Are You Scrumlost?

When I find the time, I write more about other topics at http://rogueteacher.me. It’s a place for me to re-discover my love for Physics, and other nuggets of knowledge life has taught me along the way.

Image from https://blog.ippon.tech/

Are you new to tech? Transiting from a non-Agile organisation into one that lives and breathes Agile? Or a fresh graduate perhaps, trying to make sense of how to Scrum?

If you’re any of the above, then chances are, you’re like me — scrumlost! How does one navigate his way through the endless materials online and what seems to be a rabbithole of certifications and frameworks? How do we even start?

In what will be a series of honest sharing, I document my learning journey for you — beyond my local audience in Singapore, I hope it helps to pace your learning, wherever you may be. In this article, I describe my first two weeks at GovTech, Singapore and the resources I’ve tapped on to kickstart my Scrum journey.

Oh, and as for GovTech, we focus on the creation of tech products that serve the public, and are mad about improving public sector productivity — and if we can partner the private sector, you bet our socks we will.

Hit the Books!

If you’re wondering where to start, I would recommend getting acquainted with the basic concepts, language and frameworks used in Agile and Scrum. While these won’t make you a professional straightaway, it provides a common language and understanding of what your peers mean when they say they are “trying to do things the Agile way”, or “keeping cadence with Scrum sprints”.

With fundamentals aligned, participation in Scrum events automatically becomes more meaningful. Even if you are still observing from a distance, having the philosophy of Scrum at the back of your head means you’re preparing yourself for concepts to click as they come.

I found the following resources particularly useful:

  • Agile Manifesto: this is a brief document built on 4 values and 12 principles for Agile software development. In a certain way, all Agile frameworks return to this as the fundamental norm. Even though it’s a dated document (published in Feb 2001), it still forms the core beliefs of many Agile practitioners.
  • Scrum.org: home to a budding community of Scrum practitioners, this was founded by Scrum co-creator Ken Schwaber as a mission-based organization. I found it very useful because of the various blog articles written for the beginning Scrum-er, very accessible and easy to read on work commutes.
  • Mountain Goat Software: similar to Scrum.org, but more of an Agile consultancy that specialises in Agile training and organisational development. Similarly, extremely useful because of the quick primers written on Scrum.

Get Certified!

Are you surprised that I’ve mentioned certification so early? That’s right, basic Scrum certification actually only requires two weeks’ worth of preparation, and doesn’t even require you to attend a course.

Before we go down the wrong spirit of chasing certifications, I am recommending certification because it grants you confidence to take your skills to the next level. Certification is not an end in itself, but it is a way for you to show yourself that Scrum isn’t impossible. Sure, not like you’re an expert after a basic certification, but it means you’ve proven to yourself that you’ve taken something seriously!

Even if your organisation isn’t funding you for this, do it! Having some skin in the game means that you’ll take your learning more seriously, and you’ll be the better for it.

There are various certification pathways, but I chose the Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) certification offered by Scrum.org, for the simple reason that you don’t need to attend any Scrum courses as a pre-requisite for certification. Just pass the online examination, and that’s it!

My PSM I Certificate
My PSM I Certificate

You’ll be surprised at what you need to pass the PSM I certification examination:

  • Scrum Guide: all that you need to know about Scrum is found within this concise 16-page document. All advanced Scrum frameworks and applications actually flow from this guide. You’ll realise that this guide is prescriptive only on a minimum set of Scrum requirements, and leaves the rest to the aspiring Scrum practitioner to adapt for his own organisation’s needs.

That’s it. I’m serious! Were you expecting more resources required to pass the PSM I examination? Hard to believe that just the Scrum guide is sufficient, but Scrum is defined completely in the Scrum Guide, written by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the originators of Scrum.

Shameless Sitting In!

You heard me right — be shameless about learning. It’s okay if you don’t understand what’s going on during Scrum events, but this is the only chance you get to breathe and live Scrum, with actual people showing you how it’s done.

I spoke to colleagues and for many of them, they told me it took about a month or two before they actually got used to the spontaneous discussions taking place. Some even felt that they felt like they required three months before they could really internalise the Scrum framework.

Take as long as you need. Just be shameless about it and sit somewhere in the group where you hear the action going on. Even if you’re like me, who was totally lost in his first week of sprinting, just get used to the flow of Scrum first.

Just remember no one started out being an expert, and you don’t need to impose imaginary expectations on being able to be comfortable with Scrum at the get-go.

Get a Coach

And I don’t mean just looking at older people and asking them to be your mentor. If you spot a younger person in your team who is adept at Scrum, feel free to approach them, as long as you think they have something to impart to you. Chances are, allowing them to talk about Scrum with you is also benefitting them as much as it is you.

A coach, and hopefully in the long run a community, is beneficial for our Scrum journey. You’ll start out just doing the bare minimum and applying the basic routines. But you’ll realise soon by talking to these coaches in your life, that Scrum is really like teaching — other than the basic requirements of a classroom, the lesson structure is really up to you.

Go for Courses

What for, aren’t you already certified? Well, like I said, certification doesn’t really mean anything — it’s just a way of standardising the baseline knowledge workers in a specific industry ought to have.

The value of a course is not the certification it brings, but more of the interaction with the course instructor and how it inducts you into a community of fellow Scrum aspirants. So do your due-diligence and research the various course instructors — from my conversation with my colleagues, many of them have felt that the course instructor is more important than whether the course is conducted by one company or another. So choose wisely.

And actually, while you’re at this, why don’t you sign up for a course with your colleagues? Find some folks who are as new to Scrum as you are, and whack along with them.

That’s all folks, and journal continuously. For now at least, that’s my two weeks’ worth of experience condensed into a simple article. It’s not much, but hopefully one day I’ll look back at all of these and be able to say that I have truly contributed to an Agile organisation.

Cheers!

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Yeo Yong Kiat

Yeo Yong Kiat

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Teacher l Data Analyst | Policy Maker: currently exploring the tech sector