That Dang Project Manager Hat

I haven’t been a Project Manager in title for, well, ages.  As a coach or Scrum Master, I should have shed that hat long ago.  And, I did(ish).  The problem is it’s still around and, when things need to GET DONE,  somehow that hat just turns back up….on my head.  Now, the good news is, I realize it and can quickly yank it off and stuff it under my chair but, seriously, I wish it would go away.  It won’t ever go completely away though and I’m still learning how to keep it firmly on the shelf.

So, why did it find its way on my head?  The group I am coaching wants to GET STARTED!  It’s awesome the excitement they all have.  They are eager, after months and months of talking, to get to work.  And, they want to run it Agile and they are leveraging SAFe.  So, before the December productivity vortex hit, we all looked at the calendar and they identified dates for their Quickstart (3 day event for everyone on the release train).  This means, there is a LOT to do.  And, the month of December is pretty much shot so, there’s about 3.5 weeks to get everything accomplished so the train is ready to leave the station.  But, there’s also a Holiday in there AND, most awesome of all, snow storms.  WOOT!

The team of people I am lucky enough to work with right now are amazing.  A massive can-do attitude.  They have overcome illness, broken down cars, two snow storms, children’s illnesses, broken pipes (for 4 people!) and a host of other things way out of their control.  They have all come together, rolled their sleeves up, opened their minds and have focused on getting ready.  They have trained, collaborated, learned, been challenged, formed as a team and had fun.  Honestly, it has been amazing to see and be a part of.  There is absolutely NOTHING this group of people can’t accomplish.  As a coach, this is heaven.  As a PM, I cannot stop thinking about all of the logistics and coordination and organization that needs to happen.  It’s not that there aren’t people working on those things.  They are.  Will it all get done?  Probably.  If something doesn’t get done, will it matter (really matter)?  Probably not.

Coach me:  ALL the right ingredients are there.  The people and the experience are what matters.

PM me:  I need to make certain there are enough post-its, flip charts, sharpies and who is getting red yarn?

Coach me:  These people will adjust.  What matters is their mentality and how they come together through this first event.

PM me:  How can they possibly come together if there aren’t enough sharpies and flip chart markers?!  And, who is printing the hand-outs?  Wait – do we even HAVE a final head count yet?

Coach me:  These guys have it.

PM me:  They have everything except the awesome colored, smelly markers.  They NEED those.

Coach me:  Shut up, PM.

PM me:  Will do – as soon as I have every minute of the day plotted out and accounted for….and confirmation on the sharpies.

So, for all of you former PMs out there who are transitioning to Scrum Master, your PM hat is never really gone.  You just have to recognize when it’s there, on your head, and take it off.  I bet, over the next 8 days, I’ll be taking that sucker off multiple times daily and apologizing to people for continuously asking them if they are certain we will have enough sharpies.

Frameworks are full of….


A process doesn’t work without people.  A framework doesn’t work without people.  Process and frameworks are meant to facilitate the delivery of value.  Value isn’t delivered unless you have people.  If everyone can agree on this we should also be able to agree that, in order for the implementation of a new framework, process or effort to deliver value to customers faster, people are THE lynchpin.

If we agree people are the lynchpin, we need to agree on what they need to be a strong lynchpin.  If I think on times where I have performed the best, there were common themes:

  1. I trusted those I was working with and was trusted by those I was working for
  2. The people I was working with were all focused on the same goal
  3. We all had high standards for ourselves, our product and each other
  4. Having FUN was not an afterthought

There are a few more but, these are the “biggies”.  Note, there is nothing in here about how we worked together.  I say this because I think, sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the process – or framework – of work.  Actually, the simpler the framework, the harder it is to implement because it is so very reliant on…people.  When you look at Scrum, it’s very light on the process and how.  Kanban is even lighter.  Simple processes imply a faith and trust in people to do the best they can, be open and honest with themselves and each other and try to be better each time.

Heavy processes or frameworks imply a lack of trust in people.  Otherwise…why all the process?  Process is made of checkpoints, flows, owners, approvers, accountable, responsible and the list goes on and on.  At the end of the day, people either did what they set out to do or they didn’t.  A process or framework won’t actually guarantee success.

People will.

When a company or team decides to implement a new framework, they need to first look at the people and decide a few things.  One, do they have people they trust?  Two, are they (the people making the decision) open to working differently?  Three, do they believe the framework they are implementing and the people they have to work within it will truly help us achieve their goal?

Processes and frameworks for the sake of having them are no good.  It’s not good for the company, the people or the customers.  Make sure there’s an environment for people to be successful in.  Keep the framework/process as light as possible and.  Ensure people are working on valuable products.  Leave the people alone unless they tell you they need you.  Then, be supportive and enable their learning and success.

It’s about the People NOT the framework

I’ve been hearing little murmurings…..

“SAFe is great because we can still keep watch over everything”

“Reporting will be robust with SAFe.  We’ll know how each team is doing at all times.”

“We’ll need really good Integrated BSAs and Tech Leads to monitor and approve the decisions.”

There’s NO PASS ON THE CULTURE CHANGE with SAFe, Scrum, Kanban or any other Agile framework.  I’m very serious about this.  SAFe is still based on Agile values and Principles.  The great picture doesn’t mean you don’t have to change the way you think.  It doesn’t.  I believe, when done correctly, it makes it less scary to change culturally but there MUST be change.  When you look at the picture, turn it upside down.  Team on top and Portfolio on the bottom.  It’s STILL about delivering value to the customer and the people, on the teams, are the ones who do it.

You can’t realize the full benefits of Agile until the culture change starts.

I’ll say it another way.

If you want to realize the full benefits of Agile, you will need to change the way you view people and work.

Here’s another way.

When you do not change your culture and Agile doesn’t work it will be because you didn’t change your culture.

Do not blame Agile.  Do not blame Scrum.  Do not blame SAFe.  SAFe is an excellent framework to learn how to apply the Agile/LEAN values and principles. So is SCRUM. Neither is a silver bullet.  The silver bullet is your brain and it’s ability to change.

You can’t part time a new team…

Recently, there was a suggestion made that a Scrum Master need only dedicate 25% of his time to a team.  I disagree.  I really, really disagree.  Even if the team members are experienced Agile team members, there’s forming that needs to happen and they need to find their groove.  If they’re not experienced Agile team members, then 25% certainly won’t cut it.

MAYBE when a team has been together and is in that high-performing place, a Scrum Master need only devote 25% of their time but, I still question it.

So, tell me, what do you think?

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) thoughts…

I like it.  I admit I was skeptical.  There were sound bytes I wasn’t quite certain about but, I’m on board.  While I long for a huge company to really and truly embrace all the awesome that is Agile, there are some minds which only have some much capacity to shift and absorb change.  I’ve said it before, there’s some faith you have to have when transitioning to Agile and it’s a scary leap to take.  I have only recently been able to put myself in the executive shoes and look at an Agile transformation from their viewpoint.  SAFe satisfies some needs of large organizations that cannot be ignored and, yes, it can all be addressed with Scrum or Kanban.  There’s no reason why it can’t but, I would MUCH rather have a company make the Agile leap than not and I believe the SAFe framework will make it easier for larger organizations and their executives to get behind it.  Let me be very clear – SAFe does not deviate from Agile principles in any way so let’s just not even go there.  Here are some reasons why I like it:

  1. It satisfies the PMO/Portfolio level nicely
  2. The architects are working a couple sprints ahead and laying an architectural runway for the teams
  3. It incorporates LEAN principles/concepts.  You cannot ignore them and, really, why would you?
  4. There’s a pretty picture which lays it all out in a way anyone can understand.  You think that’s silly.  Executives LOVE it.
  5. Teams are highly collaborative.  They have to be.  Multiple teams.  It’s agile on steroids.
  6. Reporting needs are satisfied in a way executives can relate and support and it’s not dashboards or red, yellow & green stuff either.  It’s about VALUE! 
  7. The entire framework exists to enable and empower teams to deliver value while keeping all those not on teams engaged, informed and happy

It drives me batty when teams are “Agile” and no one else is.  Here is a way which requires engagement and participation from all.  You would be challenged to maintain old ways and have teams be “Agile”.  You can’t fake it.  I encourage you to explore it at

Now that I’ve learned about SAFe I’m off to explore other solutions and see what else is out there.