specific situation. You should understand well when self-organizing team takes lead, and when scrum master is supposed to interfere to preserve process health – some questions seemed to be tricky – or maybe just deep and thoughtful. Pay special attention to roles in XP – there was a question about those which would be tricky, if you expected a scrum master to be one of XP roles.
7.       Behaviors and cultures – no less than 10%. I want to applaud PMI for having those questions. They relate to culture of transformation from waterfall to Agile, conflict resolution, proper behaviors in unwanted situations. I have to confess that I haven’t read Lissa Adkins’ book “Coaching Agile Teams” as part of my previous Agile life, but I read it in preparation for the exam and found it very helpful and informative. Highly suggest that you cover this material in preparation for the exam.
8.       Agile/scrum artifacts and ceremonies – another 10%. Multiple questions on burndown chart (including a practical question with a sample), two questions on information radiators, and – surprisingly – no single question on story (task) board – maybe I was just unlucky and did not get one picked. Multiple questions related to all Agile ceremonies – what questions are being answered, what’s the purpose and structure/duration, who participates, how is process enforced. If you read Ken Schwaber’s “Agile Project Management with Scrum” and if you are a Scrum practitioner – no need to worry, they are mostly intuitive.
9.       Resources – about 5% – multiple resourcing concepts related to team composition, dynamics, colocation.  Good questions provoking thinking – just one advice: be familiar with the concept of fractional assignments. I personally find it useful and was pleasantly surprised to see it on the exam.
10.   Communications – also around 5% - questions related to importance of face-to-face communication in Agile and techniques of working with distributed teams.  You would have to understand the concept of “osmotic communication” – almost everyone who writes about the exam indicates surprise that this not-so-widely-used term appeared on the exam – however, I agree with the choice of exam preparers because it is an important concept and one of success factors for Agile implementations.
My advice on books:
All the books listed by PMI is a cerefully made selection of the highly informative sources on Agile and it is important to read the all. Here are some sections to pay particular attention to:
·         From James Shore book, read about "fractional assignment", what they are, and whether it is advisable to have those in Agile.
·         Read Mike Cohn (both) and Alistair Cockburn - cover to cover on estimating and planning.
·         Michele Sliger - on risk management and EVM.
·         Lyssa Adkins and Ken Schwaber - make sure to remember specific examples because there are similar behavioral/situational questions on the exam.
·         Alan Shalloway et al. - on value stream management.
I read all books in my preparation for the exam, and as challenging as it was, it was a great experience to read and re-read them, and each one of them is a great book - informative and interesting.
And finally, if you are interested in expanding your Agile horizons, I want to add several books to PMI list that you will no doubt enjoy as much as I did (but most likely you’ve read them already):
·         “Scaling Software with Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises” by Dean Leffingwell
·         “Scrum from the Trenches”  by Henrik Kniberg
·         “Management 3.0. Leading Agile Development. Leading Agile Developers, Developing Leaders” by Jurgen Apello
·         “Agile Portfolio Management” by Jochen Krebs
·         “A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum” by Elizabeth Woodward, Steffan Surdek, Matthew Ganis
·         “Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Large Multisite and Offshore Product Development with Large-Scale Scrum” by Craig Larman, Bas Vodde
Everything you’ve read above are my personal impressions from one instance of PMI-ACP test-taking based on my personal experience and perceptions. While I hope this will help future PMI-ACP test takers, please be aware that you will get a different set of questions/topics on your exam. Also, our level of experience may be different, so the items that seems either basic or complex to me, may be something different for you. My opinion is based on 6+ years of experience as an Agile practitioner in a scrum master as well as agile coach and transofrmation specialist role, prior PMP certified project management experience, as well as the books I read from the PMI list and beyond on the topic. As I mentioned, I am a member of PMI as well as Scrum Alliance and hold both PMP and CSM certifications. This review is independent and has not been reviewed or entitled either by any of those organizations, or by my employer.
I wish you all a successful exam taking experience.