In Conversation with Vivek Angiras on Agile and Scrum

January 14, 2018
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  • Agile
  • Scrum
  • Agile Coach
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As Agile professionals all of us like to share our experiences and also hear from other practitioners. Particularly, it is interesting to hear from practitioners across the globe and learn from their experiences. As a part of this quest, interviewed a leading Agile coach from the US. We spoke to Vivek Angiras to get a scoop on his experience as an Agile coach. Vivek is a leading Agile coach from Washington DC and has been practicing as a coach for nearly 8 years. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with Vivek.

1.What influenced you to choose scrum training and become a certified scrum trainer? What excites you about Scrum training?
Vivek: A few reasons why I chose this path. Firstly, I was a coach before I was a trainer. I was consulting at these clients and as a part of my work, I had to conduct boot camp sessions for about 3 days. Gradually I starting noticing that at the end of these training sessions, most attendees started asking me if I can certify them at the end of these sessions. I had no answer to this enquiry as I was not certified myself. When more and more people started asking me this, I thought I should explore this possibility.
Another factor is that organically my career progressed to be more focused on training. Initially it was more about coaching and then I started to spend about 50% of my time on training and 50% in coaching. Slowly and steadily I started to gravitate towards it. And I started to enjoy the training aspect of it more. It’s always interesting to have conversations around what are the current challenges across industries and you get to meet and network with new people and learn about new areas where Scrum can help.
So I think the combination of these two that made me choose the path of becoming a certified scrum trainer.

2.How easy or difficult was this path?
As I mentioned, it’s a path and hence it’s a journey. A lot of certifications need you to either go through a rigorous program depending on the type of certification and then at the end you take a test. This is a lot more than that and is more of a journey. Because you have to do a lot more things before you get here – You have to do a lot of core trainings, you have to have community presence, you have to have spoken in various scrum gatherings. This journey took me a good 2 years to get here. In my view it’s almost like getting another degree.

3.How do you present scrum to those who are very new to the idea of scrum?
It’s an evolving process. I have not yet identified the magic formula to help convey the message. Because it depends a lot on who your audience is, their background, how well will they be able to connect with the topic you are teaching. As a first step I would try to understand their background and see if I can find a common bridge to relay the message in a way they can understand. The first thing that I do is to talk about the applicability – where scrum is suitable, in which type of environment and the type of project you are working on. This is where I see the most value, rather than just directly explaining scrum. It’s about understanding the background from which the person/audience is coming from and understanding and relating to the areas of scrum that makes most sense.

4.Do you see the audience coming to your sessions now a days are more aware of scrum?
Those attending my sessions are certainly more aware of Scrum than 5 or 7 years ago. While there is a growth in awareness, not understanding! I still go to trainings and meet people who have not heard Scrum at all.
Nevertheless, overall awareness has increased. One aspect is that we assume everyone knows Scrum, which is a not a right assumption. People come from different walks of life and there is still a good pocket of people who are absolutely untouched by Scrum.

5.During your trainings what kind of misconception do you find most prominent?
A lot of people say they use Agile scrum. They use Agile and Scrum interchangeably! So sometimes, I have to start with highlighting the distinction between Agile and Scrum.
The other this is, when people come in, they think that we are going to talk about the process stuff and that is all there is to Scrum. Mindset is yet another aspect, where people think that they have this framework which can be plugged in and we get a head start from there. Many presume that this is it and they are doing Scrum well now.
There many more such aspects, but these are the key ones that come to my mind as reasons why Scrum is not being done well in a lot of places in the industry.

6.What in your view is the reason for Scrum not being done well?
The best way to understand scrum is to read the 17 pages of scrum guide. Once this is done, we can then have a fruitful conversation. The intention here is that once they read the document one may be able to ask some more pointed questions. One main factor I see is that the training and teaching aspect is missing in most places.
I have observed that a lot of organizations use Scrum as they have seen it work somewhere else. Because it has worked well elsewhere, they decide to do Scrum. They presume that they will get better quality by using Scrum. In my view, if the training part is missing, you will see that scrum is not done well or there are failures.
One thing that is our responsibility as trainers is to use our words carefully. If we don’t, then someone who is looking up to us picks up the mistake and then it has a trickle-down effect. As trainers we need to ensure that when we teach Scrum, we are using the right terminologies.

7.How is distributed implementation of scrum is becoming more common in your context?
Most of the multinationals have some or other aspects that is outsourced to India or other countries. If you have worked in the Agile space for 5-7 years, anyone would have seen some form of distributed Scrum or distributed Agile. In this, the biggest challenge is the level of communication that happens. There are some tools available to alleviate this to a certain extent. What I have seen work is the 3 pillars of Scrum transparency, inspection and adaptation. Transparency is the most important element. How to keep the level of communication transparent at all times? This is paramount to the success of the distributed scrum team.
I had worked with a retail giant in the past where they had teams in 3 different time zones. It was a big challenge for them to make Scrum work in this scenario. Luckily the CIO of the company invested in technology that brings in transparency. They invested in big projectors and monitors in each location. The monitors had webcams that were on 24/7. They were trying to create a culture where everybody would know what others are doing at any point in time. This really helped them streamline transparency. Along with that the tool they were using projected the same information in all 3 locations.
In my view, I think the best way is to create a co-located team wherever you are. But this may not always be possible. In cases where it’s not possible, heightening the transparency & communication is the only way possible.

8.What is your style of CSPO program?
It’s very interesting because, each time in these trainings, we end up building up a product and each time we build it’s something that I have never thought of. So I am experiencing the class new each time. The objective is that the product owners who go out of that class, they are able to learn different strategies of planning & different product backlog management techniques, and are using those techniques for building those products in the class.

9.Any unique thing about the CSM class, the way you take it?
My way of training is a combination of technique from training from back of the room, a little bit of lecture, activities and conversations. The people that come out of the 2 day CSM program will certainly know that the areas that I focus are the 3 pillars of scrum – transparency, inspection and adaptation. That is always my take away and If people get out of the training with that message, that’s the key thing that I try to aim for.

You can view the full interview with Vivek below:

We hope you have enjoyed and learnt from our conversation with Vivek Angiras as much as we did. Do you have any unanswered questions that you would like us to ask some of our experts? Write to us and we will take it up!