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How I ended up becoming a (Professional) Scrum trainer

In October 2003 my life of Scrum started, albeit not with Scrum. My life of Scrum actually started with eXtreme Programming which we then wrapped in Scrum. In May 2004 I attended a CSM class (“Certified ScrumMaster”) by Ken Schwaber in Brussels (Belgium). At the time I had no idea but it seems it was the first CSM class in the wider region.

Fast forward >>

In December 2010 I traveled to Zurich (Switzerland) to attend a PSM class (“Professional Scrum Master”) by Ken Schwaber. Attending the class was part of my journey towards becoming a Professional Scrum Trainer (“PST”) for Scrum.org. Ken had founded this new organization a year earlier, in October 2009.

In April 2010, at an event of the Agile Consortium Belgium in Brussels, I asked Jeff Sutherland about this new organization founded by his former companion. Jeff started by sharing his story of Ken’s dismissal from his position at the ScrumAlliance. He continued by saying that he (as a business man) liked that there were now two organizations to promote Scrum. However, what I remember most was how Jeff emphasized that he expected the bars would be raised for anyone aspiring to work with Ken and through Scrum.org.

It intrigued me. I had been closely following up on the emergence and growth of Scrum.org as it coincided with a personal process of professional recovery. I painfully discovered that I had been blinded by management ambitions (and promises) in 2007-2008. I realized that it had only lead me astray. I realized that Scrum was my way and that I needed to not only get back on track but also up my game. Go full throttle. I started focusing on delivering work with Scrum again and without much thought or considerations I did the PSM level I and level II assessments. (Fyi. What was level II then is now level III.) Based on my experience and achievements, Ken allowed me to move forward on the path of becoming a PST. I experienced it as an expression of “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.

At the time of the PSM class in Zurich, I was also starting to get deeply involved in the Netherlands as the Scrum leader of a large consulting organization. I started engaging with large organizations, often in the financials sector.

In April 2011, Ken came to Brussels for an event I co-organized for the Agile Consortium Belgium. Preceding the evening event, we spent the afternoon chatting in a Brussels hotel. By the end of our conversation Ken invited me to join his pilot PSPO class (“Professional Scrum Product Owner”) in Amsterdam a week later. My manager said “no” (referring to the PSM class I had already attended in December). After Ken offering a few discounts and my manager still refusing permission to go, I decided to take a leave, pay for it myself and attend the class in my personal time. It simply was an opportunity to good to miss.

Shortly after attending, I acquired my license to teach PSM and PSPO classes. As an employee of the large consulting company, guess who got the benefits from me being able to facilitate Professional Scrum trainings in a booming environment like the Netherlands? Still, nobody ever bothered to reimburse my costs. And I never bothered to ask. A matter of pride or a lack of courage?

Although it is not something I had planned for, it looks like in 2011-2012 I ended up being in the eye of the Scrum storm that was sweeping the Netherlands. In March 2012, Ken and I agreed on initiating and driving forward the first edition of a new event, which we called Scrum Day Europe. It took a lot of energy but it happened on 11 July 2012.

Towards the end of 2012, I realized I was combining three jobs:

  1. I was a Scrum trainer facilitating at least one and (at times) up to two classes a week. Most of my classes were in Amsterdam. Having given up staying in hotels (for personal reasons) that meant leaving my home in Antwerp around 5.30am and arriving back at home around 7.30pm for four days a week.
  2. I was the global Scrum leader and local Agile value proposition leader at our company. I was describing, documenting, presenting and trying to sell our approach and offerings of Scrum and Agile transformations. I was internally coaching and collaborating with coaches and Scrum Masters. I was the point of contact for consultants across the world.
  3. I was the course steward maintaining the PSM and PSPO courseware for Scrum.org, working with Ken Schwaber and Alex Armstrong. It consisted mainly of proposing, testing and implementing new ideas, new representations and new exercises.

I take my work seriously. I always have. I still need to learn to say “no”. I have a bit of what I would call an Atlas syndrome. So, I took all these three jobs seriously. I was spending more than 24/7 of my time. I was literally not taking any time off (not even the weekends). It wasn’t too sustainable (I guess).

I remember a Wednesday in March 2013. It was the day before a 2-day event for Professional Scrum Trainers organized by Scrum.org in Amsterdam. Ken and I spent another afternoon of chatting together, catching up and aligning. Two days later, the Friday evening after the internal event, we looked each other in the eyes and realized that it might be better for the both of us to start partnering rather than continuing our dispersed collaboration. Among many other considerations it would allow me to focus on sustaining and promoting Scrum via the Professional Scrum offering and it would allow Ken to reduce his traveling and other exhausting activities. On Sunday evening we had it all settled and I quit the position of Principal Consultant I had recently acquired.

While preparing to transition to Scrum.org, I accidentally created the first edition of my book, “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I remembered the words of Jeff Sutherland of April 2010 regarding Ken’s new initiative and raising the bar.

Scrum, much like life, isn’t about finding it. It’s about creating it yourself. One can however not overlook the importance of accidents, coincidence, chance and luck along the way.

Keep learning.
Keep improving.
Keep…Scrumming.

Warm regards
Gunther Verheyen
independent Scrum Caretaker for Ullizee-Inc

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Surprise. I am no Scrum wizard.

I don’t create them for that reason, but I am humbled when people say my works (books, articles, papers) were useful in passing certification assessments or in becoming a trainer. I am truly humbled because I know that those individuals did the actual work. They might have gotten some insights and language from my works, but that’s about it. It is more likely that they struggled, fell, got back up, failed, tried again. Maybe along the road they took a break, read more, gained more experience with Scrum, and demonstrated other forms of patience, persistence, and belief.

The many requests from people that seem to believe that I can ‘make’ them a trainer or ‘make’ them achieve a certification leave me flabbergasted.

(Surprise: I CANNOT. And even if I could, I wouldn’t)

I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the current crisis sweeping the planet, but I worry seriously how this seems an obsession for quite some people.

On a personal note, I want to share that my journey of Scrum started in 2003. And I spent 7 years (seven!) of just applying Scrum, and enjoying how it helped deliver great results, make users and consumers happy, and see highly engaged teams enjoying their work. I had no idea about certifications, grades, or career moves. It was only by accident in 2010-2011 that I became what I didn’t know I wanted to be. Looking back it still feels odd. Although it may look as if there was a plan, there wasn’t.

Even after more than 16 years of this stuff, I am no expert. Nor am I tired of it. Not even close. There is so much to learn. I am an eternal novice. There are so many ways to consider and explain Scrum.

I welcome everybody to join my classes or workshops to find out how I express Scrum, or attend the many webinars I participate in, check out my YouTube channel, hire me for some consulting and coaching. I will do my best to help you understand Scrum, its purpose and design, and learn to think for yourself in terms of Scrum. Regardless of how much I care however, I cannot ‘make’ anyone a trainer or ‘make’ anyone pass some certification assessment. That is not in my powers (if even that would be helpful). I am no wizard. I have no magic, empathy at most.

Yours truly
Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

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Butterfly

I have been employed by different enterprises, large and small. I never had the ambition to be a wild duck 🦆, though I typically ended up being seen, treated and described as one anyhow. How strange as I am someone who habitually avoids rather than looks for conflict. How strange to always end up being the person that the powers that be would love to hate, but can’t get beyond ignoring. It is hardly comforting that most instances only get to the stage of tolerating me while ignoring me.

There is no having friends for those not having enemies.

Wild ducks are “bad for business,” say the powers that be, enthusiastically supported by the business suits, the career hunters, the position addicts. Yet, every time I decided to leave an enterprise the drama couldn’t have been bigger. How strange that it was even worse “for business” that I would leave. Honestly, the expected disasters never actually materialized. No company ever went out of business over this maverick duck flying off.

Although I know a few people that prefer calling me a Scrum panda 🐼, wilfully choosing the path of independent Scrum Caretaker ultimately lead to me feeling more like a butterfly 🦋 today. Like a butterfly, I flap my wings. I observe, I create, I connect, I share. Like a butterfly flapping its wings I do it because it is in my nature, not because I envision specific consequences, big or small, or set goals or targets, hard or soft. Most consequences are inherently unpredictable anyhow.

More than often I see how my ideas get used and re-used without consultation, citing or other forms of attribution. I am flabbergasted by it. Likely unintended (people not thinking twice), but there is a smell of disrespect. Much worse is it when my ideas are altered, turned simplistic, changed into stereotypes, their sfumato masked and concealed in black and white boxes, when concepts are twisted, cut up, even butchered. That is… theft. No words can describe my emotions over this.

Regardless the lost art of attribution and the hurt it causes, I keep flapping my wings. Observing, creating, connecting, and sharing is in my nature. It makes no sense for a butterfly to stop flapping (or even try to). I’m not sure how that is for a wild duck.

It took time to realize, accept and embrace that most things take time, especially creating who you are. Is the tortoise 🐢 in me gradually taking control?

The toughest fight in life in the end is the fight of not having to turn bitter.

(Louis Paul Boon – “My little war,” 1947)