Bio Adam Weisbart is a Corporate Agilist. He is a Certified Scrum Trainer with CollabNet, his style is interactive and immersive and via his website he has developed a number of fun and unique Agile tools. Adam has written code, run teams, and managed companies as an entrepreneur. He helps teams transition to an Agile approach that promotes transparency, innovation, predictability and happiness.
The Agile Alliance organizes the Agile series conference, which bring together all the key people in the Agile space to talk about techniques and technologies, attitudes and policies, research and experience, and the management and development sides of agile software development.
I’m doing well, thanks. How are you?
Basically, I am a CST (Certified Scrum Trainer) and I offer both public and private Scrum training courses through CollabNet, I also offer coaching and frankly the title is just something I came up with because if you don’t have a title on your business card people keep asking you what you are and if you just say “that Scrum guy”, they look at you kind of strange.
Craig: “That Scrum guy” might have been alright I guess. So, you do a lot of work with large corporates?
Yes, that’s CollabNet’s focus and also a bunch of public courses, so who ever shows up to those.
Craig's full question: So, one of the things I really wanted to talk to you about is that your website has got a lot of really really cool stuff on it, so one of the first things I think why I came to hear about you is some posters that you originally put out a long while ago that kind of have the values and the Agile manifesto on them, they’re really pretty, nice looking posters. How did they come about and what was your inspiration for that?
Yes, I was looking for posters for the team I was working with, I was embedded with a couple of teams for the better part of two years and I couldn’t find any posters that didn’t look horrible frankly so I got some great designers I work with, had some conversations with them and that’s what they came up with. So I made them downloadable as PDF’s, you can print them off for free and stick them on the wall. Or you can order large size posters as well if you want to have more of a presence in your team room.
Craig: Was that driven by the fact that you were coaching teams or working with teams where you needed to get that stuff up on the wall perhaps just to trigger memories?
Yes, I sort of have mixed feelings about it, you have to something like that, you put it on the wall, over time people won’t notice it anymore but it think initially when you’re starting out with a team and you’re having conversations about the Agile Manifesto it’s cool to be able to make it visible, to put it up in front of people. So I don’t think putting it up on the wall alone is going to do much for your team, but if you’re having conversations around it often, it is certainly useful.
Craig: And probably good also, as you said, maybe over time it’s not so visible, but I always find myself every time I go back and look at the site, back referring to it, so having that stuff is also good for that right?
Sure, and you can also do, if you want to be a little more subversive, you can go and stick it on perhaps an exec’s door who’s not quite helping with the initiative. Do that.
Craig: So, have you done anything radical like that?
No, I think Ken’s quote is “a dead Scrum Master is a useless Scrum Master”, but we’ve had some fun with them, just posting them in spots around the office.
Craig: So maybe that’s a challenge for you going forward just to see where you can put them up.
4. Awesome. So, one of the other things I think you did very early on was the “Build Your Own Scrum” kit, which is pretty cool. I found it to be a really useful training tool, what was the inspiration for that, how did it come about?
Yes, so I had done a one day intro for a company I was embedded with, I had done it with several different teams and then about three weeks after the one day intro to Scrum we got everybody together, it was a distributed team but we flew everybody in, because having everyone in the same spot is really useful when kicking off teams. And I was going to do sort of the second part of what would be a Certified Scrum Master course, I wasn’t a CST at the time so I couldn’t certify but basically the same content. And I needed some way to review the content they’d already learnt without lecturing again so I’d just taken them through a one day thing which was, at that time most of my course was lecture based. And so at about one o’clock at night, the night before this training, I came up with this idea for “Build Your Own Scrum”. Actually I have a copy; this is what the thing looks like, it’s got icons for all the ceremonies and roles and such of Scrum.
The original one did not look like this at all, I used Visio or something and drew some stick figures. So I put that together and made a bunch of copies and handed them out. So the premise is that the teams can cut them apart and rebuild the Scrum workflow or their understanding of it in about 20 minutes. So I gave them this stick figure thing thinking this is never going to work but I will give it a shot and it worked amazingly well and I have since stretched it into three or four hours of my two day Certified Scrum Master course and there’s a bunch of other trainers using it. You can also use it as a tool to figure out sort of where people are in their understanding of Scrum, so you can use it to teach the basics or you can go in as a coach and try to figure out where the team is in their adoption pretty quickly, in 20 or 30 minutes just by asking some questions.
Craig: Cool, so let’s just explore that in just a minute but firstly, where it came from the “Build Your Own Scrum”, so you held that up, you cut things out, there’s notes for people if they want to do this themselves with the kit, right?
Yes, so I initially just posted the PDF of the one page that you can cut apart and had a brief blog post about it but over time I’ve created a 28 page facilitation guide and it has some other games in there as well. This is the basis of “Build Your Own Scrum” where you cut stuff out but there are also some quizzes and such that you can set up in an interactive way around the room. So anyone who wants to go and teach an entry to Scrum can do that by downloading this thing and printing some stuff out and reading through all 28 exciting pages of it.
Yes, so it’s a little tricky. As a facilitator for that you want to give enough space for the teams to make their own discoveries and have conversations about it, and you gently guide them towards proper Scrum. If they’re outlining stuff and their workflows that are not Scrum but it’s their understanding of Scrum, then you can gently correct that. And I think the understanding that I’ve seen from people is much deeper than if I stand up there and lecture for an hour, people listen to you for maybe ten minutes when you lecture and then the next 50 minutes they’re wishing you were done. This breaks it up with a bunch of games and I think it does quite a good job at that.
6. That’s really great. So, secondly you said now that you are expanding this and I believe you are talking at the Barcelona Scrum Gathering that comes up later in the year, using this now as a tool not to teach people necessarily but to actually guage where they are on their maturity, is that right?
Yes, the first time I used it in that way was for an interview actually, I was sitting down with somebody who was a CSP and they answered all the interview questions great, it was like “wow, they’ve really got this” and then I handed them “Build Your Own Scrum” and gave them ten minutes to cut it apart and rebuild the workflow and things sort of fell apart. They had the canned answers down really well but when they tried to build it some stuff was out of place. And when I asked questions about the workflow I could tell that their understanding wasn’t particularly deep and the cool thing about is that you don’t end up directing the questions at them you point at this third thing which is the workflow that they have built and you ask questions about that so I think it keeps people from being sort of on guard or defensive and lets them really answer their understanding of Scrum. So I used it initially for that and would then use it in my coaching engagements to quickly try to understand where the team was and how best I could help them through them basically just telling me what they understood about Scrum as a team. And you get to sort of see the team interact as a team and that can help you as a coach as well.
Craig: Yes, that is great, the interviewing idea is really cool plus I guess you can also guage their scissor skills at the same time, right?
Yes, and if the interview doesn’t go well you have to usually duck the scissors.
7. That’s awesome. So, just as you were saying at the end there, do you get teams to work collaboratively to build this when you’re building it or is it still trying to guage individuals and what they come to as together?
So, for the assessment tool or for the actual learning module?
Craig: For the assessment.
It would depend, if it was an interview I would have just one person do it, if it’s a team that I’m dropping in to help I’d like to see the team work on it together.
Craig: So, it’s about the discussion that they’ll have when trying to build it as opposed to when people are learning to help them through their personal learning path.
8. That’s great. So a whole bunch of really cool things to talk about. The other one that I really like and we kind of met I guess in the twitterverse, because that’s how we meet most people, is the “Retrospective Cookies”. What a cool idea! How did this all come about?
Well, I was doing retrospectives with the teams I was embedded with and I always try to bring snacks. You want to make a retrospective more social, and one of the most social things we can do as humans is eat together, so even if you bring in some chips it helps or microwave popcorn is one of my favorites because everybody in the office knows it’s retrospective time. And frankly I had been using the same retrospectives probably too much and I wanted something new and I just thought, wow, if we had some open ended questions that I as a Scrum Master wasn’t prompting people with but sort of came from an exercise, I wonder what sort of answers we’d get. So I found somewhere that would bake some fortune cookies for me. Myself and a couple of other CollabNet CSTs put together some questions and sent them off to the cookie company and I got back my 500 cookies and started boxing them up and used them with a team and was just shocked how great the retrospective was. So you get the snack, it’s built into the cookie, and you get open ended questions that get people thinking, and as a Scrum Master it makes your job quite a bit easier for that retrospective because it’s all in the cookie, it’s self-working which is nice from time to time.
Craig: Well, we might have a look at a cookie in a minute, how about when we get to the end of this interview we do a retrospective on how our discussion went.
Let’s do it.
Craig: You’ve got the box there though,they actually come all nicely..
They’re all individually wrapped and there’s ten per box.
Craig: Which is obviously the team size, if you’ve got more, if you don’t have enough cookies in the box then you’re team’s too big.
Exactly. You may get duplicates in this box but you at least have one extra cookie if your team needs two boxes, you may have other problems. So, yes, they come like this, you can order them from my site, I think I lose a couple of bucks every box but it’s been really fun, I’ve been shipping them out around the world. As an aside, I actually had to reorder these and I had a thousand shipped to my doorstep. Unfortunately between the time they were delivered and when I got home from work that day, it was three hours and someone had stolen a thousand retrospective fortune cookies off my doorstep which I thought was hilarious.
Craig: I’m sure someone was walking past going “why does this guy have so many fortune cookies?”
And “what are these fortunes, they make no sense”.
9. “And is he opening his own Chinese take away restaurant?” One of the things that our team uses is your “Update the Card Wall” reminder , which in the history of simplest ideas I think it has to be one the simplest ideas out there but incredibly useful. Tell us about that and how you came about it?
I was working with a team that was distributed and I think frankly the tool is most useful for that, if you have a team that is all in the same spot it’s pretty easy for them to remember to update their physical card wall because they are there in front of it during their stand ups. When they’re remote or they’re using a tool it can be harder, so I had this team that could never remember to update their card wall. I’ve had several teams like that and they were asking me as Scrum Master if I would remind them all to do that every day, and I laughed and I said “no, that’s not my job, thank you for asking” and they said “well it’s hard for us to remember to update our card wall,” and I said “hard like paying your mortgage or hard like taking care of your kid?”. They were like “no, no, those are harder”, and I was like “great, and you pull both of those things off, so you guys can work out how to update your card wall” so they set an Outlook reminder, which they thought would work but since it happened at the same time every day they just started ignoring it.
So I came up with the idea of “Update the Card Wall”, which is at updatethecardwall.com or you can get to it from my site as well, and you put a time window, I think it’s a one or two hour time window, I can’t remember and it will randomly send you a reminder during that window, hopefully so you don’t get bored of it, you also get some Agile tip or a link to a book or something every day. The database for that should probably be updated because I don’t have a ton in there because I got sidetracked with other projects but, yes, that’s the premise, you put in your time zone, you put in the window you would like to be reminded and now you don’t have to ask your Scrum Master to remind you every day to update your card wall.
Craig: That’s great. I think what I found with teams is the randomness of it is a cool thing, you know that you’ve got daily stand up or daily Scrum at 9:30, so you set that window between something like 8:15 and 9:15 or 8:30 and 9:30 and people come along and remember to update it.
So, it’s free, you just go sign up, put your email address in. I have intentions of making an iPhone version and such too if a bunch more people end up using the existing site, so there is a decent amount of people using it but down the road we might add some more, more features too.
Craig: Maybe we need to crowd source the tips, to get a few more tips into the database as well.
Maybe I can add a page to the site to do that.
Craig: There you go, just added something to your backlog.
Thank you, it wasn’t long enough already.
Craig's full question: So, there some of the things you’ve got going around. You’ve got a couple of newer things on the horizon, those have been around for a few years now, but a couple of things, the first is you’ve got this new set of videos out there, and I’ve got to be careful how I say this but it’s the “S-h-‘-t, the Stuff that Scrum Masters Say”, a bit like the television show or the twitter account which is “Stuff My Dad Says”, the same kind of idea. “Stuff that Scrum Masters Say”, it’s some great videos up there, tell us about that?
So, I don’t know, a few months ago there was a meme going around the internet which was, well we’ll edit it, “Stuff Whatever Says”.
Craig: You have to be careful, for our listeners, substitute the word stuff for something else.
I’m working on a book called “Agile Antipatterns”, which we can talk about later if you like, I thought that this meme went along really well with antipatterns so it’s “Stuff That Bad Scrum Masters Say” and it’s three minutes of the most cringe worthy painful Scrum Master behavior. I play the Scrum Master in the video, got some great folks in there like Chris Sims from Agile Learning Labs and Petri from CollabNet and some other folks. They all play the team or an exec in one case and I do all the things that you should never ever do as a Scrum Master, including yelling at people during a retrospective, answering my phone at inopportune times and such. And so we actually got together and did this as a little sort of Agile project, we got a bunch of post it notes and wrote like one line per post it note and dot voted on which ones we thought were the funniest, so we prioritized them since we only had four hours to film this thing and we just cranked out a bunch of silly lines and we came up with the video.
Craig: It kind of went a bit viral, didn’t it?
It did, it has been very strange to walk around conferences and have people come up to me and quote me stuff from the video and I have no idea they were quoting the video to me and I don’t know why they’re saying “that’s not an impediment!” Ok, oh, right, the video! So yes, it’s been quite fun and I was sort of taken aback by how many people have viewed it.
Craig: I hope nobody has taken it the wrong way and say “hey, that’s the bad Scrum master dude”.
Probably a couple of people.
So I think that with an Agile antipattern, it’s very useful to be able to identify them quickly and I think you only can identify stuff quickly when you have practice at identifying them. So if you could have little sound bites, my Agile antipatterns are just quotes like “my boss is on my team”, if you have something that comes up like that in real life after you’ve sort of understood why having your boss on your team might be damaging to self-organization, when you have a quote come up in a team that comes up like that or a conversation, you’re more apt to identify it quickly and be able to figure out a resolution for it. And I think that while the video is meant to be funny, and hopefully it is, it’s useful for getting those things in people’s heads so you can say, “hey”. I mean frankly, by accident I’ve done some of those things as a Scrum Master just because I’m human and it happens from time to time. If we can all identify those things on a team or in an organization and help call them out we can do better Scrum, so it’s sort of a light hearted approach to tackling that problem.
Yes, so I have these little, the “Agile Antipattern” cards, maybe some back story would be helpful. The way I came up with these, they’ve all got different quotes on the back, “our product owner and Scrum Master are the same person”, maybe something you might not want to do, but they’ve got fish on the front and the reason for that was, I was reading Ken Schwaber's blog and he had a post about Scrum being like chess. There’s rules to Scrum and there’s rules to chess and either you are playing chess by the rules as they state or you’re not playing chess. And Scrum is the same thing, we have a light weight framework that helps us do work and either you play those rules or you’re playing something completely different which is not Scrum, which might be fine for you but it’s not Scrum. And I was reading that post around the time I was working with a VP who had assured me (I was helping with his Agile transformation), he had assured me he had done Scrum many many times.
And I’d sit down with him and we’d start playing Scrum, I’d move a piece forward and then he’d move a piece forward and I’d move a piece forward and our little chess game of Scrum was going really well and I’m like “wow, he really has done Scrum” and then in the middle of all of it he’d yell out something like “Go Fish”. And I thought “no, sir, we’re not playing Go Fish, we’re playing Scrum, it has rules, we follow those things”, and he’d said “no, I understand” and he’d move another piece. And I realized these little antipatterns that he was injecting into the system were confusing things a lot and if there was some way I could identify them quickly I could save weeks in an Agile transformation. So I learnt sort of the hard way but came up with all these quotes, these Agile antipatterns and in my book each quote has sort of a story behind it explaining what it might look like in the real world and some solutions for that. So, that’s how I came up with the cards and in the workshop we sort of get together and teams figure out how they would deal with these using, I’ve got three tools that they can use plus we have the Agile Manifesto and values posters.
13. So, the idea behind the cards is again a facilitated workshop where you put these out there and talk about how you would deal with them or perhaps even are they things that you’re seeing in your teams currently, is that the idea?
Yes, so at the beginning of the workshop we identify stuff that may be happening to us currently and then the idea is to go through the deck with your team, the team within the workshop and have conversations about each one of them and pick one to figure out how we would address it using either the three tools that I outline or their own experience or the Agile Manifesto and again it’s to be able to identify these quickly. I do this in my Certified Scrum Master course towards the end because you are going to leave and you’re going to a Certified Scrum Master you will probably hear many of these things out in the real world and it would be best if it’s not the first time you’ve heard them because it will take you a while to figure out what the heck is going on.
I do my best, it’s a two day course, it’s the entry level course so they’re certainly not going to be as well-equipped as if they’d been practicing Scrum for a couple of years afterwards but it’s how I got my start, I think it’s quite useful and yes it would be good to be able to, I will bet that if they go through this deck and go back to work, unless they have a pristine Scrum implementation they will hear one or two of these things in the first week or so.
Craig: Absolutely, I still hear them now. So, with the cards, you can purchase the deck of cards?
I’ve just been giving them away at conferences and such, if there was demand I would happily print out some more, but they’re not purchasable at the moment, the book will be and if you go onto my site, on to weisbart.com, you can actually watch the video we were talking about, enter your email address and get a chapter of the book and one of the Agile antipatterns and then I can notify you, it will notify you when the book comes out.
Craig's full question: So talking about the book and I wanted to move on to that next, so it’s obviously taken this to the next level and gives you more background to what’s going on there, I assume from your experience and those of others that you’ve spoken to, so what’s the timeframe for the book, is it running like an Agile project in its delivery?
No! I would say in the next three to six months. I’ve been sidetracked with some stuff and put it on hold but three to six months from now I think it will be ready to go.
Craig: Cool. Have you got a publishing model sorted for the book?
Yes, I’m working with the folks at Agile Learning Labs with their publishing arm, Chris has got the “Elements of Scrum”, which is doing amazingly well and I think it’s really the most accessible Scrum book out there, I really like it for beginners, it’s fun and I think their stuff is in the vein of mine which sort of pokes fun but is also quite helpful, I hope, in serious but in sort of a fun way, like the video or like the Agile antipatterns.
Craig: Yes. And I think having had a look at your sample chapter before, I think that’s the benefit of the book, it’s like everything else you’ve done, it’s something that we deal with as Scrum Masters all the time, but puts that fun element onto it.
Yes, my goal with the book is that you could open up to any chapter and just read about that Agile antipattern so it’s only going to be a few pages per chapter, you don’t have to necessarily read them in order but sort of light reading with funny stories that will give you sort of the flavor of what this thing might be like so that when it happens in the real world you have some background. And then the back part of the book will have some tools for addressing those things, not that I can tell you exactly how to fix the issues of your organization through a book, that would be great, but I can just give you some more tools to work with.
I don’t have a facilitation guide for it yet, if people would like to email me I’m happy to email back and forth or Skype or what not, all of my stuff I’m happy to get out there and have other people using. A lot of people are using “Build Your Own Scrum”, if people start using this as well that would be great. Email me and I can get you a set of cards and walk you through how to do it.
To me it’s invaluable, I want to be on a team that is enjoyable, I think people get enjoyment for a lot of reasons, you get enjoyment from doing good work, you get enjoyment from being self-directed and having control of your destiny and you have fun doing work because it’s fun and you like your team. I’m a smart alec so I think it’s very helpful to inject that into teams and I try to have the stuff that I do reflect that, I think there is plenty of stuff that is really really good, books that I absolutely love, workshops that I love that is more serious and more nuts and bolts and process and such. I don’t see a lot of stuff that is funny, so I would like to add that to the pool of content.
18. So, what do you say to people, I come across people all time in the corporate world who will say to me when I inject fun in “this is a corporate environment, we shouldn’t be having fun here”. What’s your response to something like that?
I would suspect that in those organizations teams are still having fun they are just not able to do it openly and in the sake of openness and transparency, which my hope is a Scrum value why not have your organization be like that, I want people doing good work and I want them not distracted by silly things, though I don’t think a few silly things in the day is going to derail you from getting good code written, probably quite the opposite, so certainly my approach isn’t applicable to everybody, I guess if somebody was very buttoned up and didn’t like that, it’s probably not for them, but I think the vast majority of people want to have fun at work and do it anyway so some retrospective fortune cookies probably won’t hurt them.
Craig: Break down the barriers. So, do you think fun is then the key to actually getting good work and good delivery?
I don’t know if it is for everybody, it is for me, it is for a lot of people that I talk to. I think there is varying levels of how into it people get. I get into that side of things more than others and others want to be more serious. I think that as a good Scrum Master you can facilitate a balance of that, as a good team member you can help remind your team to have a good balance of that. We do a relatively serious thing of building software, I don’t think moving stuff a little to the direction of maybe a little irreverent or funny is going to damage anything, I think it will do good.
Oh, you saw that! Yes, so my girlfriend and I got a new kitten named Tig and I discovered that if I throw a Sharpie, Tig will actually fetch the Sharpie and bring it back to me. So I’m hoping to have the first cat Scrum team member.
Craig: A Certified Scrum Cat perhaps?
Yes, so starting with the Sharpies and then we’ll move up to post its, she may end up facilitating retrospectives, I’m not sure.
Craig: Does she like fortune cookies, I guess that’s the question.
Everybody loves fortune cookies, if they’re fresh I guess.
Craig's full question: So, you can check that on YouTube, it’s pretty funny to watch. So you’re here at Agile 2012, you’re actually delivering a session on Agile antipatterns, it’s called “The Scrum Master's Guide to Traps, Tripwires, And Treachery”. Tell us about that, what will people be seeing in there, perhaps for those who aren’t at the conference?
Yes, let’s see. We outlined a bunch of it already really. You get into the workshop, I’m going to explain what an Agile antipattern is, probably by way of that story about playing chess with my boss at the time and then teams will learn about the three tools that I have for addressing them and then we’ll talk about the Agile Manifesto and what’s in there that can help support it because frankly I think that’s all essential if we’re going to be Agilists we should probably follow that. And then they’ll break out into separate teams and pick which antipatterns they would like to address as a team and come up with a solution and then share it with the class.
Craig's full question: That sounds really interesting. So one last question I’ve got before we break open the fortune cookie. In your opinion, we’re at an Agile conference, what sort of things are you seeing or where do you think we go to next as a community, what’s next on the horizon?
What’s next? I don’t know. I really love that there are the standard sessions and we have all those breakout sessions out in the hallway, I suspect where we’re going next is going to come out of something like that. I don’t know, I’ve been to a bunch of Scrum Gatherings, this is my first Agile Alliance gathering, it’s great to see so many folks, it’s been pretty exciting, I don’t know where we’ll be in a year or two, I think adoption is picking up quite a bit so hopefully next year there will be a lot more people here, I don’t know how we’ll all fit, but I don’t know exactly what the next steps are but I think as one giant team we’re all going to work it out together I think quite well.
Should we crack this one open?
Craig: Yes, let’s.
All right, let’s see, we only have one here, would you like half? There you go. So let’s see, “What three things could we do to help our product owner be more effective”?
Craig: So, what three things could we do to help perhaps our InfoQ people to be more productive?
So far this has been very productive for me, I’m not sure what I would add.
I would say look for ways to have fun with your teams, you’re probably already doing that, but maybe look for some more. It’s one: fun. Really living the Agile principles, I think is really useful, so look for ways in which you can help your team get there, if you’re the Scrum Master look for ways for facilitating that, if you’re a team member don’t leave it to your Scrum Master, look for ways of helping people do that and maybe even more so how you can help your organization live that. We often get siloed in development and the rest of the organization isn’t doing that, so see if you can do some things to help reach out to them.
Craig: Great. Well, there you go, that’s our retrospective done. We’ll enjoy our cookie and thanks very much for your time, it’s been fun. Cheers.
No problem. Thank you.