Advice for newbies

By | March 24, 2015

Question 1: If someone with no agile knowledge asked you where to start in learning about agile (in order to get a job in our industry), what one recommendation would you give them?

Question 2: If someone with a basic knowledge and some experience of agile asked you how to improve their knowledge and/or experience, what one recommendation would you give them?

These two questions come up a lot by people starting out on their agile journey and by people who have started their journey, but need to know here to go next. Hands-on experience is invaluable, but not always easy to obtain before you get a job. It’s Catch-22.

I asked some people who know a thing or two about agile. Their advice fell into a few distinct areas:

Hanging out

The most frequent piece of advice was to get involved with other agile folk. Allan Kelly, (agile and lean consultant, trainer and author, and conference organiser) says, “If the objective is to get do a good job in our industry then I suggest they start hanging out where they will meet people (conferences, user groups, online, etc.) from our industry and look for opportunities to work with a good company. I am increasingly of the opinion that the best companies cut out recruitment agents.” From a learning stance, they can be very rewarding. As Mark Summers (Agile Coach) commented, “I remember going to Agile 2008 and getting a years worth of learning.” Not all gatherings are equal though, so ask for recommendations before splashing out. A good starting point is meetup.com which are usually free and local.

Reading

As mentioned in my last post, I find reading an essential part of a person’s growth. Although it seems obvious, it is often ignored in favour of other approaches; my panel believed that reading has to be part of the mix.

James Wyllie [Delivery Manager] put it clearly: “read as much as you can”, highlighting that this doesn’t just mean books, but includes articles, blog posts, forums, etc. Our list of recommended books may help you choose one, but if you want to ease yourself in slowly, I recommend Henrik Kniberg’s Scrum and XP from the trenches which is like a leisurely stroll into agile. Kniberg (Agile/Lean coach at Spotify and co-owner of Crisp) added that he encourages reading with others, such as in a book club.

books-learning

Training

Many recommended taking a course to start you off, from self-led courses to tutor led workshops. The former include online courses such as Jonathan Rasmusson’s The Agile Samurai, as recommended by Emily Webber (Agile Coach, ex Head of Agile Delivery at GDS) “because it gives the basics, [but] is not framework specific”. Tutor-led courses include those run by companies such as General Assembly (that’s me plugging my workshops).

However, the most popular recommendation for an entry level course was to take a Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Master course (especially those run by Geoff Watts and Mark Summers). The resultant certificate (which it is difficult to fail after the 2-day course) was identified by many to be an important tool in landing your first role because many companies demand this qualification. Even if you have a number of years’ experience, you may find the addition of CSM makes you a lot more employable!

Retrospect

“Regularly reflect on your own performance. What could be improved? How would you improve it? Make the improvement and see if it had the desired effect”, advises Mark Dalgarno (Agile Coach and Mentor, and conference organiser). Allan Kelly advocates the use of a personal journal, not a blog, but something private where you can “take a couple of half hours a week to engage in personal reflection. … Use it to make sense of the world, think about what you are seeing, rehearse your discussions and congratulate yourself.”

Getting a mentor, or buddying up, is another opportunity to get feedback and introspect. Geoff Watts (https://mobile.twitter.com/geoffcwatts) says “Go and work in an established team with an experienced ScrumMaster or shadow an experienced agile coach.” Alternatively, if that isn’t an available option, the community is very friendly and being a mentor is not a one-sided act of giving; the mentor learns from the process too. So, don’t be shy about asking people if they’d act as your mentor. We set up a mentorship programme, and subsequently (accidentally) set up a place for people to search for mentors/mentees, so feel free to use those resources.

Mindset

The others will kick themselves when they realise they missed the most essential piece of advice: “Go to agilemanifesto.org and read the manifesto”. Well done to Wyllie, Kniberg and Dalgarno for remembering to mention that! At only two short web pages, this is not only wise advice, but also the quickest of all recommendations mentioned.

Wyllie adds that it helps to “Remember, and/or refer to [the core values and principles] throughout any further learning/application. Challenge everything. … Focus your learning on what’s in the 12 principles, and work out how to enable your team to deliver in the way they describe.” Dalgarno adds, “Think of Agile as a mindset, not a process. In everything you do, challenge yourself to think about how it could be done in a more Agile way.”

Speaking

This is kind of a step on from the networking/hanging out suggestion, but focuses on contributing. Speaking doesn’t just mean speaking at conferences, but ranges from writing comments on forums and blogs, writing articles, contributing user groups, and so on. “Sharing ideas” is how Webber refers to it; it’s up to you as to your method.

Kelly adds that, by talking or writing, “you will engage in personal reflection” which is essential to improvement.

Conclusion

All parties who replied to my email made it clear that there is not a single piece of advice to offer people: it needs to be a collection of methods. Fortunately, GDS (thanks Emily) has published a living document called the Service Design Manual which goes deeper into suggestions and is well worth a read. The final word goes to Kniberg who encourages people to “get going and start practicing these things in whatever shape or form – for example, start doing retrospectives regardless of your current context.”

Thanks to (in alphabetical order): Allan Kelly, Emily Webber, Geoff Watts, Henrik Kniberg, James Wyllie, Mark Dalgarno, Mark Summers

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