Monday, March 10, 2008

Interview with Mitch Lacey

Last January Mitch Lacey presented in Portugal a series of events related to Scrum: "Scrum for Managers" and "Certified Scrum Master".

This interview took place after his stay in Portugal.

Tiago Andrade e Silva: The number of inscriptions in the sessions you presented in Portugal were completely over everyone’s initial thoughts. Why do you think that happened ?

Mitch Lacey: I would like to think it was because of me, but I’m a realist and know it was not. J Scrum has been growing exponentially worldwide over the last four years. The last time I checked, there were over 25,000 ScrumMasters worldwide. When I became involved in Scrum in 2003-2004, there were just over 3000 ScrumMasters. I think people realize that traditional development methods do not form-fit every software project and people are looking for better methods to deliver value to our customers. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Scrum is another tool in a company’s tool belt, and people want the right tool for the right job.

Tiago Andrade e Silva: How did working in Microsoft influence your professional life and especially your adoption of the Agile methods ?

Mitch Lacey: I am very thankful for Microsoft, specifically Michael Corrigan, who supported my desire to improve our organization through the experimentation and eventual adoption of Scrum and other agile practices and principles. Microsoft is a very unique place with very special people. Without the flexibility I had at Microsoft, I would not be where I am today. My current employer, Ascentium ( is also very supportive of my efforts in building the agile community worldwide. Without their support, I would not have been able to meet and work with you or Microsoft Portugal. I am pretty lucky.

Tiago Andrade e Silva: On most of the questions posed by the attendees to the several sessions you presented, they stated that Portuguese Culture is different, so, scrum would be more difficult to apply or could not be applied. Is that a common statement despite the culture ? Do you hear it a lot ?

Mitch Lacey: Tiago, I hear a lot of questions that are very similar to this. The most common concerns are:

· My company is unique, Scrum or agile cannot work here

· We deliver a unique product, agile won’t work here

· Our culture will not support agile or Scrum

I think that when we look at national cultures, we have many variances. As I learned in my trip to Portugal, morning is a nebulous time. I learned that first hand. I do believe, however, that people all have a common set of principles when it comes to business and social interaction. We all want to do what is right, we all want to deliver value to our customers, we all want to feel like we are making a difference. I have not come across a company or a culture that does not strive for this. In the end, it is all a matter of perspective and how open people are to change.

Tiago Andrade e Silva: How can we use scrum to manage the dependencies between tasks ? Especially the external dependencies like client approval of creative design ?

Mitch Lacey: Scrum is not a silver bullet, and there are no magical practices in Scrum that allows teams to manage dependencies between tasks or external dependencies like client approval of creative design. What Scrum will do is highlight the areas that need improvement in your organization – it will make the dysfunction that exists between teams and/or clients the center of attention. How these problems are addressed are ultimately up to company leaders and teams. I have techniques for managing this that are covered in the Certified ScrumMaster course that is scheduled for April in Lisbon – we’ll get into it heavily there. J

Tiago Andrade e Silva: One of the principles of the Agile Manifesto is “Working software over comprehensive documentation”. How much documentation is the right documentation ?

Mitch Lacey: The right amount of documentation is just that, the right amount and no more. How much is the right amount? That depends on several factors, two of them being the customer and the organization. How much documentation does the customer need for us to deliver an application? If the application is a web site that collects addresses for a marketing promotion and it will only be used one time, the right amount of documentation required may be light. On the other hand, if a team is building a banking website that allows people to fulfill online transaction, there will be federal regulations in place. As a result, the right amount of documentation will be significantly higher. The key point of the Agile Manifesto is to deliver the right documentation for your project or customer and to not deliver documentation for the sake of just delivering documentation.

Tiago Andrade e Silva: How can scrum be used in teams that handle multiple concurrent projects ?

Mitch Lacey: I think the quickest way to get something done is to start it and finish it, regardless of the method being used to manage the project. What I mean by this is that is a person has to split his/her time across multiple, concurrent project, that person will have a lot of work that is in progress. Work in progress is like having goods that are in manufacturing – they partially comprised of raw materials and some of the goods are closer to finished. A car on an assembly line that has every part except the engine cannot be sold – it is unfinished. Having it sit there is waste. This is similar in software when we ask people to split their time across multiple projects – there is enormous waste. Scrum will not solve these problems, but it will certainly highlight them and force them to be addressed (or ignored).

Tiago Andrade e Silva: Which are the biggest challenges that the companies that start to adopt Scrum encounter ?

Mitch Lacey: The biggest challenges I see are companies that are not ready for the problems that Scrum exposes and companies that adopt part of Scrum and call it Scrum. When they do the latter, they fool themselves into thinking they will receive the benefits of Scrum without putting in the hard work of the actual implementation. Managing agile projects takes an extremely high amount of discipline to stay focused and keep the project on track. If this is ignored, people will fail.

Tiago Andrade e Silva: Can you tell us a little about the book you are writing ?

Mitch Lacey: The book What to Expect the First Year saved our marriage when our first child was born. In moments we felt we were going insane, that book helped us to realize that we were going through a normal process that parents have gone through for generations. We took comfort in the knowledge that the changes and feelings we were experiencing were not new to the world, just new to us. The book gave us a glimpse of the milestones and obstacles waiting around the next corner and anticipated our questions with enough clarity and examples to allow us to address our baby’s needs.

My first Agile project felt a bit like my first year as a father. Most of the time, I was lost and unsure about where to turn. What I needed was a What to Expect when You’re Adopting Agile book!

Since no such book existed at the time, my team and I muddled through as best we could. As the project champion, I built a team that was open to experimenting and evolving to Agile. We were determined to become better, and better we became. We read a new book every other week, and experimented with the concepts and ideas in that book. It was not easy; we made as many bad decisions as we made good ones. It took a lot of discipline and patience to work through our issues and team dysfunctions, but we did it.

We constantly asked ourselves, “Should we be progressing the way we are? What are we missing and what can we improve?” What was missing was a book that was only one step ahead of where we were as a team.

These days, when coaching teams that are evolving to Agile, I always ask how their adoption is progressing. They inevitably reply with a long list of problems they are having. Without fail, their list mirrors the list of problems I encountered on my first Agile project. New teams struggle with building a release plan, identifying and prioritizing requirements and creating potentially releasable software within an iteration.

Adopting Agile: 101 Tips for Surviving the First Year puts the crucial first year into perspective. Just like the parents who need reassurance that what they are experiencing is normal, this book will help reassure new agile adopters that what they are experiencing may be new to them, but is common to teams the world over. This book provides real-world stories, examples and exercises that an executive, manager or team member can use to survive the experience of evolving their organization to Agile principles & practices.

I have the full table of contents on my website at

Tiago Andrade e Silva: What sessions do you foresee for the next cycle of events on your next visit to Portugal in April ?

Mitch Lacey: I feel extremely lucky to be asked to return to Portugal to provide more workshops on agile and Scrum. The needs we identified in our last trip were around more development practices, estimation practices and more Scrum workshops. As a result, we are working on building an agenda that covers the following:

· Practicing and doing Test-Driven Development course

· Certified ScrumMaster course (maybe two of them)

· Agile Estimation and Planning course

· Certified Product Owner course

· Implementing Microsoft Team Foundation Server 2008

Given that we only have five days, it will be challenging – hopefully we can offer more solutions to the Portuguese software community in July or August!

Lastly, it was an honor to be able to come to Portugal to do the workshops. The people, culture and history of Portugal was amazing. Thank you to everyone who I had the opportunity to meet and participate in the workshops – It was truly the best group I have ever had!

Tiago Andrade e Silva: Thank you very much Mitch!

For more information regarding the next Certified Scrum Master visits

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