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Your Scrum Play Book: It’s Poker, Not Chess

Your Scrum Play Book: It’s Poker, Not Chess

Your Scrum Play Book: It's Poker, Not Chess with Fabian Schwartz

90% of corporations know they need to become agile in today’s environment.  Only 10% are.  Fabian Schwartz is a leading author and speaker on Agile and Scrum.  Listen in as Karla and Fabian talk about Scrum and how it’s not just for tech anymore.


Fabian Schwartz is passionate about helping his clients achieve their goals and improve performance through leveraging agile approaches.  He has more than 17 years’ experience in the tech sector as a developer, tester, trainer, project manager, program manager and executive.  He was an early adopter of Agile and became a Certified Scrum Trainer and public speaker.  For over 13 years he has taught Project and IT Management at Universities across Europe and South America.  Fabian founded two companies focused on consulting, coaching, and training in all areas of agile development and project management.

Fabian’s website: http://yourscrumplaybook.com

Fabian’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fabianschwartz/

Fabian’s Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/FabianSchwartz

Listen to the podcast here:

Karla and Fabian discuss Your Scrum Playbook

Karla Nelson:  Welcome to the People Catalysts’ Podcast, Fabian Schwartz.

Fabian Schwartz:  Hi, nice to be here.

Karla Nelson:  Oh my gosh, it’s so nice to meet you, Fabian. I’m really super excited about today’s podcast. You’ve got a really awesome book that’s coming out that we’re super excited to hear about, and we’ll hear a little bit about how we can find it. But it’s your Scrum Playbook: It’s Poker, Not Chess. You’ve spent a lot of time studying Scrum and now you’re bringing it to the private sector, correct?

Fabian Schwartz:  That’s correct, yeah.

Karla Nelson:  That’s super exciting and all the listeners are going to be like, “Oh my goodness, Karla’s been saying this on…” Allen Fadden and I did a podcast on this specific thing in regards to Scrum and how it’s our favorite project management strategy. And of course, Agile is the big umbrella and Scrum is one of the vehicles based off being Agile. I don’t know if you know this, Fabian, but there’s a study that came out and it was something like 77% of Fortune 500 CEOs know that Agile is important, and only, it was like 10%, know how to actually be Agile. I’ll have to make sure I get that to you because it looks like you’ve got a nice groove of individuals that are looking to figure out how to be Agile. They know the importance of Agile, but then everybody kind of stands around and looks at each other. It’s like, “Hey, let’s be Agile.” Right?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah. I’m not surprised by that number though. It sounds about right.

Karla Nelson:  Can you share with us a little bit about, well, let’s go back to just Scrum and its framework to start with. Then we can go into some questions associated with Scrum and then how we can apply it in all areas of business. So, if you’d like to give us just the history of Scrum and a short version of all the different people on the team and how it works.

Fabian Schwartz:  Okay, yeah, sure. In the early ’90s, Dr. Jeff Sutherland was working in Easel corporation and looking for better ways to do the work and he came along our business review article from ’86, from Takeuchi-Nonaka. They were talking about companies, actually some of them hardware companies they had analyzed, and they were talking about self-organizing teams and some other stuff. When they came along this article that sounded pretty close to what they were doing then and they decided to call their way of working Scrum.

Actually, as I understand it, they asked themselves, “How should we call our leader?” So, they decided to call them the Scrum Master. So that’s where the terminology came from.

Karla Nelson:  That’s super cool. And by the way, Fabian had the amazing opportunity this morning of being with Dr. Sutherland, the founder of Scrum. I was telling the Fabian just before we got on the podcast here, is that I am not a jealous person, but I am a little bit jealous that he go to spend some time with Dr. Sutherland. Fabian, can you break down those roles in Scrum for the listeners, so that when we start, we can talk about the Scrum Master and then the other teams that are put together with the strategy in Scrum.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yes. Sure, sure. In Scrum we have one role, it’s called the product owner. It’s basically the person that tests the product vision and the person that tells us what to do, what is the direction we’re going.

Then we have the team, and the team, I guess we have a cross functional team. They can develop a product in twins, and they’re responsible for how they’re going to build that vision. We have the Scrum Master, which is basically the person facilitating Scrum, or making sure that Scrum works. Then the guide, the Scrum guide, is called the servant-leader. The idea is that he helps the team to use Scrum and to get better every time.

Karla Nelson:  Love it. Love it. We did a podcast on Scrum, specifically in breaking that down and then also looking at the roles and responsibilities and overlaying our method, the WHO-DO method, too. We’ll make sure we include that as a link, as well. With that being said, Fabian, how do you empower cross-functionality, in these high-performance teams? You kind of lent into that, with what the team is responsible for, but how do you empower that and have these high-performance teams working with the product donor to then make that vision and implement that vision?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yes. That’s a really good question, because it’s not that easy as it might sound. There are several points to take into account. First of all, you obviously need the right skill levels. You need people with all the skills necessary to create product in twin. Here, we’re talking about T-shaped people. We want people that are experts in several topics, but not only experts; they also should be able to have general knowledge of the other work done in the team so they can help each other out. That way we don’t have bottle-necks and we don’t have people with idle time, but also for example, we believe we need a strong purpose for the team, like a strong vision that usually comes from the product owner and that has a lot to do with motivation and focus.

So if you just give people tasks to do, they don’t really understand what’s that for, what vision that fits in. Did that create temporary motivation? New issues? Another important point, it comes from the Google study that probably, everybody talks about it; psychological safety. We want team members to be safe to take risks. If they make a mistake taking risks and it doesn’t work out, well we don’t want to punish them immediately because that doesn’t work very well for us.

Karla Nelson:  Oh, of course. Because then you have a team that’s worrying about pushing the boundaries, which is exactly what Scrum is stating, right? You’re going to potentially make a mistake too, and fail fast.

Fabian Schwartz:  That’s correct, yeah.

Karla Nelson:  Fail quickly. Fail faster.

Fabian Schwartz:  Fail faster, yeah.

Karla Nelson:  That’s exactly Agile. That’s what it basically says. It says, “Hey, get to what’s not going to work quickly enough that you can get to what does work.” Right? I love that, psychological safety. That’s fantastic. Can you also share a little bit, how you can use the Scrum framework for management so that you can increase the productivity that we’re talking about and then allow a team to create and provide the value, much more quickly.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah. That’s another interesting point. Many, many of our clients have already some kind of Scrum implementation. They had to have a couple of pilot teams working with Scrum and if they have done it right, it has a very high performance increase. They have high performing teams, but at the end that’s the local optimization. You still have just one team of high-performance, but would you want someone who will assist them, a whole company of high performance.

At the end, what you do is, basically, you use Scrum to save Scrum and what you do on the team level, you can also have on the management level. With Scrum, we are talking about something called the backlog, which is basically a prioritized list of the things that you have to do and the team can do that, but also management can do that and they can prioritize the projects so it’s not only them, really focus on the most important projects and get them done. Well, we see a lot of this. Companies with 80, 100, 200 projects at the same time, they all execute them at the same time, but at the end of the year they have two or three projects done. We try to…

Karla Nelson:  That’s typical, right? I mean that is… It’s interesting because I completely can see that. It’s like when you try to focus on 200 things at one time, even though we were taught, if you chase two rabbits, they’re both going to get away. It’s like, okay, well let’s try and chase 200 right?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  Let’s see how that one works.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah. So yeah, that’s a big issue, and Scrum can help you with the need to focus.

Karla Nelson:  I love that. In focus is, fantastic too and how can you also use Scrum, Fabian, to help your organization react quickly to those changes, both the stimulus within the organization, but also the changes that are happening real time as you’re developing whatever strategy technology? Again, we’re talking about using Scrum for project management, even outside of that, but how can you then use it to react quickly to the changes that are happening in your strategy?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah. I think we can all agree with that the business context is changing really fast right now, and it’s probably going to change even faster and that’s huge. The challenge for the companies is to change its direction, probably faster than your competition, because otherwise you’re out of business. If you imagine the company as a ship, and your task is to turn that ship around, and you have a really big ship, then it’s probably difficult to turn the ship around. If you have one monolithic hierarchy company looking like a big army, it will take very long to change your strategy and change new business opportunities. But if you imagine your company is separate, small Scrum teams, and they’re all in smaller boats, but they’re all somehow connected following the same big goal, well you can change the direction of those small boats way faster than you can with one gigantic, better ship, let’s say.

That’s more or less how Scrum works. You have several small teams, they must be connected but they’re small, independent teams, they can develop stuff end-to-end, and if you have to chase a new opportunity, you can do that a lot faster with one team, or with several of these teams than with one very big team.

Karla Nelson:  I love that. That’s awesome. If you could, Fabian, because I kind of lent into this and I know your book talks about how you can use all of these strategies, because Scrum, everybody always thinks technology because from the point it was created, it was utilized to develop technology. And Dr. Sutherland, that’s his background, right, is technology I think… Wasn’t he involved in the original technology that created the ATM machine? I’m pretty sure, that’s…

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, he was, he was, yes.

Karla Nelson:  So, his background, and he was in the Air Force, he was a pilot and this guy is amazing. I can’t believe you spent your morning with him. Make sure you tell him Karla Nelson says hi.

Fabian Schwartz:  I’ll do that, I’ll do that.

Karla Nelson:  Outside of technology, Scrum and its methodology can be utilized in any type of business. Can you share with us a little bit how the methodology of Scrum is not just to develop tech because technology, they’ve always adopted this Agile methodology and Scrum being one of the ways to implement Agile, but it’s not just for tech.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, sure, sure. That’s what we are doing right now and we’ve done the last years. I think there’s a big part of that way of thinking that’s only for technology comes probably from the vocabulary we use at the moment in Scrum, which talks about the development team, etc. But at the end, if you apply that outside technology, this is just the same thing.

You have the person that gives you the priorities and has a product vision. You still have a team that works on how to get this done and you still have the Scrum Master making sure the team that improves all the time. I think the only thing you probably have to really think about is, two things probably. What’s the cost of change in your product, on your development and what’s the uncertainty in your scope? Scrum is really good for complex environments. Any complex environments are just software, so every time you have high uncertainty in your scope and that can be oil and gas, that can be a retailer, that can be marketing, wherever you have high uncertainty in your scope, Scrum is perfect because it helps you to learn fast and reduce this uncertainty.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, I love that. Just breaking it down into a team that can move quickly together and I can’t even remember the mathematical term for this, but it came out of Microsoft and they basically said every time you add somebody to the team, it increases the complexity by a certain amount. That’s even without having the strategy of utilizing something like Scrum, which gives you a playbook, right? That you’re saying, “Hey, you’re on first base, you’re on third base and we’re going to coordinate in this way.” That’s so true is that, understanding how many people are on your team, how you need to move quickly, and how you’re taking the scope of uncertainty. That’s really an interesting way I haven’t heard that put, which makes a lot of sense that Scrum is… It helps you be agile. How do you fail fast, fail quickly and get to the meat of where you need to be as a team in order to make a quick impact and do it as quickly as possible? Fabian, can you also share with us then when Scrum can fail?

Fabian Schwartz:  Okay. Yeah. At the end, what you want to be, probably, so you want to be more Agile and Scrum is one way to become more Agile, but you have to be a little bit careful. You’re not Agile, just because you’re using Scrum. Scrum doesn’t make you Agile if you want to call it this way. Scrum just tells you where you are not, so Scrum is a way of doing things. It says age old way of doing things. When we worked with Scrum teams, at the beginning, it has lots of problems, which is totally normal. That’s the way it goes. These problems, we call them impediments, are basically the points were where the team was not Agile and the biggest mistake, we see teams or companies or clients making, is not fixing those impediments.

Forcing the team to use Scrum and seeing that there are problems, but don’t address them, don’t fix them. Well, yeah you use Scrum, but you will probably never would be Agile because you don’t fix those problems. What really helps, is to have a strong sponsor that has the authority and the impact in the company to help fixing those impediments.

Karla Nelson:  That’s great, I love that. One of the other things working with, well… Previously we worked with… Much of the People Catalysts’ background is working with really large organizations, because they spend a lot of… They have a budget for R and D, and for sales, and for innovation, and our methodology, the WHO-DO method, we… In the past, that’s really been the types of companies that we’ve worked with and just recently we’ve started decentralizing that and getting it into the hands, and this information to smaller companies and certifying other trainers. One of the things, things we hear all the time, Fabian, is “Well I only have 50 the employees or we’re a small startup.” Can you share a little bit about why it’s probably even more crucial for them to actually use a process and understand Scrum and they can utilize it at any business size and how you need to utilize it at any business size in order to make a big impact?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, sure, sure. Probably first and foremost, Scrum is designed for Scrum team and the Scrum team is usually three to nine people so you can use that with very small companies. You also can scale that and you can use it for very big companies. So what’s the difference? Bigger companies usually have more money and can afford to take longer to fail and spend more money in their failures. While smaller companies usually can’t do that, so they need to fail fast and cheap and learn, basically, fast. We talk about failing fast, but what we actually want say is to learn fast.

To get the uncertainty balance fast, so you identify basically what’s your strategy? What’s your way? What’s the way? Which way works? If you’re a small company, you don’t have the money to spend years doing that and failing several times or failing and taking a long time to learn. I think Scrum is really crucial for small startups and-

Karla Nelson:  Yes.

Fabian Schwartz:  … it can always be done with small teams.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. That is such a good point, Fabian. We’ve been teaching our methodology too, and what was the biggest “aha” that we’ve found in working with smaller companies is they can be more Agile. They don’t have to get the approval of how many people and make this work and do all these things. You’ve got the stakeholders sitting right in front of you. They’ve just got $500,000 or 1.5 million or some of them larger of investment that they’re trying to then move the pup forward and how actually the ability to be Agile and then use Scrum as a project management strategy is much easier for them, these large corporations and or governments.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, for sure, for sure. They don’t have to follow all these policies and rules that the big companies have in place. It’s usually easier.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. It’s really interesting to see because we were… Again, they don’t have the big budgets, but at the same time, the decentralization and the ability to find your book, and read your book, and listen to things like this, and all the information out there that they can utilize in order to bring it back to their team and make their shareholders and any stakeholders in their company with a smiley face, we want to keep them happy, right? They’re funding our startup or if we’re funding our startup, or even if you’ve been in business for a long time.

The other thing I found, Fabian, is if you start with the culture. There is actually a culture of doing this, and so if you’re in business for 10 years, then all of a sudden, “Hey, we’re going to utilize Scrum.” That’s a little different than if you start out from day one or day, early in the venture and can you, as we wrap this up just chat a little bit about the culture?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  The culture that it creates in your organization, because I think we’ve created that word and used that word in so many different ways and in our minds culture is singing kumbaya together and you know, the potluck on Friday. Culture is actually your boots on the ground. Culture is like to do. Can you, as we wrap this up, share the culture and the outcome of utilizing Scrum and how that positively impacts culture in the organization.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, sure, sure. Okay. That’s a really good question because what we see a lot, as you just said. People talk all the time about culture and Agile and Scrum but some of the group drifts a lot in these places. We all have to be happy. Everything is about happiness and they hurt the productivity. Dr. Sutherland has designed Scrum, developed Scrum to make his teams more productive and attractive. Okay. That doesn’t mean they can’t be happy doing that, but the initial purpose was to become more productive. And you’re totally right, it’s a cultural issue. People usually try using Scrum as they want to be more Agile so they want to have a more Agile culture.

In the end, it is a cultural shift and that’s really something. What we see is really difficult. The different approaches to that probably has to see a little bit what culture actually is. You have several layers of culture. You have values, you have your beliefs, you have your behavior, for example. Some of that you can’t see and some of that you can. You can see behavior but you can’t see values. Many people when they talk about a cultural shift is they want to talk about changing values. I think changing there is probably the most difficult thing, because-

Karla Nelson:  Yeah.

Fabian Schwartz:  … at the end you go to somebody and tell them, “Okay, your values sound good, these values are better.” You can say that in a very nice way, but at the end that’s the message you send. There are a very few people reacting very well to that. There are several studies that have also confirmed that it works the other way around and many people like easy definitions of culture, for example, culture is how we do things around here. It’s actually behavior. If you start changing the behavior for us, which is easier than changing values and use these new Scrum HR behavior for sufficient time, place, then after a while, you…

Karla Nelson:  You start realizing, Oh, people are different.

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah. You become wiser.

Karla Nelson:  We respond differently. I’d like to see how your part of the work works and how long it takes, what you have to put into it. It’s interesting, we were training a company, we were talking about this, as well as how the things that we do and it opens your eyes, then you can, affect the fact of how people see things. I think that’s what you’re talking about, is like what… And Edwards Deming, I’m not sure if you’ve done any research on his body of work, but, it was like 35, 40 years, he was focused on the manufacturing industry and out of his body of work, he came up with 94% of failure is process failure, not people failure. Yet what is the first thing you do when something doesn’t work, is we point fingers.

Fabian Schwartz:  Punish the people.

Karla Nelson:  Exactly! If you have a process like Scrum, that changes the behavior, that then works backwards to then change the value. That’s a lot better than walking in and saying, “Hey, we just want you to be engaged, be engaged, employee engagement. We’re going to talk about employee engagement.” Right?

Fabian Schwartz:  Right.

Karla Nelson:  This has been so amazing, Fabian, again give Dr. Sutherland a high five for me. I’ve been singing his praises for years and Scrum is fantastic. And your new book, I’m super excited to read it. It is going to be out in what the beginning of March you were saying?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, correct, the beginning of March.

Karla Nelson:  Awesome. How can our listeners get a hold of you, Fabian, or look up your book or where can we send them?

Fabian Schwartz:  Yeah, yeah. Go please to yourscrumplaybook.com, everything about the book will be published there.

Karla Nelson:  Fantastic. Well, we’re super excited to hear about it, Fabian, and we’ll also include the link to the overview of Scrum that we did with the WHO-DO methods since all of our listeners have been utilizing the method for a long time and how you can overlay Scrum as a tool in your toolbox in order to affect your culture and then increase productivity and have happier people in the meantime. Thanks again Fabian, all the way from Bogota, Colombia, and we’ll be in touch.

Fabian Schwartz:  Thank you Karla.

Karla Nelson:  Thanks.

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