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Introduction to the International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile)
Recorded at:

Interview with Ahmed Sidky, Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spayd and Sally Elatta by Shane Hastie on Nov 28, 2013 |
33:36

Bio Ahmed Sidky is one of the founders and is running ICAgile. Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spayd and Sally Elatta are part of the group of people building the learning objectives in different tracks and are running courses which are accredited by ICAgile

Each year Agile Alliance brings together attendees, speakers, authors, luminaries, and industry analysts from around the world in a one-of-a-kind conference. The Conference is considered the premier Agile event of the year, and provides a week-long opportunity to engage in wide-open interaction, collaboration and sharing of ideas with peers and colleagues within the global Agile community.

   

1. Good morning folks this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ. We’re here at Agile 2013 in Nashville and I’m talking to Ahmed Sidkey. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Now you’re here at the Agile 2013 Conference and you gave a talk on the history and mindset of Agile. Well, why so?

Ahmed: Yes. I was asked; they have a track called the Boot Camp track and it’s for people that are just starting the Agile journey and when I was asked to give that topic I jumped at the opportunity because I feel people starting the Agile journey really need to hear and understand right from the get go that Agile is more than a process is more that daily stand-ups and iterations, it really is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking, it’s a culture and so any opportunity I have to, hopefully, educate people a little more about what Agile is the right way I think we can help more people see that Agile is just more than Scrum, more than XP, more than any one methodology or any one process.

   

2. Right. So building on the history that you know and you’ve spoken so much about in that session, where is Agile going?

Ahmed: Well, I think where Agile is going is where it should have been going from the first place which is the notion of Organisational Agility. I think Agile got stuck in IT because it started in IT but really the mindset values and principles apply way beyond IT; it applies to really the notion of agility and helping an organisation react to the complex challenges it has from managing uncertainty, changes. You know the change rates are unprecedented for organisations today, competition, complex requirements from customers. So having that ability as an entire organisation to react to those challenges and have that, what I call organisational agility. I think that’s where Agile is going, is going beyond IT and beyond just very specific roles into more roles within the organisation: executives, management, developers, testers, analysts. It’s because when people understand it as a mindset, it’s everyone that culture and mindset has to be aligned within an organisation.

   

3. You’re being deeply engaged in the formation of the International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile). Can you tell us a little bit about this in relation to that where you see it’s going?

Ahmed: Yes. So since its inception, it’s really been building a road map to promote deeper and quality education in the Agile space with keeping in mind that notion of organisational agility. So looking at what are the different disciplines within an organisation that need to sort of really embrace the mindset be a project management, coaching facilitation, development, testing, business analysis, value management, all of these. Not focusing on roles, because as you know in Agile we believe that the roles change and there’s the generalising specialist and and and. So, not sticking to any specific methodology, being completely methodology agnostic but really grounded in the values, principles and mindset and with an eye on that organisational agility and helping embrace that mindset through the different disciplines needed in an organisation.

   

4. Ok so what does ICAgile do?

Ahmed: So ICAgile does two things, two main things. Number one: it acts as a facilitator to help bring experts from around the world. Thought leaders in the Agile space in the organisational development space, to sit down together and say: what do people even need to learn? And that’s what we call learning objectives. What do people even need to learn to become Agile experts in and then: project management, project governors, coaching & facilitation. And so it acts that catalyst or facilitator. All the work that is collected is creative commons, and really it’s out there for the community and it’s really there to answer one main question: What does someone need to learn to be an expert in an then fill in the blank in whatever discipline.

The second thing is then to help the students; help people that want to acquire that knowledge take that journey through those little tokens of appreciation and motivation. So really looking out for the students’ best interest. So what we do is we accredit courses. So now that there are learning objectives. What ICAgile does is if a member training organisation has a course built according to those learning objectives it will go through the course with them in a very interactive engaging session and say: ok, so this part of the course covers this learning objective, this part covers this learning objective and once the course is accredited then any student taking that course will get those learning objectives and we maintain a transcript for the student that shows all the learning objectives in the road map. And it’s a graphical, visual transcript and so it bubbles in all the learning objectives they’ve finished. So actually for the first time people can see their journey toward Agile education.

   

5. And one person could do multiple learning objectives in different areas?

Ahmed: 100% I mean that’s the point we encourage. And that’s really I think the difference here. We want to encourage that cross pollination of knowledge, we don’t want a tester to only know testing for their entire career. But show them the depth and breadth of all the different learning objectives in the different disciplines in an organisation and encourage them. And how we do that is we encourage member training organisations as they create courses to cross pollinate. Put a little bit of the learning objective so when someone looks at their transcript it’s not all just the testing track learning objectives. Oh wow, I’ve got two learning objectives in the project management, maybe I want to continue and pursue deeper knowledge in that because I really enjoyed that. And that’s the whole point. As Agilists we believe in the self organising teams, in the generalising specialists so we really want to put that into action.

   

6. And what sort of organisations are supporting this and where is it going at the moment?

Ahmed: We currently have around twenty member training organisations scattered all over the world. We really want to emphasize the international part. There’s a lot of Agile work in the USA and Europe but when we look at the rest of the world there’s less. And so we are really working with a lot of international partners to help establish accredited courses in those areas. Like I said we have around twenty right now, large training organisations in different parts of the world are adopting it. Even some internal organisations are adopting it for the internal courses and the part that I’m really exited about is our member academic organisations where universities are now looking into it. We already have four universities that have adopted it. So, and what they’re doing Shane is integrating the learning objectives, from the fundamentals of Agile into their courses in Business School and in Computer Science. So that people would graduate, you now have graduate workers graduating from universities understanding Agility, understanding how to manage uncertainty, understanding all the things that we hope people can understand to really be ready for you know the complex workforce we’re in. And what that really does, the part that’s really exciting is that if you have more and more of these universities integrate these learning objectives into their curriculum, then you have a whole generation in a few years that will have the first level of the ICAgile learning road map. And then thirsty for the next levels; which is really where I see the industry missing that depth of knowledge. Most of the training out there are very basic today.

Is the Agile 101, Fundamentals of Agile, certified this, certified that, but it’s all really just right around those basics. But the depth of knowledge needed to sustain organisational agility, whether that be on executive level, development, project, governance, business analysis. So if we can get a generation of people done with the fundamentals then we can look for the next thing which is really the depth of knowledge.

Shane: And that next thing is defined by this community you’ve been talking about.

Ahmed: The experts. So, ICAgile does not define the learning objectives. We 100% rely on the experts, like I said we facilitate. We bring them together and ask them to basically write the learning objectives for: What does someone need to learn to be an expert in whatever that discipline is. They, a small group of people come up with the basic framework for those, send it out to a larger group of people for reviews. And once that goes out to reviews it’s released, member training organisations start to accredit courses against that and it’s a continuous improvement. So we get feedback, we get feedback from the students, from the market and you know, educational learning never stops.

So, certification is a hot topic of the Agile community and a lot of people say: well you only certify competence, you only certify skills and I agree, I agree 100% with that and at the same time I understand also that there’s a journey to reach competency. So, what we want to do, what we’re doing at ICAgile is rewarding every step of that journey, to keep people moving towards that. So it starts really with someone has an intent to learn, a commitment to learn about Agile, to be a professional in this field and we recognise that commitment by giving them the ICAgile Certified Professional. We’re not saying you are an Expert Scrum Master, Coach or anything just you’re Professional, acting like a professional in this space. So that’s the basic level and really there’s very little validation, it’s just the validation to the commitment. So if you go to a class that is accredited as a Fundamentals of Agile Class you get that certification. So, that’s step one.

Now other certification programmes stop there. We understand that that’s almost equal to nothing. So the second step is really now the desire of the student to deepen their knowledge in that field and how they deepen that knowledge is going through those specialty tracks and it’s a multiple class, multiple learning objectives, experience to even finish any track. So no track can be finished in one class. So the second step is really to validate the acquisition of knowledge. We’re saying OK, you’re committed, now you went out there, you’ve spent time, money, effort to acquire knowledge, we will validate the acquisition of that knowledge. Then we understand that the next level is to develop competency. Now that I’ve learned about it I go apply and I develop more competencies around what I’ve just learned. And so that’s really the expert gate. And in the expert gate what we’re looking for is validating competency. So that’s done through an interview or view of portfolio and so forth. But it doesn’t stop there.

There’s also proficiency, you keep developing that competency till it becomes talent, skills and proficiency and that’s the ICAgile Master Agilist. And that’s done through an in person review of skills and demonstration and talking to clients. So it’s a whole different level of validation. So you know I acknowledge the fact that if we were stopping at: you attend a course, you get a certification, that doesn’t make any sense but I think if we understand that that’s simply a token of motivation, that someone committed to learn and acquire knowledge in the Agile space, we can look at those certifications in a different light. And really the certification, the value of it is that they progress and they continue to learn and develop competency and proficiency.

Shane: Great. So there’s this very clear pathway and you mention that at both the Expert and the Master level, that there’s a much deeper assessment of the competencies of the person not just the attendance

Ahmed: Of course. And this is all if you want a metaphor for all of this: keep in mind the University model. So I finished my PhD in Agile and very inspired by the University model. My father actually is a consultant for multiple universities, helps build curriculums and build universities and accredits their programs. So inspired by all those, the desire has been to build a very robust learning organisation, to help really advance the Agile community.

Shane: Ahmed thank you very much indeed. We will be talking in a moment with some of the people who have been contributing to the ICAgile pathway so really thank you for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today.

Ahmed: Thank you Shane for having me. I appreciate it.

   

8. And you put in a lot of effort in the track development for the …?

Lyssa: For the Agile Facilitation and Coaching track. So I’ve been working on two of those tracks with a wonderful team of people and the reason why those tracks were important to me, that it’s worth it for me to give this kind of time and energy to it is that it’s so confusing out there. What is Agile coaching? What does an Agile coach do? What do they need to know? How they need to be in order to allow their teams to flourish and to allow their organisation to see how it needs to change and to help shepherd that change. Huge, huge bodies of knowledge and also personal development that need to happen to be an Agile coach.

   

9. Ok, so where are you drawing this expertise and this body of knowledge from? You’ve mentioned a group of people?

Lyssa: Yes. So there’s a group of people. There are about five of us who have been developing the learning objectives for those two tracks: the Agile Facilitation & Coaching Track and the Enterprise Agile Coaching Track. And then when we did a good cut at the learning objectives, what we think people need to know and be able to do, and be able to be at those levels, we send it out for industry review. Also it’s never done, right? The whole idea of this is that we have these learning objectives as a basis to start from and as people use it for self study, as organisations use it to create courses that can help people get these skills. It will continue to evolve.

   

10. I just want to clarify it. You are doing it as a voluntary thing?

Lyssa: Oh, absolutely. But be clear, my whole passion is about Agile coaching. So, in some ways yes it’s voluntary, I’m not getting paid per hour, but it’s absolutely completely in line with my mission in the world which is to raise the level of Agile coaching skill, because I think Agile coaches are in the best position to help Agile be healthy.

   

11. Ok, and so what’s missing in the Agile coaching space?

Lyssa: A lot. So most Agile coaches come to that role: they’re Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches, they’re Managers doing Agile coaching, all different roles do Agile coaching. People come into that from whatever their background has been. And it’s typically been something that’s a mindset that is even maybe the other side of the coin of Agile, maybe even very unAgile. And they typically come to it with a background of: maybe they know how to teach, maybe they know how to tell people what to do, maybe they know how to give an advice. And what Agile does is it creates a space for every person to be creative and to bring their whole self to the solution. And when that’s the case, Agile coaches actually need other skills. They need skills of facilitation and they need skills of professional coaching. And certainly as they move up in the organisation those skills become even more important. Because teaching an executive about Agile? Ok, that’s kind of good. But helping an executive change how they are to make Agile healthy in the organisation, teaching is not going to cut it.

   

12. Now you did indicate that there were the two tracks. There’s the one that’s facilitation & coaching and the other one is enterprise Agile coaching. What’s the difference?

Lyssa: Yes. Well, it’s a journey honestly all the way through those tracks. So the way it is setup, the setup is two separate tracks in ICAgile. But you enter the Enterprise Agile Coaching Track by having gone through the other one. And the reason why they’re separate is that the creators of this and myself we really feel that not everyone needs to be an Enterprise Agile Coach. If we had Agile coaches at the multi teams level who were really skilled in all those disciplines I just mentioned and more. And if we had Scrum Masters or iteration managers or facilitators at the team level who could really facilitate we would be miles ahead with Agile. Agile would be way more healthy and way more what we all want in organisations. So we say not everyone needs to go to that other level, that’s why it’s not in the same track.

   

13. And the difference between those levels what do you see the primary skills of an Enterprise Coach?

Lyssa: So an Enterprise Coach is someone who can enter at the executive level. So they can coach people, from the individual in a team all the way up to C-suite. And they would be focusing on things like helping the executive team understand their culture whether or not it’s a match for Agile. Understand their own development as leaders. Are they evolved enough, honestly, as leaders to really have Agile be useful? And the type of competitive advantage that it can be for an organisation. Things like that. They’re also going to work on the big watershed business processes at that level you know: human resource processes, resource management, metrics. Like how all that works in the organisation. So, not anyone is going to be that. I mean do you get that it take like a lot of gravitas to be able to get to be an Enterprise Agile Coach? And so far the Certifications that exist in the world like Certified Scrum Coach are at that level without the stair steps on how to get there. And that’s why I think the two levels: Team Facilitator and Agile Coach are really important.

Shane: So moving through those steps, building competencies and experiences.

Lyssa: Yes and while you’re building competencies and experience you’re building your leaderfulness which allows you to work more effectively with resistance, with confusion and with outright passive aggressive behaviour that so many people see at let’s say the middle management layer for example, right? Teaching louder is not going to help that one.

Shane: Lyssa thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate your insights into this and look forward to see where Agile goes.

Lyssa: I am too. I’m really exited about the creation of these learning paths.

Shane: Thank you.

Lyssa: You bet.

   

14. We’ve been talking still about ICAgile and the initiative there and we were also joined by Michael Spayd. Michael your organisation is a Member Training Organisation of ICAgile. You have actually again come on board. Can you tell us why?

Michael: Well, there is a couple of reasons. My organization is Agile Coaching Institute, so we focus on working with, training and developing Agile coaches. So there is a couple of things that are virtuous about the ICAgile model for us. One is, it provides a neutral industry, well it is open, so everybody can see what the requirements for our training are and people can, you know, its like an open interface. People can design a class that fits those requirements, anybody can. And people can judge, both as a training organization and as a consumer of the training, they can see exactly what they are getting in some sense. That’s virtuous, because it creates a standard playing field, that we are all, you know, trying to train to a certain set of requirements.

   

15. How would that give you, from a commercial perspective, a competitive advantage?

Michael: Ah, yes that’s an interesting question. So for me there is a couple of things going on. One is, our mission is to help creating Agile coaching as a profession. So that’s not directly at our commercial advantage per se and we don’t really care about that. I mean, our purpose is to help Agile coaching to become like a profession. I don’t know if it will become a profession, but like a profession. And we can differentiate ourselves within those requirements if everybody is teaching to the same kind of set of standards. You know, we can differentiate that we teach it better, more exciting, more interesting, more transformative. But there is the advantage of, we have been, you know, ICAgile, that’s us essentially. They certify us on a level, or accredit us, technically I think they call it, that we meet those learning objectives. So that creates a certain standard, a certain bar, that everybody has to follow. So that brings the whole water level of the industry up in a very useful way. And than we can, you know, differentiate ourselves that we go above that in some sense.

So you asked about several aspects. So one is like this level of standardization and the level of professionalism that it brings. Another is that, you know, we know that all of our people that come to our classes, not all of them care about certifications and you know, that’s fine, we don’t sell certifications at all, but some people it does, some people that work particular in bigger companies, it makes a big difference, if they can go to a class that has a certification, they can get it funded more easily. That’s just a reality of corporate world.

Shane: So some of your customers are requested and are looking for this.

Michael: Absolutely, and it makes a difference of whether they can come, some of them, not all of them, but for some of them it definitively does. But even to the ones that don’t, you know, it allows us to say: Look, there is an industry set of expectations, requirements about Agile coaching, what you should know, and we have been accredited by a third party that we teach those. So even if you don’t care about the certification, it is like an industry objective look at your class, that you meet what the industry generally agrees is the right set of things for Agile coaches to know. And again, it’s an open set, it is not proprietary, its not secret. Other models, you know, the things that they accredit classes on or trainers on are sort of a secret, they are proprietary. Then people don’t know what’s going on there, both the consumer and you know other trainers that want to do that. That’s a not as useful a model, it fells like to me.

Shane: So the ICAgile model makes all of those learning objectives totally freely available for you as a training provider.

Michael: Yes, exactly. So we say, this is I think a benefit to our clients actually. We say to a big corporate client, look, you don’t have to even achieve these learning objectives, per se, or you don’t have to get a external party certification of it, if you don’t want to. You can take them, because they are open, you can put them into your own internal certification. So again, it’s like an industry benefit, that these things are open and available to everybody and they are open source, so people can take them and adapt them.

   

16. And who is building these learning objectives?

Michael: Teams, volunteer teams, that are expert in various areas. They build them. And we have been on a, Lyssa was talking about, we are on such a team for Agile coaching, but there are, I don’t know, six or seven others of them. A small team of people that develops them and than a bigger team of people that reviews them. So they are reviewed by a fairly big cross-section of the Agile industry. And they are open, so people can comment on them and develop them further all the time.

   

17. And they are intended to be evolving?

Michael: Absolutely, like we have already given feedback, as we have taught the classes, and gone through the accreditation process, as a training provider you go through an accreditation process, not a certification process. In our accreditation process we learned, you know, some of these things that we thought were a good idea, you know when we were developing learning objectives, yes they are not practical, or they are too difficult to actually implement realistically for a training organization, or they are just not necessary in some way. You know, it is not a very big set of things, but there is clearly some learning going on in terms of what’s important.

Shane: So there is an ongoing evolution.

Michael: Yes. And working with both, the participant’s side, the learner’s side, but also the provider’s side, because it is like an ecosystem and you got to have both parts of it work together, or, you know, it won’t work long term.

Shane: Michael, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate you talking to InfoQ today.

Michael: Sure, you are welcome.

   

19. Thank you. So, why so?

Sally: You know the vision of Agile Transformation, which is the company that I created, was to help organizations to transform at the enterprise level to achieving business agility. And so, our philosophy has always been: this is beyond IT, this is something that can apply to the business. And this is something that we have a huge focus on the people side of the transformation also. So in order to do that, we had already designed a very comprehensive road map of learning, we call them “transformation workshops”. And they are basically to help organizations to move from piloting, to scaling, to an enterprise transformation. So when I saw what ICAgile had, and I saw the road map that was developed, it was a breath of fresh air. I finally saw that there was something out there, that was mature, that was thought from the perspective of organizational agility and true transformation, beyond the basics, which is the space that we like to be in. This is a true organizational transformation. So that’s why I was just absolutely intrigued and said, we want to be part of this. It fits within our mission, it fits with the vision that we see where organizations are moving to in the future. So we said, let’s see how we can support this.

   

20. Ok, and in which ways have you supported?

Sally: So I am very interested and have contributed to the executive certification track. And the reason for that is from our real experience helping organizations to transform. We realized that executives are key to this transformation. Their mindset, them understanding of the realities of what is going on right now, and how their leadership style, and how, in my opinion, organizational design. So we talk about, we are really moving away from the side load into designing and redesigning organizations based on these networks of communities, that can self organize to get work done. All of this is very modern, it is very different, and we have seen a lot of transformations fail, when they are completely only bottom-up and the executives don’t actually buy in or understand what is their role in the transformation. So I am very passionate about that and that’s why I contributed to the executive talk.

   

21. What are some of the important things that the executive track is going to cover. Why would an executive bother?

Sally: Yes well, I think we started of by talking about just understanding the realities of what’s going on right now and being, you know, executives sometimes get shielded from seeing what is really happening within the organization and some of the lack of why the work does not flow as effectively and efficiently as possible, and so obviously understanding the realities and than beginning to learn what skills do they need to bring to the table, from servant leadership, from organizational development, from redesigning an organization, from a chart perspective, I mean Agile is now really moving beyond IT into: how do we change incentive programs, how do we change the way that we reward, the way that we recruit and find people. There is a much bigger organizational mindset that comes to this and we are trying to help executives sort of raise the bar to that level, in order for you to be a business innovation organization, to even achieve that. You are going to have to rethink, how you structured yourself today and how you operate and so these network, self organizing, distributive teams. A lot of companies have those challenges now. And so that’s what really the executive track is, to bring that kind of knowledge. So that we can understand the realities, begin to think about organizational structural design and impact at the enterprise level and help organizations begin to move in that way. How do you become an internal change leader. This is tough work, this is hard stuff. And you know, people always say, change is easy, you go first. So executives have a big job in front of them here, they need to be change leaders. So change management, all of these things, is what we are trying to help with.

Shane: And that’s certainly not in your typical foundations of Agile course.

Sally: No, not at all. That’s why we were so impressed and intrigued with what ICAgile had. It just fit absolutely what we are seeing in the real world. We never sat back and let’s just design a bunch of transformation workshops. We were working with organizations and as they are maturing, they’re saying we need this next, and we need this next. And the most important thing that I want to emphasize is, this organizational transformation is not something that companies can buy, you can’t get a tool do it for you and you just can’t hire people to just come in and do it. This is something that they have to do. They have to learn. So these transformation workshops have always been our way of helping an organization do it. And that’s why this seeing the learning, this comprehensive of the learning objectives, that ICAgile was offering, it was just very exciting, because that’s what organizational transformation means. You have to have a body of knowledge that you can follow as a company, who wants to transform themselves. We are merely partners and providers and helpers in this, but you can’t buy this. It is something that they have to do.

Shane: Sally, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today. It really gives us a feel for why members of the community are getting on board with ICAgile.

Sally: Absolutely, my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

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