Author Archives: Jimmie Flores

Key Takeaways from Advanced-Certified ScrumMaster Training

In September 2019, I attended the Advanced-Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM) 2-day training taught by veteran Scrum Alliance trainer Jim Schiel. To qualify for the A-CSM, the candidate must have completed the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) training and have at least one year of experience as a ScrumMaster after the certification is earned. The A-CSM is a key step in the progression to Scrum Alliances’ Certified Scrum Professional-SM (CSP®-SM) credential.

The level of rigor for the A-CSM is far higher than is required for the Certified Scrum Master (CSM®) certificate. Given that my experience is working with online delivery of courses for higher education institutions, I appreciated that Jim’s company, Artisan Agility, provided students with access to the Training Academy in advance. In essence, we were asked to complete pre-work prior to the face-to-face course. In total, I spent about 20 hours preparing for the 2-day class by completing all of the online activities, which included readings, videos, interactive discussion board activities, and checkpoints to test our knowledge. It was cool that Jim responded to some of our discussion posts.

Jim’s class is effective because there are plenty of hands-on lessons. In one exercise, we were asked to pick a topic that would lead us to create the product backlog. Given my topic recommendation was selected, I assumed the role of the Product Owner. We assigned the ScrumMaster, and the rest of the participants assumed the role of the Dev Team. We worked through this interactive exercise for about 15 minutes. Once we were done, Jim provided tips and advice regarding our performance. His vast experience in industry and as a trainer makes a huge difference because he can present feedback from different angles.

The class had an added benefit because an additional Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), Ram Srinivasan, was in attendance. Jim noted that Ram was present in the session to expand his knowledge base, which is important for all trainers. As a trainer and educator myself, it was good to see that Jim and Ram were committed to enhancing the learning experience. On several occasions, Ram shared feedback to the students that was on-point and valuable.

A key takeaway from the A-CSM training was related to the psychological safety topic. From an Agile perspective, this means that team members know they will not be punished when making mistakes. Jim recommends that ScrumMasters take the following approach to ensure psychological safety: (a) approach problems as a collaborator, and not the enemy; (b) speak human to human, and not boss to worker; (c) anticipate reactions and plan countermoves, and (d) replace blame with curiosity. These concepts are critical to creating a work environment where teams flourish and exceed expectations.

To complete the course, Jim provides a homework assignment that we must complete before setting up a phone call with him directly. We must pick three activities from a list of five and be prepared to discuss them. Here are two of the items: (1) Identify a challenge facing the self-organizing capabilities of your team, and devise a countermeasure to the challenge; and (2) Evaluate your vision for your career and your pursuit of advanced certifications as a ScrumMaster. If Jim feels we have adequately provided the responses, he will update our status on the Scrum Alliance website, and we will earn the Advanced-Certified Scrum Master certificate.Psychological_Safety

Key Takeaways from the Certified Agile Leadership I (CAL I) Training

         On September 17-18, 2019, I attended the Certified Agile Leadership I (CAL I) training in Seattle, Washington. The course was sponsored by Braintrust Consulting Group, and taught by Anu Smalley, who is an experienced Agile coach and a ScrumAlliance Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). The ScrumAlliance Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program (CAL I and CALL II) is a unique two-part education and practice-based program to develop agile leadership competency and maturity. After successfully completing CAL I, participants must practice the key concepts learned for at least a year before taking the CAL II course.

Start with “Why”

          Anu incorporated the Ted Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, by Simon Sinek. In the presentation, Sinek focuses on the what, how, and when. On the outer circle, he states that all organizations know “what” they produce. This is the product or service that is made available to the customers. The middle circle explains the “how.” Sinek states that some organizations know “how” to differentiate themselves from the competition, or their unique selling proposition (USP). The innermost circle refers to the “why,” and he states that very few organizations know their purpose, cause, or belief. This is a key takeaway from the class because Agile leaders must be keenly aware regarding why change is necessary. When the “why” is known, the “how” and “what” have meaning and are understood by the employees.

Traditional Approach vs. Innovative Approach to Management

         Anu explained that the traditional approach to management focuses on people adding value in the form of outputs, labor is interchangeable, and workers produce units. However, the innovative approach is important for Agile leaders because the emphasis is on a diversified workforce, individuals and interactions, and watching the baton and not the runners. The “watching the baton and not the runners” metaphor is a lean management concept implying that most organizational leaders care mostly about the runners, the people doing the work. Instead, the attention should be on the baton, which is the actual work getting done. A key takeaway here was thinking holistically about how value is created in an organization, while at the same time eliminating waste.

The Metrics that Matter

           Many of the course participants noted that the metrics lesson was valuable, and I was included in this group. Anu explained that metrics must have value, and that Agile leaders must know what is being measured, and how it can help the decision-making process. She stated the following: “Pretend you are on an island, and you are unable to communicate with any of your team members. However, each day a message in a bottle arrives on the island with five metrics regarding the performance of your company. Which metrics should be included in that message?” Once the class was over, I contacted my team leads to discuss the creation of a dashboard that contained key metrics for our organization.

Summary

          The CAL I training session conducted by Anu Smalley was terrific. I liked that many of the exercises were collaborative, meaning that we worked with other attendees. Anu ensured that people from the same company sat at different tables, which increased the level of interaction. As a corporate trainer myself, I know the importance of engaging the learners with real examples. Anu’s many years of Agile experience and education created a positive and informative learning experience for the CAL I participants.

 

How to Show You’re a Top Performer

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Becoming the go-to employee for a department and/or company is tough. There are many benefits for workers who are considered the best by their managers. The easy answer to becoming a top performer is to get your work done on time, with little guidance, and without throwing a fit. However, there is more to it, so I will provide more depth.

Make Sure to be Receptive to Work
I’ve been to many meetings where leaders and managers are looking for volunteers to participate on mission-critical projects. Surprisingly, there are often few takers. In most cases, the work is assigned because no one is willing to step up to the plate.

A good approach is to be proactive. I recommend that you stay connected with your manager. You can take this angle: “Hi, Nicole … I heard that that the leaders are looking for people to participate on the compliance project. I wanted to let you know that I will make the time to be on the team. I understand that I must keep up my regular work, and that will not be a problem.”

Managers appreciate it when people volunteer for work, especially projects that are of high-value to the organization. Let’s assume that you’re not selected for the project because you lack the unique experience and skills required. You can rest assured that your manager will be pleased with your commitment to do what it takes to help the company do well.

Stay Away from the Petty Stuff
The most successful people in any organization operate at a level that is free from pettiness. They are focused on the work that must get done. When someone falls shorts of expectations, they avoid blaming the person. Instead, they go to the individual and ask how they can help with future work.

It’s smart to take a problem-solving approach. When most people are complaining about why they’re not advancing, we can take a proactive approach to finding the answers. I want to remind you that one’s compensation is based on the level of problems they solve. The easier it is to find a solution, the less one will make. However, the people who solve the big problems earn the highest possible pay.

The Game Plan
Before you decide to become a top performer, you must know that it will increase the level of work that you perform. Also, at some point, you will be assigned highly-visible work, which means that you will interact with high-level people. The benefits of doing this type of work is obvious, but be aware that there is little room for error.

To get the ball rolling, look for opportunities to volunteer on projects. Your manager will know if you can handle the work. If the manager has doubts that you are ready for the work, but you feel that you are, make your case. There’s a big need for individuals who are willing to accept challenges. As you get busier with work that is valuable to the organization, you will realize that you no longer have time for the petty stuff that plagues many organizations. This is when you know that you’re heading in the right direction.

Flat Tire – Didn’t Show Up to Work

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I was recently asked to call a potential client at his office. When the day came for me to reach out to this person, I made the phone call. His secretary, Carmen, answered the phone on the second ring, and I asked for Dan.

CARMEN: “I’m sorry Dan is not in the office.”

ME: “Oh! He told me to call him at 10:00 a.m.”

CARMEN: “He called early this morning, and said that he had a flat tire on the way to work, so he decided to get it fixed today. My guess is that he’ll make it to work tomorrow.”

ME: “Must have been a terrible flat tire to keep someone from coming to work all day. I hope he wasn’t hurt.”

CARMEN: “He’s fine! This is the second flat tire he’s had in the past month. The last time he was out a couple of days because it took time to get the car up-and-running.”

ME: “It seems like Dan is having some bad luck this summer. Okay, please let him know that I called.”

CARMEN: “I have your number, and will put the note on his desk. You can also email him, but he’s way behind checking his Inbox.”

ME: “Sure, Carmen! I do appreciate your help. Thanks!”

CARMEN: “Bye!”
My Take on this Situation
From what I could observe, I think Dan is not very happy with this employment. It would seem to me that a flat tire can be fixed in a matter of hours. In fact, it’s weird that someone would fail to show up merely because the tire has lost its air. Even if the tire needed replacement, that can’t take a too long. The worst-case scenario is a half-day to get the problem resolved.

Call with Dan
I called a few days later, and I was surprised when Carmen informed me that Dan was at work. She was going to transfer the call right away. I mentioned to Dan that I was sorry to hear about the flat tire, and that I hoped all was well now. He apologized for not returning my calls and emails, and we continued our discussion.

Dan mentioned that he would run my proposal by his supervisor. He was happy with the bundle of services that we offered, and he noted our price was competitive. He was adamant I would hear from him in about a week.

A Week Later
The next week came and went, and I didn’t hear from Dan. After giving him another few days, I called his office, and Carmen promptly answered the phone.

ME: “Hi, Carmen! I’m looking for Dan.”

CARMEN: “He’s not here today … sorry.”

ME: “What happened? Flat tire?”

CARMEN: “Nope … he called and said his headlights are out.”

ME: “Can’t he drive during the day?”

CARMEN: “I also think he’s driver’s license has expired.”

ME: “Okay! Got it! I’ll wait to hear from him.”

CARMEN: “Sure … bye.”

I found out later that Dan left this company. I’m unsure what he’s doing now, but I do hope that his car has four working tires, the headlights are nice and bright, and that his driver’s license is current.

Key Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

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As a project manager, I’m fortunate to work with diverse teams. This means that the team members have differences, such as ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, professional experiences, and so on. The fact that the individuals look at opportunities and problems based on their unique perspectives, creates an environment that is filled with creativity and innovation.

Learning to Accept Others

The first step to creating a diverse workforce is to have an open-mind. There are far too many leaders and managers who prefer to work with people who think like they do. The problem with this approach is that the backgrounds and experiences of the individuals are similar, which means that they are looking at the situation in a similar way. The solutions derived from a homogenous team are often limited in depth. This occurs because consensus-building happens quickly, given the people think nearly alike.

I’ve been fortunate to work with managers who are open to having diverse teams. In fact, most of them are merely looking to assemble a qualified team, and it just so happens that diversity occurs naturally. However, managers must take an intentional approach to creating teams that are composed of people with different backgrounds and perspectives. It’s not enough to hope that diversity is the end-result of the team formation process.

My Scrum Coaching Example

While attending a Scrum coaching conference in San Diego, the participants were assigned to teams of 6 people. Our group was tasked with learning more about the project management concepts of Scrum and Waterfall. To make our name catchy, we called the topic “Scrum Fall.” Waterfall is an approach to managing predictive projects, such as swimming pool construction, planning an annual conference, and so on. Differently, Scrum is an Agile framework dedicated to unpredictable projects, such as software development.

Our team was composed of four women and two men, and the nationalities included Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Indian. The first step was to determine the process by which our team would present the results to all the participants. As a college professor, presentations generally mean that a PowerPoint approach is best. However, the Indian female team member suggested that we use an engaging skit. The young Caucasian participant, who makes many presentations for her company, recommended that we use clear examples. The Asian male on our team reinforced the importance of including clear literature to support our stance. Even though our team was diverse based on ethnicity, the input was based largely on work experience. By working together, we delivered an excellent presentation on the final day of the class. We worked together for two days, and some folks from the audience commented that they could feel the synergy we had as a team.

Creating high-performance teams is far from easy. When running projects, my job is to find the right people to do the right work at the right time, and for these individuals to make the right decisions. Given that so much of the work performed today is complex, it’s important to have teams who can look at the situation from unique perspectives. To reinforce a point made earlier, let’s make sure to have an open mind when staffing teams. The focus must be on performance, and diverse teams oftentimes have the aptitude to deliver excellent results.

Don’t Drinks for First Class!

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On a recent flight from Houston Bush to San Antonio, I was fortunate to receive an upgrade to First Class. I know it probably sounds cool that I was bumped to the front cabin, but the reality is that the flight is only about 30 minutes long. Regardless, the seats are more comfortable, and we generally are offered a pre-flight drink, which includes any of the available cocktails.

The Flight Attendant

The flight attendant working the First Class cabin was young, definitely not 25 yet. There were only 12 passengers for her to service, so she had ample time to take the pre-flight drink orders. After jotting down what we wanted, she made her way to the galley, and we were looking forward to our drinks. Abruptly, however, she came back to the cabin and noted the following: “I will not be able to provide the drinks because we’re getting ready to taxi here in a bit. I will provide your drinks while in the air.”

Interestingly, the plane didn’t move for another 10 minutes, which means she had time to serve the beverages. I could tell that she lacked experience, but decided to stay quiet. We would, after all, get our drinks once airborne. It was a 6 pm flight, and many of us were looking forward to our cocktails.

Second Try

Shortly after getting to our cruising altitude, the flight attendant approached all the passengers again to re-take the drink orders. I suppose that most of had the same requests as when we were on the ground. I mentioned earlier that we had 12 passengers, which means four rows of three. I was in Seat 3A, which on this aircraft is the single side of the third row. The drinks were provided to the first two rows, and my row was next. It was our turn!

Not so fast!

The novice attendant came out of the galley hurriedly, and informed the First Class passengers that she needed to terminate the service because we were close to landing. Those of us in rows three and four were stunned! To make matters worse, she informed the folks in the first two rows that she needed to pick up the drinks. An older gentleman in Seat 2B had to give up his cold beer, even though the glass was more than half-full.

The Economy Cabin

The two veteran flight attendants working the Economy cabin had time to serve water to the 100+ passengers. They even made the following announcement: “For those of you in Economy and Economy Plus, please note we’re serving water. However, if you would like an alcoholic beverage, please lower your tray table, and we’ll do what we can to get it to you. We accept all major credit cards.” The flight attendants continued to work the back cabin for another 15 minutes after our attendant called it a day.

I was finally able to get in touch with one of the experienced flight attendants, and expressed our dissatisfaction. She was concerned with the situation, and had a 5-minute discussion with the young lady working our cabin. Even after this talk, she offered to get drinks for us, but we weren’t in the mood anymore. We wanted to get home!
I want you to know that I’m not upset at the young flight attendant. There’s no doubt she lacked the necessary experience to work alone. Therefore, the lesson here is to make sure our employees have the proper training to do the assigned work. It’s best to have them work with an experienced person before they go out on their own.

When I made it home, my teenage son and I went to In-N-Out Burger, and I ordered the #1 with a Diet Coke! I even went back to refill it! Good stuff!

Successful People Have Little Interest In Their Job Description

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When working as an IT Staff Analyst for a major insurance and investment company one of my duties included collecting budget data from several managers. The managers were often busy with meetings, which meant that I would approach leads to see if they could supply the information. The numbers I needed were operational in nature, which meant that most people in the department had access to them. However, when I asked the non-managers for assistance, in most cases I was told that I had to wait for the manager to provide it. They made it clear that since this item was not in their job description, they weren’t going to help me.

I understand that people are busy, and they have the right to tell me to go fly a kite. However, I know that top performers are going to do what is possible to provide the assistance that I need. In the example noted above, the information would take about 10 minutes to secure. Unfortunately, when the manager was busy, no one was available to help me.

Focus on Solving Problems

I once attended a professional development seminar, and the speaker made a comment that has stuck with me. He said, “The reason we’re hired to work in any company is to solve problems. If you want to increase the amount of money you earn, figure out a way to solve bigger problems.” While this advice is simple, it makes a ton of sense. In my first job out of college, I was hired at Shell Oil Company as a Revenue Accountant. I spent most of my data updating oil and gas lease accounts. The work was straightforward, and once I learned the process, I could do it in my sleep. Given that the problems I was solving could be handled by any other entry level worker, the pay was average.

My goal was to become a meaningful participant for the organizations where I worked. I knew that becoming a subject matter expert (SME) was going to make a big difference in the hourly rate I could charge. As I improved my skills, and solved higher level problems for my clients, the compensation improved. Of course, it’s important to know that big problems require a significant investment in time, and they carry more risk. By taking the lead in these situations, the person is going to be on the radar. It’s imperative that we find the best possible solution given the factors that are present.

Work is What Matters

I’ve had the opportunity to work with high-performers, and I find that they are focused on getting the work done. If someone approaches them for assistance, they will either take care of the request, or they will find the right person to resolve it. These individuals do not complain about the extra effort, as they know that meeting the requirements is essential, even if the issue is minor. The key point here is that company leaders know who are the take-charge people in the organization, and they will make sure to consider these individuals when advancement opportunities arise.

Make Customer Service Your Competitive Advantage

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I’m often surprised to see that very few people care about providing top-notch customer service. It seems like all the energy is put into making the sale, and little to no effort is made in helping the customer once the product or service is delivered.

The Pool Example
A few years ago, we decided to build a swimming pool for our home. Given that we live in Texas, the pool comes in handy because at least half the year we experience warm temperatures. My wife and I spent a month or so getting proposals from pool companies, and eventually settled on one that offered the best package for the features we wanted.

Setting up the appointment with the architect was fast. In fact, they called us to make sure we could make the meeting. When we arrived, they had the simulation program fired up. Once we shared the items we wanted, the program would visually display them on a large TV screen mounted on the wall. It was cool to see the result based on the requirements we provided.

The contract called for us to pay in increments based on when milestones were met, such as when the plumbing and foundation were complete. We were assigned a project manager, Miguel, and he was at the house often. When he wanted to chat with us, he would arrive at the house at 7:00 a.m. to make sure he could find us. He asked for us to text him any time during the day, including weekends. When we did text with a question, a reply usually came within minutes. He was super-interested in making us happy.

The pool was complete only a couple weeks late, and this was due to big rains we had in San Antonio. We made the final payment, and it was now time to use the pool. For the next few months, the pool worked as promised – no problems. However, in September, the weather turned a little cold (like 80 degrees, which is considered cold in Texas), and we decided to heat the pool. Unfortunately, the heater was failing to work. In fact, we noticed a gas smell when the unit was triggered.

I called the project manager and other representatives from the pool company, and getting a call-back was nearly impossible. When I did reach the intended person, I was told that the problem was likely unrelated to their work. They asked me to call a plumber, and if that didn’t solve the issue, I should contact the electrical company. In other words, I was getting the run-around. It was obvious that once they received the final payment, they moved on to other customers who were ready to cut checks.

The Lesson
I understand that there is eagerness in making the sale; the excitement is obvious. However, I also know that companies who are focused on keeping the customer happy even after the product or serviced is delivered, are more likely to dominate the market. The pool company I described here was just so-so with follow-up work, but they are still in business. I wonder how much better they might perform if they were just as good with ongoing customer support as they were when trying to make the sale.

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

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As I sit and write this blog from the comfort of my home here in San Antonio, Texas, I know that we are fortunate. Hurricane Harvey brought plenty of rain and winds to the Alamo City, but it moved northeast quickly.

Report from my Daughter

My daughter Kaitlin accepted a job at the Houston Marriott Marquis this past summer after graduating from K-State. Only a couple months on the job, she’s been exposed to crisis management. On Friday, August 25, she was among 200 employees that the Marquis management team asked to stay throughout the weekend to take care of stranded guests. Harvey was supposed to move along rapidly, but we now know that it has stalled over the fourth largest city in the nation.

Because of the significant flooding, the hotel workers and guests are staying put for the foreseeable future. I’m thankful that Kaitlin is safe at the hotel, but I know this is not the case for many Texans. The images we’re seeing are unbelievable, and the worst might still be on its way. Even the Marquis is experiencing problems, as you can see by the flooding of the in the loading dock.

Impact on Projects

Can you imagine the thousands of projects affected by hurricane? Both Houston George Bush and Hobby are closed for business. This means that project team members are unable to travel to Houston, and other impacted Texas cities. The project participants that are in these cities are unable to get any meaningful work done. While I suppose planning can take place, there’s zero execution.

From a risk management perspective, Hurricane Harvey is a Known-Unknown. In other words, the risk is known, but project planners were unsure when and if it would affect their projects. Now that the exposure has occurred, it’s time to implement the contingency plan. The project managers must do whatever possible to mitigate the damage.

There are some who might argue that the hurricane is an Unknown-Unknown. In other words, this type of risk is completely unexpected. However, given that Houston is in the line of fire for these types of weather phenomena, I believe the best risk classification is Known-Unknown.

Why does it matter how this weather risk is labeled? If we know that something might happen, we can have a contingency plan in place. This means that we have the resources needed to get back on track as quickly as possible. Given that we have a disaster recovery and business continuity plan completed, the contingency steps are known, and we can get to work. Of course, since the project management plan included this risk, the schedule had wiggle room, which means the project deliverable date is still on track.

As you read these comments, I’m sure you’re thinking that planners must be superhuman to account for this type of disaster. However, my guess is that experienced project managers included this type of weather disaster in their planning process. The problem with Harvey, though, is that the impact is turning out to be at a level similar to Katrina, which is tough to predict.

Getting back to what matters the most … that is, the people who are suffering. We have the opportunity to help these individuals in our own way, so let’s step up to the plate and do our part.

Getting Over the Fear of Failure

Getting Over the Fear of Failure

There are far too many people who are afraid they will fall short. In some cases, we avoid posting for a job because it will place us in the line of fire. I know of many situations where people stick with a profession they do not like mostly because they fear falling short of expectations. As a business owner, friends and colleagues tell me they want to someday start their own business, but they find it hard to leave the comfort of a steady paycheck.

Get a Plan

The best advice I can provide to someone who fears failure is to develop a plan. This roadmap doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should have enough details. It’s important that we know the destination. Once we have the vision in mind, we will know what it takes to get there. It’s obvious that something of value will be challenging, but it’s far easier to hit a target when we are 100% committed to realizing it.

When building the plan, it’s essential that you are prepared for something going awry. Therefore, ensure that there are contingencies in place, which means that a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D, and so on, are included. For example, when taking on a new job, I recommend that you add new skills, such as project management training. If the new position is short-lived, you now have qualifications that enhance the chances of landing an employment opportunity that is right for you.

Know When to Take a Step Back

We’ve all been in the situation where we are too close to a situation. For example, there are times when I was stuck in a rut, and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get back on track. There were countless times when I woke up in the middle of the night because the pressure wouldn’t let me sleep. I knew there was an answer to my problems, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I was confident in my skills and motivation, but I needed a breakthrough.

The advice that worked for me is to take a step back from the problem. It was necessary to disengage from the situation. I was trying to solve the problem by doing the same thing each time. I could work hard each day, but the results were going to be the same. I finally decided to get away from the situation for a few days, which allowed me time to consider other options. Interestingly, the answer to one of my key obstacles was presented to me years earlier, but I wasn’t ready to listen to the advice. With an open mind, I went back to the advice from a business associate, and gave it a try. Within a month or so, I was out of the rut, and the business began to prosper.

For some people, the answer comes easier and faster. For me, it took longer to identify. However, the many mistakes that I made along the way confirmed the approaches that wouldn’t work. Today, I still face a ton of challenges, but I’m doing a better job learning to overcome them.

My recommendation to you is to press ahead, even when the challenge seems insurmountable. There is a way to realize success, but the solution might be super-difficult. That’s fine … know that the energy used to overcome obstacles will prepare you for even tougher challenges down the road.