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Agile Consultants and Trainers Help the Unemployed and Hard Up

by Mark Levison on Jun 12, 2009 |

A number of trainers and consultants are making efforts to help the unemployed learn new skills and be better prepared for the new job market.

Tobias Mayer is offering WelfareCSM, a free Scrum Training, to people who can’t otherwise afford it. Why is he doing this:

1. To offer low-cost or no-cost Scrum training, including Certified Scrum Master training to individuals in low-paid jobs, the unemployed, students and anyone working for a company that has cut its training budget in this time of crisis.

2. To spread the principles, practices and values of Scrum beyond the software world, by training people from other industries, and those involved in other kinds of work or community activities.

Tobias’s training is open to anyone who wants to attend whatever their financial circumstances. The only costs are the $50 Scrum Alliance fee and a donation to help pay for the space. Paid professionals are welcome but are expected to pay what they feel the course was worth at the end of the session. In addition, Tobias won’t accept payment from corporations – he feels that this is a personal commitment and this needs to be embraced by all participants.

James Coplien, well known for his books (Advanced C++ and Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development), fell in love with Serbia in 2004. Since then, he’s been looking for ways to support his friends there. This year he decided to offer free CSM training with the help of two other trainers: Dan Rawsthorne, of Danube, and Alan Cyment. The Scrum Alliance waived its fees and paid their travel and other expense. James says:

This is one of the most powerful events, and certainly one of the most powerful courses, I have ever taken part in. Three Scrum trainers — Alan Cyment, Dan Rawsthorne and myself, from different cultures and walks of life — were welcomed into yet a fourth culture as we brought the Scrum framework to them. Things are particularly hard here with the economic crisis, and this course was a gift that provided hope for a brighter future. They welcomed us into their world, their homes, and their hearts. For me, it was an unforgettable experience.

David Schmaltz, author of “The Blind and The Elephant, Mastering Project Work”, tells of a nonprofit that he expected would employ him to facilitate their board retreat – he really wanted the work as several other contracts had slipped away in the preceding couple of months. Just as he expected to get the contract, he got word that their primary funding had been slashed by 40% and they couldn't afford David’s services. During the Great Depression people would let food go to waste rather than give it away to people who didn’t have the money. In the end, David decided to help them anyway thinking that it was better to work, even without pay, than do nothing. He quoted Winston Churchill who said “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." To that David added: “Those of us who have always worked to make our lives dare not cease doing our work, even when the cash stops flowing. There's no good reason to accept the lack of monetary remuneration as an excuse for not sharing our gifts.”

One trainer who has had free offerings in the past noted that the students seemed to put about as much effort and energy into the course as the money they paid. So students who paid little or nothing put less effort into the class than those who paid the full price. Tobias intends to minimize this by asking several things of their participants:

  1. Participants are strongly encouraged to pay their own travel and accommodation costs
  2. All participants will be signed up to a temporary Google group where they are expected to get to know one another before the training, share stories and discuss what they hope to get from the experience.
  3. After the training, the participants will be invited to join the Scrum Collective to participate in discussion — and in action.

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AgileScotland by clarke ching

I hope we see more community-minded offers like this. My friends and I at (not-for-profit) AgileScotland have done the same here in Scotland. We found a cheap meeting venue in Edinburgh - a coffee shop, with a meeting room above it which they hired out at a good price - then sent out a few emails. We charged £30 for people who were employed and nothing for folk who were between jobs or otherwise struggling. With just a week's notice we had 6 paying attendees and 7 free spots which was just enough to break even. They've proven so popular that we're putting another one on in Glasgow (a local university donated the room) and then another in 2 in Edinburgh. The feedback has been superb. I'm looking at how we can turn this kind of thing into a "self help" model for people who're struggling in the recession - there are a lot of good people who aren't busy, right now, and could be helping each other out; it's a good time too since over the summer the universities have meeting rooms they're happy to let others use for free, provided there's no profit motive.

We've also started running "agile clinics" for people who are working in an Agile way, can't afford to pay for consulting work, but just need a little help for an expert. We modelled our clinics on what the clever folk at Agile Austin are doing.

Good work Tobias. I never thought of using a forum like infoq to spread this idea around it. Excellent thinking.

Re: AgileScotland by Mark Levison

First up congrats Clarke - its good to hear of another group doing this. Very small detail Tobias didn't approach InfoQ for coverage. I saw his (and James') efforts and thought they deserved a mention.

Re: AgileScotland by clarke ching

In that case, congrat's to you for mentioning it and letting more people know about it. I really hope that Tobias's and Jame's examples inspires others.

Re: AgileScotland by Gerry Kirk

Thanks for sharing your story Clarke. What do you cover in your clinics? I'm hoping to offer something in my home town.

Re: AgileScotland by clarke ching

Hi Gerry, Take a look at AgileScotland.com and you'll see some of the announcements. I used a medical metaphor - like going to your local friendly general practitioner where, often, they can diagnose your problems in just a few minutes and then treat you or prescribe treatments without needing to send you to a specialist consultant.

There're half a dozen of us experts on the "roster" - covering many different aspects of "agile".

I announce a clinic in either Edinburgh or Glasgow then ask people to email me if they have problems or things they'd like to discuss. I promise to keep the conversations totally confidential, that no one will "sell" to them (though, if they do need help then they're free to ask for paid help) and I assign the person who I think can help the most.

So far we've had 3 clinics + a few lunches / coffees / chats and they've all been very different. Yesterday, we helped a doctoral student attack her research into Agile in an agile way (that surprised me too!) and we think we may have helped another organisation add half-a-million pounds to this years profit - though we'll have to wait and see.

I just love talking to people about Agile so it's been real fun. It's also nice that some of my AgileScotland friends/colleagues have come to realise that they genuinely are experts in their field.

Any more questions ... just ask!

Re: AgileScotland by Gerry Kirk

Re: doctoral student, I met a doctoral student who will be managing student researchers, her first experience with managing. We plan to dive more deeply in Aug on how Agile might help. Curious what you came up with. Maybe we can release a white paper for graduate students. :)

So clinics are drop-in style, confidential conversations. I like the metaphor. In my case, there is only one doctor in town. Wouldn't hurt to try I suppose, they just gotta wait in line, like any other doctor's office heh.

Re: AgileScotland by clarke ching

Hi again Gerry!

I was surprised at the outcome of our "clinic" with the research student because the reason we were meeting was to discuss the content of her research questionairre. She was really struggling to come up with a questionairre - to get it right, that is - and she needed to send it out within a month. She'd been trying to get it right for many months. We spent a lot of time talking about the questions before we lifted it up a level and talked about what she was trying to achieve: which was, essentially, some new and useful advice about risk management techniques.
Then she asked me the question which changed her approach: what would I want to know from research like this? I thought a moment or two then said that I'd love to know what people got taught about risk management vs. what they actually did. We chatted and a few minutes later she'd decided that instead of sending out ONE BIG questionairre which took a shot-gun approach, she'd send out several small questionairres, the first of which would ask my question; she'd use the answers from that questionairre to decide what to ask in her second. She figured she'd get a lot more responses back too, if each questionairre was really short.


That probably seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn't at the time! It's only as I look back that I realise that she had started with a waterfalleque approach and ended with an iterative & adaptive approach.

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