Last Friday we completed a CSM course in the Boston area taught by Alan Cyment (CST, twitter: @acyment) and his wife Veronica acting as the class ScrumMaster. Alan and Vero live all the way in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is where I grew up! We had a great time talking about common experiences and catching up.

Alan and Vero

They did an outstanding job facilitating the learning while embedding the entire experience in a Scrum framework, immersing students in the experience throughout the entire course, which included retrospective moments at the end of each teaching segment. It was a pleasure to see them work through it in this fashion and at the same time demonstrating it first hand to the class participants. They had a great chemistry together that made the experience extremely enjoyable, and fun to watch. I got a lot of new ideas to try out in other teaching engagements. Alan and Vero definitely complement each other extremely well, and their teaching approach is very efficient, fun to experience and effective. I have been teaching and learning a long time and I think their approach is among the best!

Final PB delivered to class

The participants came from all over the Boston area (we even had someone from Connecticut) and comprised a diverse and very energetic group full of eagerness to learn.

The class

Alan’s teaching style does not include Powerpoint, which a number of students indicated was a huge bonus and kept them focused and involved. Their passion for what they do is palpable, comes through in every aspect of the class and engages everyone in a positive learning experience.

The learning circle

Alan in the learning circle

The first day included a variety of games from the start to get to know the each other better such as Tribes and a linear version of the Constellations games, which I learned from Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spade. I don’t have a source description for these yet, but if you are interested drop me a line and I can give you what I have. If on the other hand anyone has a source where I can find descriptions, by all means send them my way and I can update this post. I think games are a great way to not just break the ice and start working together but most importantly to enhance the learning process immensely. I was further delighted by the inclusion of games and the choices Alan and Vero made to elucidate their points.

Another good game was the Multitasking game, which left most of us out shape needing a break and showed us that we need to go back and learn the lyrics to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. I have to thank my partner in this game for carrying me through it!

yeah.. Multitasking is not very productive...

The final game of the first day was what Alan called “Vampires of Strassburg” which was a lot of fun. It was very interesting to see how everyone scattered after the first vampire was formed so as not to be vampirized. When you are “vampirized” you groan out loud, so you can imagine the sounds in the room after a few moments into the game. We left the door to the hotel lobby open, so the front desk later asked what we were doing that we were having so much fun. I cannot think of a better compliment to the learning process.

The  bulk of the second day was a Scrum simulation using LEGO’s to build a prehistoric bird: the “Birdie Birdie” business-critical project. Here are the teams hard at work to satisfy the customer.

Alan explaining the "Birdie Birdie" Project

Consultant Team 1 meets the customer

Consultant Team 2 meets the customer

Consultant Team 3 meets the customer

Consultant Team 4 meets the customer

And here is part of the customer team… The tie gives it away!

What did I not tell you my definition of done??

The last day finished with an open floor of topics to vote from. The class decided to have a conversation about organizational cultures, which led in the direction of discussing the Schneider model.

Organization Culture Discussion

Alan did a great job describing and characterizing the 4 quadrants, it reminded me of another blog I read some time ago about the same topic. Check it out.

In closing:

The experience in the class was priceless and I am reminded that regardless of experience there is always a lot of learning around the corner if you are open it.

I don’t have a source for any of the games above yet, but I will try to include a link to sources as they become available or create a description in a separate part of this blog. Stay tuned from time to time.

I want to hear from you:

What was your experience in the CSM class with Alan, or any other you attended? What did you like? What made you stop and ponder?

Let us know! Comment!

(You can find Alan’s blog at

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Mar 23, 2011

PMI Agile Certification – need more info! #pmiagile

The nature of any certification is to establish a minimum level of competency in something. I get the PMP certification as a minimum standard of knowledge and commitment to the project management practice, it also goes beyond that into a commitment to further both your personal understanding and the practice itself.

That is why I am still struggling with PMI’s agile certification – I cannot get my hands around what its purpose is, what it is trying to certify. I understand that at a basic level it is setting a minimum knowledge standard and a common language about agile frameworks like Scrum, XP  and Kanban, and techniques like pair programming and test driven development.

It still does not answer the basic question: why should I want to obtain it? The answer is clear for PMP credential holders folks new to agility, as it gives them a documented path to obtaining an introduction/understanding into a world that has exploded in relevance/importance in the last 5 years. But if you are an experienced agilist (and yes, I do consider myself part of that group) and a PMP what is the value added aside from another credential from a distinguished organization.

Having had the opportunity to look for positions, I see first hand the impact the PMP certification has had in establishing a standard for the PM practice, but what does an agile one give that you could not get on your own with a few hours of training and the motivation to internalize the knowledge? Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact that PMI is stepping into this arena is big and has the potential for tremendous positive impact in agility… maybe!

Second, what does PMI feel the PM role is in the agile world? Largely to this point, there has been no need to manage agile projects in the traditional way, in fact a command and control approach in the agile world does not work and stifles it. (I have seen  a number of agile implementations fail because of management’s inability to sit back and let the team work it out, but that is a topic for another post…). A PM can be a scrum master, a product owner, etc depending interest and skills, but a PM cannot “manage” an agile project in the traditional sense, it does not work. I feel the biggest role of any PM in any project is that of facilitator, and that has always been my focus when I manage projects, and I think that needs to be the focus of the PM in agile projects. That has been my role in every project I “managed”, not to tell people what to do but to help them do their jobs by removing obstacles and problems that would cause them to stop, and maybe that philosophy has been what helped me internalize agility.

I am helping the PMI Agile community as much as I can while I search for answers, and I am also part of the pilot program for the certification process, so I can see first hand how PMI is going about it. I cannot sit in the sidelines and comment on the action, that does not really work well for me, I like to be involved and make more informed decisions.

So, I have these 2 nagging itches I want to scratch, and I am going to need answers, maybe not now, but soon…

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Mar 18, 2011

Introduction to Scrum class – Boston 3/12

First live class for Conscires Agile Practices in the Boston area… Woohooo!

Go Manoj!

Manoj Vadakkan taught the class (I was heckling from the back), and despite my best efforts to derail him, he did an outstanding job. Just kidding, he did an awesome job and we are already looking to have another one in May.

Great group of people looking to learn about agile, scrum and how they can make use of it in their lives. Although the class was small, we had a lot of great questions that made the experience very interactive and a lot of fun.

Awesome group to work with

As part of the experience we had them create a product of their choosing, and in this case they decided to create a dating site with various features

(Note to significant others: one of the features to build will be to prevent married/committed creators from using the site. That is what I call forward thinking.. or self preservation)

Hard at work!

Here is a picture of the to-do question board, we were getting kind of worried at the beginning seeing the amount of questions that were being generated, we had not brought that many index cards. (Retrospective find: next time we will bring more index cards to the class…)

Go Manny.. Go Manny.. Go Manny!

Aha Moment!

It is great to see people reach aha moments when they discover something they thought they did not know before, when you see that sparkle light up their eyes. It is truly humbling and rewarding to facilitate that! Those are some of the moments that drive us to do what we do.

A big thank you to our class participants and to our intructor Manoj!

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Mar 3, 2011

PMI Agile Tweet Chat (#pmiagile) – What is Scrum?…

Last night I attended my very first tweet chat! Yeah!!!

It was chaotic, sometimes difficult to keep track of the topic at hand, but I think a very positive steps towards bringing the agile and the PMI communities closer together. PMI is trying to figure out how the project management practice fits within the agile world, and what the role of the PM would be in this evolution.

Here are the questions raised by PMI:

  1. Is agile a standard or guidelines or a philosophy?
  2. How do you know if you are really doing agile…or just waterfall done fast without the value system of agile?
  3. How do you avoid the shiny object syndrome (trying to do Scrum just because it’s popular)?
  4. How do you get a company that is resistant to Scrum to adopt it?
  5. How does a traditional PM establish credibility in an agile crowd? Does the certification do it?
  6. How do you deal with multiple product owners?
  7. How do you deal with having to work on multiple projects at once?
  8. Since many are new to Scrum, what is a Scrum master and how does that differ from a PM or product owner?
  9. How would Scrum work with offshore/geographically dispersed teams?

I am not going to comment on these yet, I have to mull them over a bit, but I am including a link to the tweet chat log that was produced by the PMI Agile CoP here (you’ll have to be a PMI and Agile CoP member to get to it). If you cannot retrieve this file and are interested, never fear drop me a line and the question you are interested in and I can give you a summary.

I’ll be posting my thoughts and some of the most enlightened comments in future blogs as well.

I have to give kudos to PMI for beginning the transformation process to embrace what the rest of us in the agile community have known for a while: agility is not a fad.

*** BIG GRIN ***

Now the fun begins… As a PMP and agilist, I am excited, but I have to wonder if the traditional PM practice can make the necessary changes to its own culture to embrace the flexibility of thought and action that “being” agile requires. There is law and order in our chaos, but change/adaptation is king.

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Feb 16, 2011

The essence of agility

I have been pondering this for a while now, what does agility boil down to at the core? Scrum is a great framework, but it is not implementable everywhere and changes to it are not very welcome. It is also nearly impossible to “turn on” the agile switch in mature organizations, as cultural changes need to be carefully implemented so they can take hold.

Is it possible to slowly work the company culture and move into agility? I think so, and I believe that a slow gradual approach to implementing such frameworks in mature (and larger) organizations is really the only way to go. I have seen and heard too many horror stories of companies reverting back to prior methodologies because they could not make scrum (or some other framework) work.

So, assuming that it is a good idea to make the change, then what are the basic tenets of agility that we have to slowly put in place to help it succeed for the long haul?

  1. Build inspect/adapt cycles within your project life cycle, many of them, any chance you get
  2. Work closely with your customer and constantly bring his voice to the project
  3. Clearly define the goals to be attained, so targets/expected results are clear, well understood and agreed upon
  4. Allow the freedom to fail – there is a huge difference between failure in traditional project settings versus failure in an agile setting. The former likely leads to project/effort failure overall, the latter could lead to insights that make the overall project/effort be more successful.
  5. March 3 Update  – I’ve had a nagging feeling that I was missing something in my post since I published it, and today it hit me! I’ve been taking for granted the role of team self governance in all this. It is the backbone of the culture of agility and the key ingredient to successful inspect/adapt cycles.
    (Phew! Now I feel much better)

All these are basic to agility, and necessary to implement agile frameworks, but not sufficient. In order to be truly successful you have to change the culture at the core. The more risk averse the original culture, the more work you are going to have to put in to bring about sustainable success.

Easier said than done, but a fantastic challenge to do it right…

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Feb 13, 2011

Brilliant coaching insight

From time to time, I browse the internet to find those gems that lurk there. There is a lot of information out there, some of it useful, and even brilliant, but you have to sift through a lot. The beauty, and curse, of an open information e-world is that you can find anything you need/want out there, but sometimes finding it takes a lot of work.

The day after my agile coaching circle meeting, I wanted to find out more about more about a coaching stance, what it is, how to relate to it and how to enhance my own, as well as the skills I need to further refine. It was at this time that a colleague retweeted the following article by Esther Derby:

(You may recognize the name from an earlier blog about retrospectives in September 2010 here)

Agile coaching is an endeavor that focuses development and value creation on  multiple levels. In order to become an effective coach, one must know oneself and be aware of the environment one coaches in technologically, emotionally and politically. And before I forget, leave your agenda at the door, coaching is about the person/group being coached, not the coach himself. We learn and grow through the experience, but it is not the reason we do it.

Take a look, it is worth reading, and perhaps it will open your eyes to a new dimension of project management.

PS: this link was also included in the comments section and is worth checking out as well:

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Sep 24, 2010

What is it about retrospectives that scares us?

In all my experience as a PM and subsequently as an agile/scrum enthusiast (OK, I guess evangelist!), the most misunderstood and often most avoided element is the dreaded lessons learned or retrospectives. Is it an ingrained fear to face what went wrong that we hide behind excuses to not have them?

The essence of a retrospective is the same whether we are having ONE at the end of a project, or one at the end of each sprint: to inspect what has been done, analyze the good, the bad and the ugly (sorry Clint) and adapt so we can leverage that lesson next project or sprint. It is the essence of any agile framework a continuous cycle of inspection/adaptation.

I am guilty of not being a good retrospective facilitator, which is why I engage the experts I know to help me there. So in order to become more effective, I have been reading a book by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen(1).I must say I was wary of the “Retrospective Gods” titles given to the authors, but as I read the book, I find myself drawn by their approach and can almost feel in a room with them talking about the topic (which I would love to do at some point!).

We sometimes tend to shy away from hard lessons, but let’s remember that retrospectives is also about the positives that we have experienced in the past sprint and understanding how we can continue them in the next one.

Inspect/adapt, Inspect/adapt, Inspect/adapt – and let the team help you understand how to be more effective and productive!


1 Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen, foreword by Ken Schwaber (Click on the image below for more information)

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Jan 19, 2010

New week, new day, new snow!

Another day. I realized it has been a while since I last was able to enter a few words, not because there is little to be said…

I guess I find myself a little ambivalent about he current state of US politics… No worries, this is not going to be politicized! There is enough media blitz on the current Massachusetts arena to make one wish it was over (and after today it will be!).

No, the ambivalence is the result of whether I think the Democrats (or for that matter any party really), should be allowed to have that 60th vote to avoid a filibuster and what that means for the political process. Don’t get me wrong, the people should decide, but I think the discussion should be open and transparent… and I have that nagging feeling in the back of my neck that it has not been so where healthcare is concerned.

I think healthcare must be overhauled, but I think we are being shortchanged from the wealth of discussion, and presented with an already agreed-upon fait-accomplit. On the other hand, the political bag of tricks in Congress is extensive, and over the last few years (I will not say how many because it is depressing..) it has resulted in very little leadership and even less worthwhile legislation (yes that is of course arguable, so do!). So does having the 60th vote imply forward progress of some sort or one step forward and two steps back kind of situation?

Well, only time will tell.. So let’s wait and see what the people of Massachusetts decide. This may get interesting after all..

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Jan 5, 2010

Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

CES opens this week in Vegas and a lot of eyes are focusing on what might transpire there, but not on the cell phone market. I think that the most important unveiling will be the formerly known FirstPaper flexible large screen reader. Not so much because another e-reader is coming into the market but because of the technological breakthrough it represents.

eReaders have been around for a long time, as I think everyone with an email address can attest from the marketing campaigns by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, just to name a few. But think on the implication of having a screen that can be bent and, if not folded, rolled up into a  parchment case (well, maybe not that much yet…)

Current portable devices are really limited by the size of the screen they can display on, so think about having the ability to view or work with portable applications on a small (let’s not get too crazy) portable monitors that can fit in a small tubular case! You unroll the screen and presto, you have a computer.

Think about how powerful it would be to combine the computing power of current smart phones with a large screen: you have good bandwidth (ok, I won’t go there today), fast processing power, a large screen and a camera, all in one device… That, in my opinion spells audio and video conferencing – it’s Skype on wheels! And the business implications of this are quite staggering.

So even though neither Apple nor Google will be there to present at CES which is disappointing, since both have much-anticipated releases this month, the flexible screen release will take the show.

The future is here, or very nearly so!

Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Jan 2, 2010

Aikido resolution – 2010

Nothing like being away from the world for a few hours, no work, no TV, no calls, no news, no computer (that was tough until now). Well, nothing like that to spur one’s thinking time… and before you say it, I DO think from time to time.. 🙂

I had not realized how much I really miss my ability to go to practice, aikido that is. If you already practice, then you know what I am talking about: the spirit of the art, the healthy heartbeat after a good workout, the camaraderie of everyone around you. Even if you don’t practice aikido, you probably have some activity that makes you feel better all around.

Well, I have not gone “flying” for a long time now but I am determined to go back this week and start it up once again. There is something special about what I call flying time, which refers to those times when your partners tosses you in the air and you land a few feet away, and oddly enough come right back and do it again!

Look up “aikido” in a search engine or in YouTube and you will see what I mean.

So I guess I have another resolution for 2010… I am sure I will post more about my newly discovered aikido experiences from time to time. I guess I hope you, as my reader, can relate to what I am trying to describe, to activities that leave you at peace, whole, in a truly good mood that makes you smile all the way home.

I will close my little blog today with a question: do you have or have had activities that make you feel like that? Let me know, write about it, tell someone about it…

A good mood is contagious!

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