The Agile Mindset is a Superpower

Why an Agile Mindset Helps Overcome Uncertainty

We all have favorite super heroes. We all hope to travel to brave new worlds, including outer space some day. But, in our wildest dreams, we never thought we’d be asked to “boldly go where no man has gone before” by staying home. 

I read and watch and listen to various authorities explain how my world is forever changed and my business must adapt or it may go bankrupt. Luckily, I have an agile mindset, so I know that I can meet these challenges and come out the other end with a successful agile business and brand. 

If you’re like me and you have an agile mindset, you have a distinct business advantage. Your brain is already wired to look for and take advantage of new opportunities. So, get up off that sofa, turn off the TV and take action!

Our agile mindset gives us laser focus, a desire for continuous learning and the ability to identify when we need to pivot to stay relevant and competitive. These three attributes form a superpower that helps us navigate through uncertainty and succeed.

Laser Focus

Every sprint is timeboxed, to ensure we remain focused on completing a specific set of accomplishments. In scrum, our sprints are usually two weeks. In times of uncertainty, we may only be able to plan for one week at a time. 

Our work and our business lives have now merged. We need to apply our laser focus holistically.

The key is to determine what needs to be accomplished now. No one really knows with any certainty what our lives will be like at the end of this quarter, let alone at the end of the year. Those quarterly and annual plans have become irrelevant. However, we all have work that needs to be completed by the end of this week. Apply that laser focus to your short-term goals. Take back control and move forward.

You cannot operate in a vacuum. Your customer’s businesses have changed. Talk to them. Make sure you are focusing on the right things. 

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is the way we enhance the superpowers of our agile mindset. At the end of every sprint, even if your sprint is only 7 days, conduct a short retrospective. What worked? What didn’t? How can I improve the way I work in my business and with my family? 

By continuously monitoring what’s working and what’s not working, we learn from our interactions with others and we remain competitive. Keep in mind that what worked last week may not work in the upcoming week, so retrospective is more important now than ever before.

Ability to Pivot

Through retrospective and the art of continuous learning, we grow as human beings and business people. To fix what is not working, we may need to change our business model. For example, in-person training pivoted to online training. Restaurant dining pivoted to take out and delivery. What needs to change in your business?

Our customer’s problems are different now. In fact, they may be changing week by week, just like yours do. Listen closely to what your customers are telling you. What problems can you help them solve? Customer feedback may be telling you that you need to alter your product offering or your messaging or both. 

I’m even reaching out to potential customers who I don’t know, expanding my reach and understanding beyond my current customer base. More of us are working from home and feeling isolated. There’s never been a better time to reach out and connect.

If you haven’t already pivoted your product offering and messaging, you’re late to the game. Stop selling and start listening. Adapt and pivot and remain competitive.

Do you have any advice to share about how your business is coping? We’d love to hear from you.

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn

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Scrum of Scrums Manages Cross-Team Commitments

Scrum of Scrums Facilitates Coordination across Teams

Agile Scrum teams are generally organized around projects or core capabilities, where teams support a set of products that serve a common business purpose. When Scrum teams are organized around core capabilities, project initiatives often require deliverables from multiple capabilities. Even Scrum teams specifically organized to deliver a single project can find themselves in need of functionality built by another Scrum team.

Almost every Scrum team in a company large enough to form multiple Scrum teams has cross-team requirements, but very few companies take advantage of Scrum of Scrums. With a strong commitment to the spirit of cooperation and a little organization, cross-team product or project deliverables can easily be managed through the Scrum of Scrums concept.

The Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance both talk about the Scrum of Scrums technique, but they recommend holding this coordination meeting every day. We think that’s overkill. We think holding a well-organized Scrum of Scrums every other week is good enough. For those who practice two-week sprints, hold the meeting on the off week from Sprint Planning.

Start with a Plan

Every Scrum Team needs to plan. If your Scrum team is not release planning or identifying quarterly deliverable goals, then start today. Before you jump up and down and tell me you can’t plan because you’re agile, cool your jets. I’m not saying you need a 500 line Microsoft Project Plan; I’m saying you need deliverable milestones by Epic. Why? So, you can identify when you need product deliverables completed to stay on schedule.

If you don’t know how to plan for Agile, read Chapter 2 of the GSD Scrum Handbook: GSD Gold Project Planning.

Once you know what you need and when you need it, then you can approach your sister Scrum teams and negotiate delivery dates.

Meet Regularly to Stay on Schedule

Once you have delivery commitments, ensure all Scrum teams stay on schedule by meeting once each Sprint. Remember that not all Scrum teams are on the same Sprint cadence, so be specific about due dates. Give your sister Scrum teams plenty of lead time to get your needs on their Backlog.

Use the Scrum of Scrums meeting time to ensure the right Stories get brought into the right Sprints.

Who runs the Scrum of Scrums?

Depending on the formality of company processes, the scope of the project and the Scrum team structure, the Scrum of Scrums can be chaired by any one of many job titles. With more formal team structures, these meetings may be led by the Program Manager or Project Manager or Product Manager. With less formal teams, the Scrum Master who needs the external deliverables may take the lead.

What Happens at the Scrum of Scrums?

Keep the Scrum of Scrums to a half hour meeting.

Focus only on cross-functional deliverable dependencies:

  1. Start the meeting with a brief review the upcoming quarterly or release milestones.
  2. Verify that the Stories identified for completion in the previous Sprint were completed.
  3. Identify Stories for completion in next Sprint. Obtain commitment from sister Scrum Teams.

What the meeting IS: a meeting about dependencies, shared milestones and issues.
What the meeting IS NOT: a giant Standup or project status meeting.

When your project or product requires cross-team coordination, taking advantage of Scrum of Scrums can keep everyone focused on the right work at the right time.

I’d love to hear about your successful use of the process.



Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500


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Overcome Resistance to Agile in Your Organization

A Simple Approach to Overcome Resistance to Agile

The biggest obstacle to successfully transition to agile is resistance to change. People resist change for many reasons, including fear of the unknown and job insecurity. If you are a proponent of agile development, then you need to overcome fear and uncertainty in order to get buy in.

If the desire to become agile begins at the highest levels of the organization, it’s the software development team that must become agile, so that team holds the key. If the desire to become agile begins with development team, management must agree to this new approach. Top to bottom, all levels of the organization must embrace the agile mindset.

How can you overcome fear and uncertainty? Make it easy for everyone to get on board.

  1. Explain how agile fits into the existing structure
  2. Start with 1 team
  3. Educate everyone involved
  4. Commit to working out the kinks
  5. Prove that agile works better

Before you suggest that even 1 team convert to agile, make you truly understand agile and the agile mindset. Get trained on agile scrum. Then test the water by asking your manager to pay for your training as part of your professional development. We recommend you read our post How to Get Your Boss to Pay for Scrum Training.  If your manager won’t pay for it, pay for it yourself. Show your commitment to the cause.

1. Explain How Agile Fits Into the Existing Structure

This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised to learn most companies that transition to agile do not even think about how agile fits into current business processes. If you want to alleviate fear and uncertainty, figure out:

  • How the new team’s roles and responsibilities map to existing roles and responsibilities.
  • How agile teams plan with and work with traditional teams.
  • How will status reporting occur? The agile teams must be able to report progress in much the same way traditional teams do.
  • How agile teams fit into the existing project management or product development structure.

Put together a proposal. Show that you are prepared and serious about taking action.

2. Start with 1 Team

Agile scrum is a software development method. Only the development team really needs to change. We suggest starting the transition with only one team. This lowers the risk to the organization, gives everyone a chance to get used to the idea, and also gives you a higher chance of success.

But, you must start with the right team. In addition to the Scrum Master, we believe you need a Product Owner, Business Analyst, Tech Lead or Architect, Developers and Quality Assurance.

You need a committed Product Owner, not an Executive Sponsor. Make sure that person is respected by the product team, understands the requirements and can prioritize the work. The Product Owner must be available to attend daily Standup, Story Writing and Grooming, Sprint Planning and Retrospective. That’s a much bigger commitment than that of Executive Sponsor, who periodically attends Steering Committee meetings.

The reason that you need a Business Analyst is because the Product Owner may not understand how to translate business requirements into stories and acceptance criteria. Business Analysts are well suited to team up with the new Product Owner and help out.

The transition to agile does not mean architectural design is no longer needed. Quite the opposite is true. Because the team is delivering functioning application code at a much faster rate, the role of Tech Lead or Architect is critical to team success. The team needs someone who understands the big picture, can build a development framework and ensure all the small pieces of functionality fit together at the end.

Choose the right developers. Yes, make sure you have all the skills to code all aspects of the application on the team. However, don’t pick developers who don’t want to switch. Just like with the Product Owner, pick developers excited to learn something new and who are willing to attend the required meetings: Story Grooming, Sprint Planning, Standup and Retrospective.  

Finally, scrum dictates that you cannot close a story until the acceptance criteria has been validated working as expected by Quality Assurance. Make sure that you have the right number and mix of testers.  

3. Educate Everyone Involved

Now that you have the right team, you need to train them. To minimize risk and to validate management commitment, get everyone on the team the proper training. The team must start with a good understanding of scrum and an agile mindset.

If you cannot get management to provide adequate training for your team, do not attempt the transition. Seriously, don’t even start. Agile scrum is way too different from traditional software development. You at least need enough management commitment to ensure everyone on the team starts with the tools needed to succeed.

To get even more buy in, ask management to attend the training. They more they know about scrum, the less uncertainty they feel about the transition.

If you can hire a coach, even better!

4. Commit to Working Out the Kinks

As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The same is true for the transition to scrum. It’s a big change. Before you begin, get assurance from management that you have at least 6 months to get the team fully functioning.

Let’s be clear: We do NOT advocate a slow or partial transition.

What you need to do: Rip off that bandaid and practice every aspect of scrum from Day 1.

Because you are switching cold turkey, you need time to get in the groove. We know. Planning, building a backlog and sprinting are new processes. The team may be a bit awkward in the beginning.

Keep up all scrum practices. Don’t skip a step.

Use Retrospective to improve the way you work together.

5. Prove that Agile Works Better

There is no better way to prove that scrum is better than when the team delivers higher quality products to your customers in a much faster timeframe than before the transition. Agile provides you the opportunity to show off your excellent work at the end of every sprint. So, demo often to your customers. If the customer wants or needs a change, pivot.

Practice scrum, meet your team commitments and deliver high-quality products to your customer.

Walk your talk.

That’s how you prove agile works better.

GSD Scrum Training

Do you need some help with your agile transition?
Then come to our next GSD Scrum Training or call us for a consultation.


Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500

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Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

3 Steps to Become a Scrum Master

Agile and scrum are trending topics. Here you are, a successful project manager, and you want to learn more about scrum. You may even want to become a scrum master. The career transition from project manager to scrum master may seem simple, but it’s not as straightforward as you may think.

Scrum master has a very different role from that of project manager. The agile mindset is a paradigm shift from that of project manager too. To gain a better understanding of just how different, I recommend you read my earlier post: The Difference Between Scrum Master and Project Manager.

When readers contact me and ask me to advise them on how to best transition, I suggest the following:

  1. Learn about scrum from the Scrum Alliance
  2. Study and become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM)
  3. Get a job on an agile team

1. Learn about Scrum from the Scrum Alliance

Many of us organically became project managers through the course of our careers. We learned how to manage projects by working on projects and, eventually, we were promoted to leading projects ourselves. I personally never took a course on project management until the marketplace demanded that project managers have PMP certification.

However, scrum is a specific agile framework that is drastically different from the way you are used to managing traditional projects. If you want to be a scrum master, you need to read about it and study the concepts until they become an integral part of how you think about organizing projects.

The Scrum Alliance is a well-recognized authority on framework. Lucky for us, the Scrum Alliance has a wonderful website with lots of fabulous information.

Start here:

Reading about scrum is a great start, but I recommend you also learn about scrum from someone who already is a scrum master. If your company is transitioning to scrum, you may have the opportunity to learn from an agile coach. Take every advantage of that precious resource. If you are pursuing agile on your own, take a class. Ask for recommendations from friends and colleagues. Classroom learning combined with live exercises help reinforce the agile concepts you’ve been reading about.

2. Study and Become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM)

Just like with traditional project management where you need to become a certified PMP, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to become a CSM. Lucky for us, the CSM exam is straight-forward and much easier than the PMP exam. So, there is no reason not to get certified.

Start here:

3. Get a Job on an Agile Team

If your company is not transitioning to agile, you will have to look outside your company for your first scrum master position. You may ask yourself: How can I get a job as a scrum master if I have no scrum master experience?

You may be able to land a scrum master gig based on your mad interview skills and CSM alone. Then again, you may not. If you are serious about becoming a scrum master, you may need to start as a different member of an agile team.

Depending on your background and what jobs you performed before you became a project manager, you may have a better chance at landing a Product Owner or Business Analyst or Tech Lead gig. Take a serious look at your career history and refactor several versions of your resume.

Take your agile friends and colleagues to coffee. Ask them what companies look for in agile applicants, before you apply anywhere. Then, apply for all agile positions you qualify for. The more you interview, the better you get at answering questions.

Land that first agile gig, whatever it is, and learn how it’s done in the real world.

Then, after that first project is finished, change teams or change jobs. Agile is practiced differently in different organizations, self-organizing teams and all. So, to be the best scrum master you can be, get a broader perspective.

Never stop learning.

Expand your mind.

Change your life.

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500


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5 Steps to Implement Agile

How to Plan for Successful Transition to Agile

We are constantly amazed at how many companies attempt to implement agile methods without adequately preparing for the transition. Just like with any major project or corporate restructuring, the transition to agile is pervasive. It’s a method and mindset change that affects the entire organization, not just the development team.

If your company has had trouble implementing agile, I’ll bet your company has not adequately planned and prepared for the transition.

We’ve identified 5 steps to a successful agile transition:

  1. Educate
  2. Budget
  3. Plan
  4. Start
  5. Revise

Step 1 – Educate

This first step seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many managers say they want to be agile when they have no idea what that means. Before you decide to go agile, educate yourself on the topic.

How can you budget and plan for something that you do not understand?

  • Read a book. Have someone you trust recommend one to you. If you want to transition to scrum, we offer a free GSD Scrum Handbook on our website. Ask us to send you a copy.
  • Take a class. There are many live and online courses available.
  • Interview professional agile coaches or consultants to get a feel for what the transition is going to be like. Talk to at least 3 consultants; approach and cost can vary widely.

Step 2 – Budget

As you learn more about agile, you start to form an idea about what your development organization would be like if you transitioned to agile, the benefits of agile, and how you can start the agile journey. Those benefits can then be assigned dollar amounts, and you can set meaningful goals and objectives for the transition project. Now you are ready to put together a meaningful proposal and ask for budget dollars.

The budget you receive for the transition heavily influences the rollout plan options available to you.

Step 3 – Plan

Most companies do not receive a budget large enough to convert the entire organization all at once. So, during the transition, some teams will be agile and some teams won’t.

Agile teams must be able to plan for and complete their development work without relying on another team, which may not have transitioned to agile or may not be on the same sprint cadence. Think about this concept of self-organizing and independence as you form your teams. Your current team structure may not currently be optimal for the transition to agile. You may need to reorganize around capabilities or software platforms before you develop your transition plan.

After you organize for success, you need to figure out:

What teams will be first movers in the first wave of the transition?
How will teams be organized?
Who will transition to what agile roles?
Timing of training and coaching?
How many waves?
How long between waves?
How long until everyone becomes agile?

Most importantly: How will your organization or PMO operate with some teams developing using agile and some teams still developing using traditional methods?

To achieve your goals and successfully transition your entire software development organization to agile, you have to visualize how this transition can be implemented for the greatest chance of success and adequately plan for it, given your budget constraints.

Step 4 – Start

When it’s time to transition first mover teams, we strongly advocate ripping off the bandaid and transitioning the selected teams to be 100% agile.

Let us be clear: We do not advocate scrummerfall or starting out by implementing any mix of agile and waterfall on any team or any part of the organization. You most likely will never become truly agile if you attempt to transition the organization in this way.  

The top reason why organizations don’t successfully implement agile is because the teams are not adequately trained. Step1 applies to every person on every team and every person who works with those agile teams.

Fear of the unknown and misunderstanding are the biggest contributors to failure on any project. Send everyone to classes that explain agile processes and concepts. Hire a good coach. Agile is a big paradigm shift from traditional methods. Give your teams the knowledge and confidence they need to succeed.

If you answered all the questions in Step 3, you identified the roles required for each team and you identified the right person to fill each role. Start out with complete teams. We cannot stress the importance of filling all the team roles and training the team members about their roles and responsibilities.

After training, immediately transition to agile. The team can no longer be allowed to operate in a traditional manner. This is why a coach is helpful, to reinforce the training and keep the team on track. Do not let the team flounder or get lost in analysis paralysis.

Step 5 – Revise

As you move through the first wave of transition, you become an educated and experienced agile manager. You recognize things you would do differently. So, change your approach and do the next wave differently.

The idea of Retrospective should permeate your organization. At the end of each wave, seek ways to improve and improve the performance of your entire project.

Learn agile.
Think agile.
Be agile.

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500

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