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Big Rocks moved in 2020


“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

(generally attributed to George Bernard Shaw)

I call myself an independent Scrum Caretaker. It reflects who I am, how I feel, what I do: caring for Scrum AND caring for people. It is my identity in the sense that it defines me professionally in my relationship to the world.

I call myself an independent Scrum Caretaker on a journey of humanizing the workplace with Scrum. That reflects what drives me. It is my personal why. It is also an infinite game. Success is not in winning (or losing) but in movement.

Throughout the years I have discovered I prefer ideas and ideals over positions and titles, even when the latter do pay better. I want room to observe, create, connect, share. Like a butterfly flapping its wings I do those because it is in my nature, not because I envision specific consequences, big or small, or set goals or targets, hard or soft. I create opportunities to deliver value and serve people around the world. I facilitate people’s learning and unlearning to increase their awareness of Scrum in several ways:

  1. Classes
  2. Consulting
  3. Writing
  4. Speaking

I have learned that I can’t be as active as I wished I could be in every domain at the same time. I am a one-person company. I make choices.

  • Facilitating people’s learning in Professional Scrum classes or custom workshops (1) is my most constant/stable way of delivering value.
  • Saying ‘no’ to speaking opportunities (4) seems quite difficult, if not impossible. I speak for free at community events (a vast majority of my speaking engagements) and for a fee for commercial enterprises.
  • When I am consulting (2) that consumes most of my mental energy (caring for organizations more than they care about themselves, it seems), which rules out extensive writing (3). And vice versa.

I organize my work on a weekly cadence. I have a long backlog of work. I keep it ordered all the time. I re-order it regularly, including adding, changing or deleting items. I keep separate notes on separate items as needed. Every week I identify what I assume most important to work on. My backlog has some Big Rocks, that are clearly marked to stand out and should be kept as high on my backlog as possible (as possible!). “Big Rocks” is a term that my friend David Starr introduced when we worked together at Scrum.org. I keep using it because it resonates with me.

My Big Rocks give me direction and focus. They are not targets, objectives, milestones, hard, soft, SMART or other sorts of goals. And I don’t put deadlines on them. I discover new Big Rocks, and existing Big Rocks shift position. I limit the number of Big Rocks I keep on my radar.

I am a one-person company. There is more to do than the work on my Big Rocks. I can’t afford to work only on my Big Rocks. It doesn’t mean I am not committed to them or don’t focus on them. Work not spent on my Big Rocks can be important too, whether I like it or not. I have to run my company. I take care of my administration and finances. I spend much time on my classes and speaking engagements because I take them seriously and treat every single instance of them as unique (in preparing, doing and in following up). I answer mails and provide other ways of support. I take care of some online presence. I support other authors. I (try to) read. I (try to) blog.

If not working on them because of the aforementioned reasons, my Big Rocks themselves don’t allow me to work on them full-time, all the time. I regularly feel forced to stop, do other work, reset my brain, and then suddenly they call me back because of some new ideas, angles, perspectives, different directions and inspiration popping up.

When in the spring of 2019 my consulting services for a large company were no longer needed, I discovered I had not done a lot of serious writing for a long time. I decided to shift my focus for the rest of 2019 towards writing and supporting several others that were writing. The book “97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know” became my next Big Rock. Collecting, editing and ordering the essays from practitioners around the world consumed most of my energy and time during the fall of 2019. That Big Rock was moved in May 2020, as the book became globally available.

My ambition to start doing consulting again as from 2020 was smothered by the “SARS-CoV-2” virus spreading. At the same time my planned classes all got canceled. I am a one-person company and the only source of income for my family. Over the first six months of the pandemic my revenues dropped with 90+%. I used the ‘free’ time to create and make available my paper “Moving Your Scrum Downfield” meanwhile considering my independent role and position. An unplanned (Big) Rock moved!

My next Big Rocks consist of work on my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” and creating a new book, tentatively called “Views from the House of Scrum”. They won’t be moved in 2020 anymore. More than deadlines they give me direction and focus.

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The illusion of agility (what most Agile transformations end up delivering)

Agility is a unique and continuously evolving state that is typical to a specific organization. It is a state that corresponds to the combination of an organization’s people, set-up and history. A traditional (industrial) approach to becoming more Agile commonly creates no more than an illusion of agility.

Agility is a specific state as it reflects the unique lessons and learnings that an organization and its inhabitants went and go through. It reflects the way in which specific annoyances and hindrances were and are overcome, the many inspections and  adaptations that occur along the journey. It is a state that prepares organizations for the unknown future challenges that will demand distinct responses.

Agility is a unique signature with imprints of all people involved and their relationships and interactions, of used and abandoned tools, processes, and practices, of the constructs within and across the many eco-systems that make out an organization, potentially even stretching across the organization’s boundaries.

No model can predict, anticipate or outline the unique signature that an organization’s state of agility is.

However, many of our organizations have their roots, and their beliefs, in the past industrial age. As they feel the need and the pressure to increase their agility, they naturally revert to familiar, yet old-school, industrial recipes. They undertake cautiously planned attempts to gently shift to the Agile paradigm (although they need to leap) wrapped in separate change projects (although their organizations need re-integration). They look around and imitate what other organizations do. They copy-paste what others, regardless whether they operate in the same economical domain or not, claim brought them success. They enforce unified ways of working and practices in a cascaded and mass-production way. They rely on text-book models that prescribe generic pre-empted blueprints of organizational structures. The learnings and the hard work needed to acquire sustainable agility, tuned to the organization’s specific context, are conveniently ignored.

Ironically, these are the exact approaches that block these organizations in their growth. These are the exact ways of working that they need to abandon in order to enter and survive the new worlds, the worlds that require a higher agility.

The mismatch is fundamental. They need and want to hose down  their industrial ways, yet they end up re-enforcing them. No more than an illusion of agility is created as a result. This is painfully revealed when the deflation by reality hits hard, often after several years. When the actual increase in agility turns out negligible, a painful finding certainly in the face of the urgency. The actual results turn out disappointing. The lost time is a catastrophe.

Increasing agility is a path. Progressing on that path requires vision, belief, persistence and… hard work. Agility, as a state of high adaptiveness, can only be achieved by regularly… adapting. Adaptations only make sense upon inspections of actual work and observable results. Think feedback loops (all around). The new reality, for which higher agility is needed, mandates that what works today might not work tomorrow. What works for one company (i.e. a complex system of interconnected people, processes and tools) might not work for another company. What works for one combination of teams, technology and business might not work for another combination.

Signposts that might help you detect whether an illusion of agility is being created:

  • It is not a transformation if it doesn’t change how you work;
  • It is not an Agile transformation if it doesn’t simplify how you work;
  • It is not an Agile transformation of Scrum if it doesn’t increase the actual collaboration of people (customers, teams, stakeholders).

Note. None of the above makes sense if no proper attention is given to technical excellence.

The new reality tells us we need to act in the moment more than we did before. Ever. Embracing uncertainty and unpredictability has a great potential too. Getting the most out of the possible thrives upon acceptance of the unwritten state of the future and what that future might bring. It reminds us that we are not alone in this, that each individual, no matter their function, level, position or silo, can contribute. Living the art of the possible against unpredicted outcomes has the potential benefit of engaging people as it shapes their future. Acceleration comes from vision, determination and dedication; from the courage to move away from following a plan or copying a model to continually shaping and re-shaping your future.

Regardless an organization’s past attempts and choices, the path of hard work is always a workable way out, a way to break the illusion of agility.

Find the above text as:

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations and Jellylab for the graphics)

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The deliberate evolution of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”

In 2013 I accidentally created a book, “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”. In 2018 I deliberately evolved my Scrum travel companion into a second edition.

I am humbled over the many unanticipated consequences of the accidental creation of my pocket guide to Scrum. I equally enjoyed updating my book to a second edition 5 years later. This time around it was a deliberate evolution rather than an accidental creation. The first batch will be available 16 January 2019 and soon after in all major formats (hard copy, Kindle, PDF, eBook, ePub) via all main channels worldwide.

Who would have figured that there was room for a second edition of my pocket guide to Scrum? Certainly as my book remained in the best-seller list of my publisher all the time?

For this deliberate endeavor, I considered how I described the Scrum Values in the first edition. In July 2016 they were added to the Scrum Guide. How I described the traditional 3 questions as a good, but optional tactic for the Daily Scrum. That too is now in the Scrum Guide, since November 2017.

Obviously and fortunately, that does not mean there are no further evolutions to mind.

Not only have I found new ways to express Scrum, while working with teams and executives, facilitating various classes, and connecting with practitioners at events. We also adopted terminology that better expresses the intentions of Scrum.

Beyond these intrinsic drivers for change, I observe how the balance of society keeps rapidly shifting from industrial (often physical) labor to digital (often virtual) work. In many domains of society, the unpredictability of work increases, drastically and continually. The need for the Agile paradigm is bigger than ever, and thus the value of the tangible framework of Scrum to help people and organizations increase their agility while addressing complex challenges in complex circumstances.

More and different people look for guidance and insights on their journey of Scrum, increasingly in domains beyond software development. Organizations look for clear insights in the simple rules of Scrum as their current ways of working fail them in the Complex Novelty space.

As the third Scrum wave is rising, the second edition of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” remains the simple and straightforward compass for those that want to surf that wave. This second edition more than ever offers the foundational insights into Scrum for Complex Novelty players and their organizations to properly shape their Scrum.

Some of the updates in the second edition that stand out (a bit more than the other changes) within the preserved overall structure (of chapters and modules):

  • The definition of Agile is condensed to three key characteristics.
  • Observations are added on the post-chasm years of Agile.
  • The Scrum Game Board is slightly tweaked.
  • The forward-looking design of the Scrum events is expressed more clearly.
  • A Release Burn-down chart as a forecasting tactic is added.
  • The pictures, naming and descriptions of the included scaling tactics are improved.
  • The Scrum Glossary was updated.

I thank Blake McMillan (Soulofscrum.com) and Dominik Maximini for their much-appreciated review of this second edition. I thank all translators for their past and on-going efforts to spread my words in different languages. Stay tuned for more news about translations.

If I have done a proper job of re-imagining my book, the second edition won’t feel like a new book. A word-by-word comparison would prove otherwise.

Enjoy reading!

Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

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The accidental creation of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”

Contrary to a common assumption, the creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” (2013) was anything but a long-lived hope, ambition or dream. As I shared with Joe (Jochen) Krebs on his Agile.FM podcast, it was an accidental and unplanned endeavor.

By the end of January 2013 I was not only entering my last period of work at a large consulting company, I was also asked by Dutch publishing house Van Haren to review a manuscript of a book about Scrum.

That turned out more difficult than expected. I gave it a few attempts but each time I ended up not finishing the manuscript completely or fluently. I found myself changing and updating the content way too much. And -most of all- I found myself not recognizing and not liking much of what I was reading. I felt bad about it. I felt even worse for being unable to turn my findings into positive, constructive feedback that would be helpful for both the (unknown) author and the publisher.

After a few weeks of mentally running around in circles I decided to skip a detailed reading, but go through the manuscript once more and list my biggest findings. At the bottom of the still impressive list, my most important remark to the editor was to not mention my name as a reviewer in case it was decided to move forward with the publication.

Soon I received news that the publication was cancelled. It turned out that most reviewers were not too impressed. The publisher shared that they still saw value in a book about Scrum and asked how I envisioned a possible involvement. A quick consultation round within my network, including Ken Schwaber, helped me set aside the doubts whether I could write a book myself and got me into grabbing the opportunity.

I was completely unsure of what I was getting myself into, but I felt somewhat comforted by the idea that I had 2 full months to work on it (April-May 2013), the time between ending my work at the consulting company and starting my partnership with Ken at Scrum.org.

I additionally found comfort in the fact that I had already published quite some articles and blog notes on Scrum. I assumed that I could easily assemble them into a book. How I was wrong! As soon as I had brought my previous publications together, the real work started, taking much, much more time than I ever could have anticipated. That time went into writing and rewriting, eliminating, simplifying, improving flow and cohesion, stepping back, waiting and getting back to it, aiming at barely enough descriptions to trigger the reader’s imagination. My first working title was “The path of Scrum (A comprehensive travel companion)“. That changed into „Scrum Pocket Guide (A smart travel companion)“ and ended up as “Scrum – A Pocket Guide (A Smart Travel Companion)”.

At the heart of my book are the (mandatory) rules of Scrum, from a deep understanding of the purpose of the rules, the main principles underlying Scrum and the Scrum Values. The essential rules are clearly distinguished from (possible) tactics to apply the rules. Some historical perspective to the becoming of Scrum (and Agile) is added, while I end the book reflecting on the future state of Scrum, the challenges that lie ahead of us. I consider “discovery” and “journey” the ultimate key words in the way I wanted to present the Scrum framework. Scrum is the compass that guides people and organizations on their journey of discovery in the land of complex challenges. Adopting and employing Scrum is in itself however also a journey of discovery. Hence the subtitle of my pocket guide to Scrum, “A Smart Travel Companion,” and the picture on the initial cover.

When visiting the Scrum.org office in Burlington-Boston in June 2013 I shared my final manuscript with Ken, and Ken kindly agreed to write a foreword, which he delivered in August (find it below).

Finally, in November 2013 I was able to announce that my book was released to the world, and available in all major formats (hard copy, Kindle, PDF, eBook, ePub) and via all main channels worldwide. If you have trouble finding my book, ask Google.

And my personal amazing journey as an author continued, with many unanticipated consequences of the accidental creation of my pocket guide to Scrum:

  • In the spring of 2016 I created a Dutch translation of my book asScrum Wegwijzer“.
  • In the fall of 2016, at the occasion of the 4th reprint, the cover of the English version got updated and I recorded a 3-minutes introduction of Scrum.
  • In 2017 (spring) Peter Götz and Uwe Schirmer created a German translation as “Scrum Taschenbuch“.
  • All that time, my book remained in the best-seller list of my publisher, Van Haren (the Netherlands).
  • In 2018 I have created a second edition of my book. This time around it was a deliberate evolution rather than an accidental creation.
  • In 2018 several people approached me to create translations of my book. Stay tuned for more news.

It is quite amazing and humbling that the result of my accidental work in 2013, after 5+ years, is more alive than ever, and that demand is big enough for a deliberate evolution into a second edition of the book. I hope you open up my book again now in a while, to find information that is most valuable to where you are on your journey at that time.

THANK YOU!

Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

The foreword to “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” by Ken Schwaber, Scrum co-creator:

An outstanding accomplishment that simmers with intelligence.

Scrum – A Pocket Guide is an extraordinarily competent book. Gunther has described everything about Scrum in well-formed, clearly written descriptions that flow with insight, understanding, and perception. Yet, you are never struck by these attributes. You simply benefit from them, later thinking, “That was really, really helpful. I found what I needed to know, readily understood what I wanted, and wasn’t bothered by irrelevancies.”

I have struggled to write this foreword. I feel the foreword should be as well-written as the book it describes. In this case, that is hard. Read Gunther’s book. Read it in part, or read it in whole. You will be satisfied.

Scrum is simple, but complete and competent in addressing complex problems. Gunther’s pocket guide is complete and competent in addressing understanding a simple framework for addressing complex problems, Scrum.

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Springtime and work anniversaries

The many congratulations today reminded me of my most recent work anniversaries.

  • April 2013, five years ago. I started Ullizee-Inc. It was a huge step to abandon my safe position at Capgemini, even when it was to move to the home of Scrum.
  • April 2016, two years ago. Letting go of exclusively partnering with Ken Schwaber and working for Scrum.org was, if not just an even bigger step, certainly a more frightening one.
  • April 2018, today. Reflecting, looking back, those were decisions I ‚had‘ to take. For they were the most honorable decisions to take.

Looking back, I regret none of my job changes, despite the losses, the pain, the regret to find we were not in it together after all. They turned out very revealing experiences in many regards, not only professionally but certainly at a personal and human level (if ever those aspects can be separated). Looking back, those were the best decisions possible. Looking back, it leaves the misleading impression that it was all part of some bigger plan.

Looking back even further, I wonder. Quite some of my many job changes actually happened in springtime. More importantly probably, every single one was based on principles and values and was a forward-looking decision, in search of a different, if not better, future.

Over time, certainly, I started recognizing, appreciating and ultimately embracing that I am good at searching, not at finding, that I am good at travelling, not at arriving. Really good at not belonging too, an outsider. Wholeheartedly however. Walking the difficult path, facing the challenge to achieve what I may find I need to achieve without being part of formal, corporate or commercial structures anymore.

There are plenty of challenges, more than I ever will be able to handle, and probably even more deciding to be on my own 2 feet. Some challenges are known, most are not. What life is all about, right?

Allow me to thrive on deliberately emerging opportunities to bring value; to the individuals, the communities, the teams, the organizations I am grateful to work with.

With love

Gunther
Scrum Caretaker
Eternal novice

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Thank you, readers. (What do you want in my new book?)

Dear reader

Thank you for reading, sharing and promoting my pocket guide to Scrum, in its various guises (English, Dutch, paperback, digital).

I created the English version in May 2013. It was published in November 2013. I am grateful that over 10,000 (ten thousand!) copies have been sold so far. Who would have guessed back then? And the story continues. In March 2017 the German translation was published.

I would love to hear what makes my book special for you. What sticks out? What are your favourite parts? Do you have a quote to share? Share it as a comment. Share it on Twitter. Or join the Facebook page for my book.

And… take it a step further. Writing that first book was a pivotal experience. I am working on a new book, more on Scrum and the Agile way of working (what else?). Share any ideas, topics, subjects you feel are valuable for my second book.

Warm regards
Gunther (Ullizee)
Gratified writer, connector, speaker, humaniser
29 March 2017