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February 28, 2006
SD Devtalk: Livening up dull staff meetings and ScrumMastership

Rosalyn Lum
SD Devtalk: Livening up dull staff meetings and ScrumMastership

February 2006; Volume 7, Number 2

Feature Funhouse: Great Minds
Ready, Set, Scrum


Feature Funhouse: Great Minds

See how many coworkers think alike

Goal: To highlight different perspectives staff members bring to the same issue or project (and, of course, to have some fun for a change).

Activity: Do all great minds think alike? If you think so, you've probably never tried to order in lunch for your whole group, hoping to get consensus and please everyone. Groups enjoy this activity because there is no right or wrong answer (be sure to tell them so) and it is a genuine pleasure to discover kindred spirits and recognize diversity.

Preparation: Ahead of time make a list of common word phrases (or names) that often go together, such as Johnny Carson, work breakdown, like a fox, or Gantt chart. Then substitute a blank for one or more of the words, like Johnny ___, ___ breakdown, like a ___, or ___ chart. A mixture of work related and off-the-wall phrases keeps the activity fun. The number of word phrases you use can vary depending on the amount of time you have available, but typically 20--25 is a good number. Make enough copies of the fill-in-the-blank sheets for everyone attending the meeting.

Playing the Game: Ask staff members to fill in the blanks, without sharing answers, with the first thought that comes to mind. Give participants a fixed amount of time so they're not tempted to rethink their answers. Divide the participants into groups of three or four, asking them to compare answers, awarding their group a point for each response that is exactly the same for all group members. You may be surprised when instead of Johnny Carson, Johnny Depp is mentioned. Instead of work breakdown, you may get some nervous breakdowns. Like a fox may be mingled with a Madonna song title. The group with the most matching answers wins.

-Donna Davis


Ready, set, Scrum

How to lead Scrum projects with confidence

Scrum. The word alone conjures up visions of burly rugby players fighting for control of the ball. Fortunately for software developers, our version of Scrum eschews rough and tumble tactics. To the contrary, Scrum is actually one of the most collaborative approaches to software development in practice today.

The opportunity to lead a Scrum project should not be missed. Being a ScrumMaster is a unique and rewarding experience. However, the question arises: Just how does one become a competent ScrumMaster? You can read a book, but that's a hard way to learn something so reliant on "soft skills; you can find a ScrumMaster mentor, if you can find such an individual in your company; but for me, the best solution is to take a ScrumMaster training course.

There are currently only a handful of organizations that offer a Certified ScrumMaster training program. I signed up for a two-day class offered by Rally Software Development (an agile tools company) in my hometown of Raleigh, NC. The ScrumMaster training costs $1000, led by certified ScrumMaster trainers. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Just ask yourself, "How much is being able to competently lead a Scrum project worth to your company?"

The attendees ranged from the CEO of a technology company to engineering and project managers. Some of the attendees just wanted to learn more about Scrum, others were already neck-deep in a Scrum project and wanted to learn how to run them more effectively. The instructors accommodated this diverse group with a curriculum that effectively blended lecture, role playing exercises and group discussion.

As ScrumMaster, the role of a "sheepdog"-facilitator and servant-leader-is emphasized to remove obstacles for the team. You don't "run the team, the team runs itself. Scrum believes that the most productive teams are self organizing and self goal setting.

Scrum projects tend to stay on-track due to the more open and inclusive way they are run. A daily standup meeting ensures everyone on the team knows what everyone else is doing. There are far fewer places for problems to lurk on a Scrum project. The constant communication brings up issues before they become showstopper problems.

The challenges of running an effective daily standup are brought home through role-playing exercises. For instance, how should you deal with marginally involved parties (such as that pesky senior manager) who constantly interrupt your meeting? Well, by the time you're done with this class, you'll know how to keep the team on-track without making a career-limiting blunder.

While the daily standup is an integral part of Scrum, it means little if you're not well-versed in the rest of the process. Sprint planning, backlog management and burndown charts are covered in detail. The importance of having a "single wringable neck is also stressed. As the instructors clearly stated, a software project without an actively involved product owner is not worth working on.

The reality of Scrum projects were brought home with entertaining real-world experiences. The instructors had been through enough agile development projects (as agile coaches) to know the pitfalls of Scrum-and how to avoid them. And, unlike classes where you just sit there and listen, the instructors fostered lively discussions. I found these quite valuable as attendees often brought unique viewpoints to the table.

Although the ScrumMaster training class is put on by an agile software tools vendor, it is definitely not a thinly disguised sales pitch. The Rally tools weren't mentioned until a class member asked about them. All in all, if you're looking to quickly become a Certified ScrumMaster (a résumé enhancer for sure), this hands-on class will get you going from 0 to 60 in two days flat.

You can signup for ScrumMaster training by visiting http://www.rallydev.com/csm_registration.jsp.

Allan Mc Naughton, a long-time developer and writer, is the principal at Technical Insight LLC. He can be reached at allan@technical-insight.com.

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