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Why I loved going to the PSM Course

Early December 2010 I went to a Professional Scrum Master (II) course in Zürich, taught by Ken Schwaber and facilitated by Zühlke Engineering. Already being a PSM II, I went mostly to see Ken and to look to improve my own teaching skills. And it was a very enjoyable event!

Ken and the ScrumAlliance parted in 2009 leading to Ken establishing As an outsider I don’t care about the circumstances or the rumors surrounding this. I’m only concerned with the profession of Scrum, that I have now been practicing for 7 years and for which I truly believe that Agile is finally crossing the chasm in the lowlands of Belgium and The Netherlands (and other parts of our old continent of Europe).

And I can only conclude that Ken has learned his lessons by:

  • Separating course attendance from assessment/certification;
  • Incorporating community feedback;
  • Creating a development course and for Scrum Teams in general;
  • Setting up a Product Owner program with a separate assessment;
  • Upgrading the PSM course material.

For the latter I can testify that a number of topics were already treated in my CSM by Ken in 2004, but new stuff and ideas have been included far better than in recent CSM course material that I compared it to.

What I strongly like in Ken’s teaching is his holistic perspective on Scrum, like the spirit of the Scrum Guide that he co-wrote with Jeff Sutherland. His courses go well beyond the formal mechanics of Scrum. It’s much more about why Scrum works, its psychology, the positive thinking, the social aspects. And the empirical foundation of Scrum to help us not even trying to predict the unpredictable. And beyond the theory, luckily, Ken has tons of stories and cases to share with the training participants.

This PSM course has certainly inspired me in my teaching of the Scrum Trainings that I launched at Capgemini. At a considerable scale of internal participants and geographical spread. Hoping that I can open these trainings to external audiences, and maybe even as PSM Trainer…

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The upstream adoption of Scrum

Since 2003 I have been involved in successful implementations of Scrum, through various projects and in different organizations. This was primarily on my local market, Belgium. Since 2010 I started promoting adoption of agility through Scrum beyond my professional consulting activities, as board member of the Agile Consortium Belgium.

While worldwide the Agile portfolio is going through the Bowling Alley and Scrum is emerging as the Gorilla, my local market seems to struggle to even cross the chasm. One of my re-occurring findings is the lack of upstream adoption of Scrum. I consider it a major impediment.

Retrospective of a Belgian ScrumMaster

In my position as consultant I rarely have complete control over the delivery process, and even the decision to actually call it ‘Scrum’, let alone full-scale adoption. But the least I always do is master a project instead of manage it as a traditional command & control-like dictator. I refer to it as my Scrumitude: iterative phasing with end-of-iteration demo’s, mastering a Team into Sprint Planning and self-organization, being a facilitator, removing impediments over being prescriptive, establishing a close relationship with the Business, promoting on-site presence of cross-functional team skills, using visible information radiators and high transparency. All information gets consolidated in a Product Backlog Tracking model I created. The actual course of Sprints and the reality of what the Burn-downs show is used to continually adjust expectations, for better or for worse.

In the absence of outspoken Scrum, even such stealth application of Scrum results in regular, often perceived as on-time, and on-budget, or better high return delivery with higher satisfaction. And it does make projects fun again. No surprise that downstream adoption of Scrum, i.e. by Teams, end-users and business representatives, is generally huge, outspoken or stealth.

Although good figures and great, highly visible results are generally synonymous for upstream ‘success’, the Scrum process and its essential causal part in this success seem hard to capture and to accept for many old-skool commandistos.

  • The first upstream obstacles are lower level management that likes to operate below corporate radars. They object the transparency and visibility as they feel personally less beneficial on the ‘success’.
  • The more upstream levels don’t care about the process, just about the figures. In the best case they tolerate a deviant process. An unpredictable and unreliable base for deeper transition.

What we need is active and explicit upstream support and promotion. Think about operational management (‘pure’ IT), sales divisions, delivery managers and hierarchical management.

Confessions of a Belgian ScrumMaster

The success of stealth Scrum is limited because it disguises the essential change. Stealth Scrum is certainly less intrusive, but the leverage of advantages and benefits that will last, is generally wasted. As a consultant it remains a struggle to articulate about Scrum more clearly without losing commercial opportunities.

PSMIIAnd a tedious effect is that people start instructing me with their fantasies on Agile/Scrum. Which is not why I re-entered the world of Scrum and greatly engage in Ken Schwaber’s And decided not to let the momentum pass this time. And became Belgium’s first PSM II (in August 2010).

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Unsatisfied? Uncertified? Unvalued?

When I announced having passed the Professional ScrumMaster II assessment (including getting certified) the reactions were -to say the least- mixed. People I have effectively worked with sent me warm congratulations. People more distant to me seemed more cynical and skeptical. Time to set free your psychoanalytic ambitions!

I partly share the cynicism, skepticism and unbelief with regards to certification in general in our world of IT, consultancy and software development. But a little common sense makes one don’t consider certification solely, but experience, attitude and personality as well.

I know that calling people Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) after merely attending a 2-day course isn’t too credible. Can I say to my credit that it was 3 days when I did it in 2004? But that was then. Nowadays the ScrumAlliance requires participants to do an online CSM evaluation.

And it doesn’t justify any reservations on the PSM program!

Last year, Ken Schwaber and the ScrumAlliance parted and Ken started (for a couple of reasons). He developed new and updated programs upon effective knowledge assessments. Jeff Sutherland and Ken updated the Scum Guide. To form the Scrum Body of Knowledge.

The Scrum Open Assessment was created incrementally with feedback of the community and serves as a check-up on the subscriber’s knowledge. No medals attached, just knowing where you stand.

The Professional ScrumMaster assessments are not open, but require payment. Luckily, payment is no guarantee. You do not just pay to get a certificate. You obtain 85% or more. has no benefits in creating an unnaturally large amount of PSM’s.

  • PSM I is about knowing how the game should be played. Limited pretensions. It’s also included in the fee for a PSM course, the follow-up to Ken’s original CSM. So it is not just about the money.
  • PSM II is about understanding and applying the underlying principles. Answers that cannot be found directly in the Scrum Guide. Often demanding multiple options with (dis)advantages.

So let no general skepticism stand a correct judgement of the PSM assessments in the way. They emphasize on demonstrable knowledge, over paper certification, which I certainly have come to value more. Reason why I am proud of my PSM II. Though that won’t stop me from being pig-headed in my way of mastering people and projects…

Note: The Professional Scrum Developer (PSD) is an innovative program on software development using Scrum. Resembling my Quality Loops?

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Professional Scrum Master II

I consider myself not only an early follower of Ken Schwaber’s but also a mental companion on his new journey. Must have to do with the fact that I obtained my Certified ScrumMaster from Ken in 2004 in Brussels and am still fascinated with his straight-forward views.

Despite my (pragmatic) use & application of Scrum since 2004 (and eXtreme Programming since 2003) I was hesitant to take the assessments. Hesitant, as in opposed to arrogant.

But… Open Scrum went well (Jan 2010), as did Professional Scrum Master I (Jun 2010). The biggest doubts however I had about the Professional Scrum Master II, frightened by the essay-like topics. But I leaped and took the exam. On 26 August. The start of 2 nervous weeks of awaiting the result. To receive my certification… hooray indeed. #27 worldwide.

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Scrum Level I

A while ago Ken Schwaber founded, a new platform to discuss and promote Scrum. I enthousiastically registered and took the Scrum Assessment. And contributed in spreading the news.

Although my personal score (86%) did include some stupid errors it seems that, from the overall results, it is quite good. Well above the required 75% anyway to be Scrum Level I (since Wed 14th Oct 2009).

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eXtreme Programming Revisited (part II)

Extreme Programming InstalledTo review Chet Hendrickson’s retrospective paper on his book Extreme Programming Installed, I went back in time myself. Back to my first experience with Extreme Programming.
In September 2003 I was asked to urgently take on a project as project manager. Customer approval was late but the predicted delivery date remained (December).

A 15 min introduction convinced me of eXtreme Programming. Because so much was incorporated that was traditionally so easily forgotten or overlooked. We convinced management, and off we went (October). After 3 iterations (of 3 weeks) we delivered… in time and on budget!

Kent Beck - Extreme Programming Explained (Embrace Change)Because I considered myself too illiterate (after all, we only did it) to present the project at Javapolis 2003, I started reading some books. The inevitable Extreme Programming Explained (‘Embrace Change‘), Kent Beck and Martin Fowler - Planning Extreme ProgrammingPlanning Extreme Programming and… Extreme Programming Installed. It was remarkable to find that our ‘naive application’ was an extraordinary match with what I was reading. Presentation went very well.

In 2004 I started using Scrum as process and certified as a ScrumMaster. During follow-up projects for our satisfied customer we kept combining Scrum and XP. However, we had to operate within a context of realizing a (negotiable) scope in a given timeframe. So along the way (2004-2006) additional practices, tools and views were embedded, to finally become my My.Fragility* framework.

The framework holds following (partially XP based) Quality Loops:

My.Fragility - Quality Loops

Implementation of Engineering Standards. To be performed every day:

  • A pair writes all code upon a Test First basis (including Selenium GUI tests)
  • Checked in code is tested in a Continuous Integration system (multiple times a day) and can be refactored
  • A ‘guide’ (additional, explicit role) functionally tests a stable, CI’ed version (multiple times a day) and feeds back results to the team
  • A functional working version may be deployed for performance testing (running overnight)

*myfragility_logo The name of the framework has its roots in the big relief I felt when morphing from project manager to ScrumMaster. The option to be fragile (agility through fragility), of not constantly having to intimidate people. Because, after all, it’s just a matter of talents and roles, not of… hierarchical slavery.

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Recently Scrum godfather Ken Schwaber resigned as chairman from the ScrumAlliance, which he co-founded.

Logo - Certified ScrumMaster SealI remember Ken from turning my ScrumMaster certification course in 2004 into a great experience. Not because of the certificate, but for comprehending Scrum. I’ve since then advised people to attend the certification course, but mainly to get in touch with other people and dive into the matter.

Scrum.orgKen launched as a move from ceremony and formal organization to process and community. From certification to assessment (for self-improvement). There’s an online Scrum Assessment (note: no longer available), upon a Scrum Guide. Because… “Unlike certification, assessment makes no public claim of competence and cannot be misused to assert qualifications that may or may not exist“.

I scored 69 out of 80 (86%), which took 25 minutes (1h allowed). This feels okay but the most important aspect was that through the reflection on some missed points I could improve my insights.

“Although there’s value in certification, assessment is valued more.”