Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nashville Agile User Group - April Meeting Recap - "Agile Certifications"

We had a great turnout for the Nashville Agile User Group's April luncheon and there was a good deal of information shared about Agile certifications.

I said I would post some links to online resources and here they are:

Agile Certifications

  • Scrum Alliance is the most well known, providing a variety of certifications for Scrum Masters, Product Owners, developers, coach
  • was created a few years ago by Ken Schwaber when he broke away from the Scrum Alliance in order to make a certifications program more aimed at practitioners and not merely trainers.
  • Recently the PMI added their own Agile certification.
  • The International Consortium for Agile has their own certification track (I don't know much about it) that was primarily started by Alastair Cockburn.
There were many interesting ideas bounced around and here is a basic synopsis:

Advice for an Individual Looking to get Certified
  • Scrum Alliance's CSM is the most well known certification currently. The class content is not regulated so the materials may be different between classes. There are only a handful of courses offered in the Nashville area. Ask around about trainers from people who have already attended the course. Going with a big name in the industry is not necessarily the best choice. Most said the test was realtively easy based on the content from the courses. They did start offering a certification for developers, but no one had heard much about it.
  • The PMI Agile certification requires a good deal of hands on experience. Both attendees who had pursued this certification were audited and had to get signed affidavits around their experience. Overall is a bit more costly than the CSM courses, but seems to have a bit more weight behind it. The material was said to concentrate on project management aspects but covered more than just Scrum. This book was highly suggested for exam prep.
  • offers certifications that basically match all of the Scrum Alliance ones, but their course ware is the same every class so you know what to expect no matter whose class you attend. Some people had some very positive feedback about the developer course when was very hands on with .NET and TFS (they have a Java one too).
  • Even if you are against certifications, many companies perform initial searches and screenings with them so you may be hurting your chances in some places.
Advice for Companies Looking to get Their People Certified
  • If you can afford it, bring someone in house so that the training can be more focused on your company's specific issues.
  • Remember that certification classes only go so far. Follow up hands on coaching was highly suggested.
  • Look for training/certifications for everyone in your organization who will participate in your Agile process. Don't just get your Scrum Masters trained.
  • Don't assume that certified training is better than those that aren't certified. Several people enlisted training without certification and were very happy with it. Look for deep, wide spread experience and references.
  • Several people pointed out that a good many trainers target the project management side of Agile heavily and do not offer practical guidance on the practical engineering side.
Advice for Companies Hiring People with Certifications
  • Certifications only show that the person holding them attended a class and passed a test. While some may be harder to get than others, certifications do not guarantee expertise.
  • Look for people who have experience in multiple environments. Many people claim to be experts with a few years in one environment.
  • Don't just look for certifications. You can miss out on some good people.
If you attended and think of something we covered that I missed, please let me know. See you next month!

Collaborative Sprint Planning

Recently while coaching a client's Scrum team, I noticed that during Sprint Planning the team was starting to concentrate on filling in tasks for their User Stories in the their Agile management tool Team Foundation Server (TFS) and less on the hows and whys around its implementation. This of course immediately drew me back to the basics of Agile from the manifesto of "Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools". When I thought I had been helping the team by showing them a quick and easy way to enter tasks into TFS with Excel, that had turned around and become the focus of the meeting. This diversion had also started to manifest itself in the work being done in the Sprint as there was more friction between team members when what was being delivered did not exactly fit together initially.

It became clear that we needed to get away from the tool and get the team interacting more when discussing the User Stories so that they all walked away on the same page on how they were going to implement it. The next Sprint Planning only used TFS to bring up the User Stories initially. Once the story was reviewed, we had two members from the team (one developer and one QA) go to the white board where we wrote "Design" on one side and "Test" on the other. The team then discussed how they would test the story and how they would design the implementation to meet those tests concurrently. They drew UI mock ups, work flows, wrote out test scenarios, business rules, etc. Once they were done the tasks for the story organically fell out of what was on the white board. One team member would act as scribe and record all the tasks into Excel to be uploaded to TFS afterwards.

After trying this approach the next few Sprint Plannings (as well as in Product Backlog Grooming), the team agreed that they were coming away with a better idea of how to implement the stories and there was less friction between team members. Another benefit was that more test scenarios seemed to be identified using this technique and thereby increased our test coverage. This also helped make these meetings less tedious since team members were up walking around, drawing, and actively engaging one another.

So if you feel your Sprint Planning and Backlog Grooming sessions are straying from their true meaning, this is a fun approach to try and get them back on track.