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InfoQ Homepage Interviews The IC Agile Training Mix

The IC Agile Training Mix


1. This is David Bulkin from InfoQ here with Ahmed Sidky, cofounder of the International Consortium for Agile, Alistair Cockburn, one of the authors of the Agile manifesto and Bob Payne VP of Coaching Services at LitheSpeed. Our topic today will be the International Consortium for Agile, aka IC Agile and the first obvious question is "What is IC Agile"?

Alistair Cockburn: Guess I’ll take that one. International Consortium for Agile is a for Profit Company working across national boundaries, organizational boundaries, specialty boundaries to create a learning road map, course accreditation and student certification to support ongoing education in the Agile space. We are really focused on lifelong learning for all specialties in Agile development, project managers, business analysts, software, non-software, all products, all specialties, everything beginning, medium and advanced.

That’s what we are after, we are creating a road map collaboratively with people around the world and we use a road map so that course designers and training companies can submit courses to be accredited against learning objectives and then students can go through the learning paths and then pick up credentials as they go through. I guess that’s the shortest answer that covers this space.


2. We’ll come back to that again. Let me ask you why did you create IC Agile, what was the space, the void that you were trying to fill?

Ahmed Sidky: Based on what Alistair was saying, there was no road map. So, as Agile adoption was increasing, a lot of people started asking "What do I need to learn, to learn about Agile?" And these questions came from developers, from testers, from project managers; so, everyone was looking at what is that learning road map, what is my career development, what do I need to learn to say I am an Agile developer or an Agile project manager.

And it was just whatever there was out there, whatever trainings were out there, whatever certification were out there, that was the only answer there. So, the idea came from their needs to be a road map to really help students, organizations, large enterprises that want to provide career road maps, growth and so forth, that there is a road map that takes people starting from what the Agile mindset is and then specialty topics within their relative fields, the programmer, the tester, the business analyst, all those different roles and take them all the way to the expert level.


3. I guess some of the roles you talked about were tester and business analysts and to the best of my knowledge today there are no current certification paths outside IC Agile for those particular roles within Agile. Is that a safe statement?

Ahmed Sidky: As far as we know, yes.

Alistair Cockburn: Yes. Actually, in general, for instance in project management space you have got the Project Management Institute with the PMP certification and that’s basic project management stuff but nothing specific on Agile. We’ve worked with other people, with the PMI to try to create a subset of project management activity and learning that would go to the Agile space. They indicated an interest in going in that direction and we joined that. The International Institute for Business Analysis similarly had generic business analysts category body of knowledge and testing but nothing in the Agile space at all so we are interested in joining with them.

The International Software Testing Quality Board again had things about software testing but nothing in the Agile space. Coaching, measuring nothing present, in programming we’ve got certified Scrum development, we’ve got a few things but very small, three days is not enough to pick up programming, nothing in the user experience space. So basically, the road map was empty. You could say that the certified Scrum Master is the most elementary form of project management in the Agile space. So really there was nothing, there were no road maps.

For programmers you could say there is something, everybody knows you go get some TDD, some refactoring, some user story stuff and things like that, so that wasn’t empty, because you knew where to get, but the other blades of the fan, the other specialties there was nothing.


4. Let’s just go through one of these specialties, let’s pretend for a minute that I’m one of the testers. What would this road map look like for me?

Ahmed Sidky: So basically, these blades, I don’t have them memorized right now, but first you start with the fundamental of Agile, which is right at the epicenter, that is the mindset, the values, the principles, so everyone starts their journey through that, and then you start with the testing blade, and within that you would find different topic areas, and again I can’t read them right now at the top of my shirt, but basically you would start, the course providers, the market would start creating courses around these different areas, automated testing and development, or testing automation, basic Agile testing strategies.

You could have someone create one day or two days around one of these areas and once they actually complete that course they would get that credential or if you want to look at the Boy Scout analogy, the merit badge and once they collect all the different credentials or merit badges within that blade, they get the professional. And for each one within the actual blade they’ll get the journey or certification for that.

Bob Payne: The journey map.

Alistair Cockburn: We’re going to let Bob get a word in edge wise. Can I just finish on that? One other thing that is important to us and gets lost even in his description right now, very important for us to inculcate the mindset and behaviors that come with Agile. Agile is not just techniques or artifacts, it is a lot of behavioral and attitudinal things. For each of the specialties we’ve got aspects in there to kind of encourage attention to the mindset and behaviors, in the testing in particular, one of them is testing during development.

So there is a major section inside of that road map that people who come from a background where they test after, sorry, if you’re going to play, say I do Agile testing, you will have to be aware of or at least have some level of comfort with testing during development. So that is an example of something that is going to be in or road map that is not going to be just a technique or an artifact.

Ahmed Sidky: It’s the mindset.


5. Bob, you are not directly involved with the creation of the IC Agile. Why do you as a provider of consulting and coaching services consider IC Agile important, what made you interested in it?

Bob Payne: Well, in many ways it is that road map, it’s learning goals. For many years there have been many trainers in the Agile space, doing training and that training tends to vary widely and quite often they vary widely because a lot of these topics are extraordinarily complex and deep. If you ask Elisabeth Hendrickson what it means to be an Agile tester, she’s got a very solid concise answer, no one questions whether that is right or wrong, she’s definitely an Agile tester. Ask Brian Marick what does it mean to be an Agile tester, I know he has a slightly different answer.

The key is if we have the same learning goals, that are available, expressed in the training, we have a wide number of trainers touching different areas of specialization, then I think we can grow people in the Agile space, they can be doing slightly different things, but if they adhere to the core principles as a signer of the manifesto, all of those signers agree on the basic four founding values.

But it means different things in specific implementations. One of the beauties of IC Agile it allows someone in the testing space to explore their space. Yes, we want specializing generalists, but they still need to specialize.

Alistair Cockburn: So, Bob, you are with LitheSpeed, are you viewing this from a training course provider prospective when you’re saying that or is they’re plus something else?

Bob Payne: Yes, I’m not specialized, I do some training but that’s not my bailiwick. What I want is to have training available for the specializations on the teams that I coach; I do mostly coaching in Agile transformation, so it’s a lot of hands on mentoring, but less formal training. But, these things absolutely need to be there for teams to be successful.

Ahmed Sidky: And to your point, I think it’s again, Agile we talk about visibility, the road map gives visibility for everyone entering in the space, what does this thing look like? What does this journey look like?

Bob Payne: In everything I have seen to date, there seems to be input from the community, so that’s an important thing.

Alistair Cockburn: The reason I asked you that question, when you have the road map, one of the problems that training providers have is to show where their course sits, or if there are three or four courses, where do these courses sit. Without this images that we’ve constructed, there’s no way to say what they are, where they fit, what they lead at, what they include. And our hope is that, one of the problems that we’re addressing, one of the holes in the industry is a company’s got three, four or 12 courses, they would like to see, now I can do that with a t-shirt, this course is here, this course is here, this course is here, these courses are in different places, and then the training company can show their potential students or clients where the courses fit and how they might use them to advance different specialties. So that is a problem, if you will, in the industry that we are addressing.


6. Great, so just to paraphrase, irrespective what my specialty is, I’ll have a road map that’ll help me improve, collect my merit badges so to speak, it’s not really certifications that’s important, along the way I am collecting skills and knowledge that’ll help me be more effective on my job and be a more effective team member.

Alistair Cockburn: I want to pick up the certification aspect, because that’s where our industry is most skeptical, if you will. One of the things that I mostly resisted, it’s like my third attempt to do this since I did it first in 2004, attempting in 2007 and starting again here, I think this one’s got a much better design. A one level certification is problematic because people think "you’re there", my preference is to have lots of levels, and by having lots of levels then the market can start to attach value or meaning to different levels, so we’ve got that would be like a CSM as our inner most two days, the basic values of Agile, it’s two days.

But if it’s only CSM then you think two days means something. But if the next one is two weeks and someone shows up with only two days, you know where they are. The expert level will be multiple years, so now someone shows up with a new one, journeyer, because we think this length is long enough for people in large companies, who only get two or three days of training a year, we want to give them intermediate recognition point. If someone says "I’ve got the associate level", I know you went to two days; it’s not actually worth a whole lot, quite frankly.

I’ve got a journeyer, I’ve been to like three or four courses, ok you have energy you’ve been involved for some while, and you’ve got some passion, some stick to itness. Professional we know how much energy it took to do that, by having lots of levels then the market place can start to adjust the meaning of these things.

Bob Payne: As a coach, we know that folks have been doing it for a while as soon as you walk into a place or they have a lot of energy and pick up information very quickly and experience is absolutely critical unless you’ve spent some time really doing it, you are really not going to be very effective on the ground. I think you’re absolutely right, so the CSM has been extraordinarily valuable in the community and bring a lot of energy into the space and introduces a lot of people to Agile. And now the question is where do they want to go next, and I suspect that having this multitiered road map will become valuable for them.

As you mentioned the testers have been relatively well defined, Scrum Masters a bit on the Product Owner side and then there are all these really great courses around, you know UX in an Agile space or exploratory testing, continuous delivery and lean startup, and those sorts of courses have no place to fit on any accreditation time line outside of IC Agile for right now. I don’t have any investment interest in IC Agile, my hope is that this is a growing movement, growing recognition and it’s not just a few days that brings the most value, it’s a long term commitment; change in the way we do things, the way we deliver software, in the way we deliver value to organizations.

Ahmed Sidky: I am 100% with you.

Bob Payne: Except for this expanding universe of other people offering.


7. When we look at other certifications, whether it be the PMI ACP, whether it be the CSM, whether it be the what IBA is doing, it sounds like what you are saying you are not necessarily replacing them you are including them in the road map. Did I hear that correctly?

Alistair Cockburn: I think that if we are lucky, cross my fingers, we have an opportunity once in an industry to build bridges between all these separates. There had been the Scrum Alliance and Agile community in large kind of pissed on the PMI and all that kind of thing, generated separation and schism and stuff like that. This is a chance to work with those groups who are now open to the question "what of that is in the Agile space" so we have a chance to work together. But the different part to your question, we’re trying to be collaborative from the very beginning across national boundaries, organizational boundaries, specialty boundaries, but there is a different thing which is our first set of levels are not exam based, they are attendance based and the PMI and IBA and the STQB their certifications are exam based.

As far as I am concerned personally, this is a good thing, we’re looking at courses accreditation, we’re looking at the courses that they plausibly deliver what they claim to deliver and that’s different from saying that a student learnt a thing from the course and they’re going after that, they use a different mechanism they use exams. And that’s from my perspective good because we are shining a light from different angles and some different things will show up. It helps people get a picture of what’s involved so A collaborative and B, different facets of understanding what a person is.

Ahmed Sidky: To expand on this, we’ve been very conscious about outsourcing since day one as we designed these learning objectives to include people from different flavors of Agile, different parts of the world to come together and have interesting and very fruitful discussions on what learning objectives need to be on each track. So the idea is as the name says, the International Consortium for Agile, to be that platform upon which different flavors of Agile and different organizations can all collaborate and provide, at the end of the day, value to the student, to the enterprise and to the organization.


8. Excellent, as we start to wrap up, it’s the 10 year anniversary of the manifesto signing. Is there anything else you would like to say about that?

Alistair Cockburn: About the manifesto, let me just try something. The manifesto authors did work in the 90s, and for us I think the event in 2001 was a wrapping up, a summing up of the work we did in the 1990s. So for us I was an inflection point, almost a completion point, wasn’t so much as a starting point. The rest of the world saw it as a starting point, so people like me who we teach try to go from what was in the 1990s, that was what surfaced out of it, the condensed version of it, we were very clear that we wanted to be different from each other, we wanted to compete for ideas, for mind share, for market share. We wanted a construct big enough to competing. We said we think we are similar enough to each other and different enough from the rest of the world that we could describe the space, the space could have a separation from other things but we could still be different.

So you start from that, and that helps makes sense of the fact XP went for a while and kind of went under, and kind of surfaced, and Scrum asylum grew up and DSDM had a run and Crystal’s always in third place and any mention of it and like that, but there was always a recognition of the diversity of approaches and now with the Lean Kanban movement, naked planning and time box free continuous development models, for me it’s wonderful adding to the diversity.

If you’re looking at what we are trying with the International Consortium of Agile trying to preserve the space for the diversity of approaches inside, there is something common and a lot of different ways of operating inside this common space.

Bob Payne: The diversity wasn’t even fully recognized when the signing happened. There were a lot of people in the Agile community, myself included, that didn’t really have decent answers for what does it mean to be a project manager in this space, what does it mean to have a large portfolio in this space. So certainly there are people that are working and doing the work not necessarily calling it Agile but there is a large movement with testing group, UX, a lot of these other players, we’ve seen architecture command, project management, portfolio management, executive leadership have all been folded in under this Agile umbrella that we just started to open it, you know 10 years ago.

Alistair Cockburn: People criticize us for being too programmer centric inside of the manifesto, actually that is a valid criticism, we were a bunch of programmers basically, and we are talking about software development, we were saying we would like to develop software this way, allows us to do it, and it was minutes after, days after that someone noticed that they were applied in a wider range that we didn’t name and what was wrong with us that we didn’t name that. So we were programmers in a room and we were busy building software and we said give us the space to build software this way and then we found out after the fact that this applies to a lot of white collar work, business initiative, UX, other fields.

Bob Payne: Once you start to deliver software well, then you have to deliver the right software. So it started expanding out into the organization.

Alistair Cockburn: So I almost wished we would’ve said working products, I think Jim Highsmith did a month later started saying, instead of working software, working products because he could see the expansion very quickly. We made an agreement, by the way, I’ll just put this on the record, when we were there we said what do we call ourselves, what do we do with this, do we update this, do we not, and we said "look it’s an accident of history, it was exactly these 17 people, there were other people invited, they couldn’t make it, we wrote these words, they could be different the day after tomorrow", so this is a snapshot you don’t change this, it’s not a living document, these people came together, we wrote this, we signed this, it’s what we’ve got today, we are the authors and there is nothing more to say about it.

So there is a snapshot and we can go back and say "I wish we would’ve said working products" but that wasn’t in the room at the time so we are not going to go back and change it and it’s for people to say that’s what programmers said then let us borrow from that into our world and see how that can now inform and enrich the way we operate in our world also. So we’re not going to go back and change the manifesto.


9. I think an interesting thing there, you’ve made a point there roles, we look at the manifesto back then, I got my start around that same time frame. [...] So with that I ask for any final parting thoughts?

David Bulkin's full question: I think an interesting thing there, you’ve made a point there roles, we look at the manifesto back then, I got my start around that same time frame. The funny story I had that came in to be our coach, I was the manager, and Ken said to me "Not sure you have a role in this cause it’s programmer centric view". That’s why I thought in fact this is a good rollup of the conversation because IC Agile is a recognition that there is different roles that you can contribute to the Agile process, even though it’s highly collaborative it’s still ok to have some level of specialization and build on my specialization. So with that I ask for any final parting thoughts?

Bob Payne: Not really, I’m excited to see what things look like in the next 10 years.

Alistair Cockburn: And as I said at the big park bench meeting, I’d be happy if the word Agile just evaporated in the way we do things, this conference would be something else at that time, the International Consortium for Agile would still be there because people would still be coming in masses from the outside in and would want to have the name to focus on but it would be so broad 10 years from now that we will scarcely be referring to programming anymore as the center of it.

Ahmed Sidky: Amen. And to build on that, I think the road map to get there is first of all having these learning objectives and really starting introducing them in universities and starting from where people learn about this, teach them this from the beginning so that when they come out, this is what they know, they don’t know the old way and the new way, this is what they learnt. So again, as Bob and Alistair were saying, I am really excited to see the International Consortium for Agile grow and these learning objectives defined by the entire community for the entire community and a change in the way people think.

Oct 21, 2011