Scrum Alliance or Scrum.org?

This is a question I get a lot, what are Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org and which is “best”? The truth is there is no best, both have different certifications and a different business model. In this post I want to explain the differences between the two and help you decide which to choose.

Scrum.org & Scrum Alliance Compared - TheScrumMaster.co.uk

Let’s start with what they do. Both Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance offer training courses and certifications for Scrum Masters and Agile Professionals. Both offer a variety of courses for Product Owners, Engineers, and other professions but in this post I’ll focus purely on the scrum masters.

You can think of these organisations like Exam Boards, if you pass their exam you get a certificate which you can present to any employer and it will prove that you have a certain level of scrum knowledge. You can also show the badges off to your friends and family but personally I’d recommend against that. I spent half an hour explaining to my mum that a Scrum Master had nothing to do with Dungeons and Dragons…

Both organisations offer three levels of Scrum Master certification. For Scrum Alliance these are the Certified Scrum Master (CSM), the Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM), and Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (or CSP-SM). Scrum.org offers the Professional Scrum Master levels 1, 2, and 3 (more commonly known as PSM-I, PSM-II, and PSM-III).

Personally I hold the CSM from Scrum Alliance as well as the PSM-I and PSM-II from Scrum.org.

Where these organisations differ is in how they go about granting the certificates. Scrum Alliance require you to attend a training course organised by a certified trainer. The prices of these vary depending on whether they are being held remotely or in person, which country they are being held in, and the level of the course. Typically in the UK you will pay around £700 for a remote course and £2000 for an in person one. Obviously the trainer then pays a fee onto Scrum Alliance. Once you have completed the course you will be sent a link to take the exam on Scrum Alliance’s website. If you pass (the pass mark is 37/50 questions) you’ll be awarded your certificate.

Scrum.org also offer training courses. However, their courses are not a prerequisite to taking the exam. Personally I have never done a Scrum.org course, I simply logged onto the website and purchased the exam token. These vary slightly depending on level but the PSM-I exam is $150 dollars.

It is also worth noting that Scrum Alliance certificates expire and you will either need to attend another course or pay (about £30 I believe) to renew it every couple of years. Scrum.org certificates do not expire.

The next most obvious question is which is easier!? There is a general feeling that the Scrum.org exams are a little more challenging, however I’ve never seen any data to back this up. Personally I scored a couple of percent higher on the Scrum.org exam than the Scrum Alliance one however not enough to state clearly. If you’re looking for a simple answer on which one would be easier to achieve or which holds more market value then I can’t give that. I would say however that the PSM-II (and I assume the A-CSM) covers significantly more ground than the PSM-I and asks questions based drawn from personal knowledge rather than simply knowing the subject matter. There is a distinct step up in difficulty and, although I’ve never taken it I wouldn’t be surprised if the PSM-III was far more challenging again.

So there you have it, all the differences that I’m aware of between the two organisations. If you’re looking for a taught course with a certificate at the end then Scrum Alliance may be for you. If you’re interested in self study and funding then Scrum.org may be the better alternative however I’ve found that both are extremely high quality certificates.

Measure What Matters Book Review

I’ve had this book for a while and it finally reached the top of my Audible list. Measure What Matters has intrigued me for a while, especially as I am focusing on setting and meeting goals at the moment.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the  World with Okrs: Amazon.co.uk: 9780525536222: Books

I have to confess to being a little disappointed. At it’s core the book discusses OKRs, a kind of public goal which does a very nice job of splitting out the goal and the actionable tasks required to complete it. Visibility creates transparency to make sure no teams are duplicating effort or conflicting priorities, they also allow people to assist each other in meeting their goals.

So far so good, I didn’t have a problem with any of that.

However, the majority of the book was a list of testamonials from the author’s long list of supporters. It was genuinely interesting to see how the technique has been applied to everything from IBM to U2. But I’m really not sure wheeling out the famous and successful was really needed (in the audiobook many of them actually contributed their parts). It felt more like a sales pitch of OKRs rather than a practical guide of implementing them.

I kept finding myself expecting the next chapter to be a “How to get started with OKRs in your business.” but alas, it never came.

Enlightening by adding a new way to think about goals, however disappointing because although I’m intrigued I feel far from equipped to take advantage of the concept.

Do you agree? Have you read Measure What Matters? What did you think?

Personal Swimlanes

I was recently facing a bit of a conundrum. I was trying to work out why I was reading far more using Audible than I was out of paper or even kindle books. The obvious answer was because because I was listening to 45 minutes of audiobooks at double speed every morning but I was only getting half an hour every other night with my real book (currently Waltzing with Bears). The former I was fairly sleepy at the start of the day, the latter as I’m trying to keep my eyes opening in the evening.

The obvious answer I came up was because I was spending less time with my mind on the physical book. But also most likely because I could listen further than I could read.

However, as I pondered the question a little further I also realised that I was trying to do several things in that precious 30 minutes in an evening. I journal every day, I am reading a book on my kindle as well as the paper book and I enjoy painting my Warhammer and Game of Thrones minatures to undwind. In other words I had too much WIP in my evening routine!

We all know that WIP is very bad news and kills all productivity, what I had uncovered in my own routine was a bottleneck where I was trying to push several projects through the same 30 minute space in my day.

Wondering where else these existed I began thinking about my working day and carved my time into three categories. These are Hands Free, which are tasks I can complete while my hands and eyes are occupied on something else like driving or housework. Computer, which I spend a lot of time at so I created two parts. Hands On, which are times when I can complete a task with my hands. For example reading a paper book or painting my toy soliders.

I decided to call these Personal Swimlanes, you can now clearly see why I was having so much trouble delivering on the last one. I was thrashing between the various projects with no focus on any of them.

So, what’s the solution?

Well – you’re looking at it. By indentifying which work falls into each categories I can properly throttle WIP coming through and prioritising. Right now I’m focusing all my “Hands On” time on finishing Waltzing with Bears. When I finish that (in 70 odd pages) I’ll look at what the next project to move onto is. At the moment it’s looking like that unit of Ultramarines I picked up the other day!

What Swimlanes do you have in your day? Am I missing any? How do you focus your precious hands on time to make sure you focus on one project before moving onto the next?

Performance Management

Performance Management are two words which have the power to strike dread into the hearts of developers and managers alike. For engineers it conjures images of being fired, for managers it’s the sinking feeling that you’re going to have difficult talks with people with people about the quality of their work.

But that isn’t what performance management is about. At least it shouldn’t be!

Performance Management is not about getting fired.

Performance Management should always be about you working with your boss and mentors to continue to improve your performance. It should involve feedback, praise, and coaching. It should be something junior engineers embrace because it helps them progress their career and develop their skills. However, giving feedback is very difficult and unfortunately finding a boss who will give you honest, valuable feedback is rare.

I could write pages about Performance Management but this post is intended as part of my Junior Developer series so instead I’m going to focus on the most common mechanisms companies use and what you should expect when you join.

Probation Periods

Probation periods are very common across the software industry (and elsewhere). In effect they’re a trial period for both you and your employer. They’re an opportunity for you to ensure you’re really happy with the company you’re working with but also for your boss to ensure you can do the job (or at least that you have the potential to do the job).

Typically probation periods last three or six months and during that time your notice period (the amount of notice the company has to give you and the notice you give the company if either wishes to end your employment contract) is significantly shorter. A month’s notice period is fairly typical for developers in the UK (or longer if it’s a more senior role), however during your probation this may be a week, or non existent. This is intended to support both sides. Personally I have never failed a probation, but I have left a company during my probation and being able to make that clean break was much simpler than having to wait an additional three months.

Every employer should set very clear objectives or what they expect you to achieve during this probation period. They should never simply book a meeting at the end of the three months to tell you if you passed or failed. The golden rule of good management is to never surprise your employer. A good manager will work with you during your probation and, if you’ve got some areas that you’re struggling make you aware of them so you’ve got plenty of time. You should never be unclear whether you’re on track to pass or fail a probation period.

1 to 1s

One of the most effective ways to support and coach your team is for managers to book in 1:1 sessions. Typically these are every couple of weeks but it varies with the individual and the circumstances. I have senior engineers who only watch to check in once a month and team leads I meet with weekly (or more often if they need it). I always hold more frequent 1:1s with people during their probation to make sure they’ve got the support they need.

Your 1:1 is your managers opportunity to coach and your chance to ask questions. It’s also your opportunity to talk about goals and career goals. There are countless excellent articles out there about 1:1s so I’ll leave it there and say that you should expect them and that they’re nothing to worry about.

1:1s are a great way to get feedback from your boss on what’s going well and where you need to improve.

End of Year Reviews

Most companies operate an end of year review cycle. These vary from company to company but they often involve talking about the positives and negatives of the year with your managers, some kind of goal setting exercise for the upcoming year, and often a discussion around pay and/or bonus. Often these are split into various conversations which may take place over a few weeks or even months.

The key is to understand what each session is for and what topics are likely to be discussed. This will help you think of examples where you’ve done especially well and give you a chance to think or a few areas where, with hindsight you may have done things a little differently.

It’s also helpful to understand what form of conversations the ones around pay and bonuses are likely to take. What’s normal for your company? Many television shows give the impression that you can march into your boss’s office and make a pitch for a higher salary. In reality (at least in the uk that’s rarely how it works). Often managers are given a pot of money to work with, once a year, and will have to make the fairest choices they can. However your manger be able to advice you on what happens at your company and what the financial review process will look like. Don’t be surprised if you’re not included in this process if you’ve been with the company for less than a year, it’s not uncommon for people who have recently joined to have to wait to be part of the uplift process.

When talking about goals for the following year try and be open and honest about what you would like to achieve. Ask your manager to support you and whether you think your ambitions are realistic. You can achieve a lot more if your manager is also looking for opportunities to stretch you than if you have to go hunting for them yourself.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that normal Performance Management is nothing to be worried about. Sure, there are cases need to be coached through areas of under performance but the vast majority of what I’ve talked about in this post is the positive side of how to work with you manager to avoid needing and performance improvement plans.

What are your experiences of performance management? Are your experiences similar to mine?

Eat That Frog Book Review

I recently read Eat That Frog, a personal productivity guide by Brian Tracy.

Eat That Frog is a personal productivity book full of tips.

It’s an interesting book. There are 21 easy simple tips which work together, I especially like the format because it’s easy to dip in and out of. Some of the suggestions are very very good. Putting technology aside, breaking big goals into smaller steps, and making sure highest priority tasks are identified.

Brian Tracy makes a huge point of picking up the most important task for the day at the very beginning. Personally I’m not a fan of this approach (as long as it’s identified and gets done). But I can see the wisdom in it.

Would I recommend Eat That Frog? If you’ve not ready many personal productivity books before and are looking for a few tips to help you organise things and deliver – sure, there’s probably quite a lot in there you’ll like. If you’re not new to the genre then you probably won’t get a huge amount of new advice from the book.

Have you read Eat That Frog? What did you think?

How (and Why) Do I Read So Much?

I like to think of myself as prolific reader. I set myself the goal of twenty one books this year (very conservative for me because I’m not getting lunchtimes in the office to crack open a book) however at the time of writing I’m already up to 9 books and am expecting to have another two finished before the end of the week.

If you’ve read my post on Personal KPIs you’ll have seen that I track my goals to provide visual encouragement, but also an early warning if I’m running behind. Here’s my reading graph:

My reading progress for 2021. The green line shows what I need to consume to hit my goal of 21 books this year. The red shows my actually weekly progress.

I believe reading is one of the most important habits any adult can develop. There are millions of books out there with valuable information and contrasting ideas which will stretch you and force you to make a decision. There are books on every conceivable subject and (just in case you needed any more motivation) they’re a fantastic way to unplug and relax.

However, before I go any further let me tell you a joke.

One day a chicken walks into a library, a little surprised the librarian asks how he can help and the chicken replies (perhaps not unexpectedly) "Book!". The librarian passes a widely recommended book which had recently been returned and passes it to the chicken who struts off. The following day the chicken returns and says to the librarian "Book book!" Deciding to humour the chicken the librarian passes the chicken two books. The third day the chicken returned once again and went up to the librarian. Ready this time when the chicken said "Book, book, book..." the librarian hands the chicken three books. Curious now the librarian follows the visitor, determined to find out what was going on and where the chicken was going. As they rounded the corner to a quiet part of the library the chicken strode up to a frog and placed the books on the table. The frog sighed, looked at the books and said "Read it, Read it, Read it..."

Maybe it works better when you read it out loud?

The point of the joke is this. Don’t be a frog! Your job is not simply to read books and say “Read It” over and over again. Reading isn’t about bragging, it’s about expanding your knowledge. Always make notes, scribble some ideas you have while you’re reading the books, non-fiction ones at least. Otherwise you’re simply being a frog. The authors of the books are trying to convey information to you – try to take at least one action from each book you read and use it.

Back to the orginal question. How to absorb so many books, especially given a full time job and a hectic lockdown home time?

The answer is two fold. Audiobooks and Playback speed.

A lot of people have a snobbery around audiobooks. In the same way many people say that reading off an e-reader isn’t as good as a real book. However, I’d ask you – if you had the choice of waiting until you could pick up a paper book or listening to a pre-recorded version while you’re doing the washing up or driving somewhere which would you rather do? I do read physical books and on my kindle too, but the vast majority are audiobooks. There are many providers but personally I’m a huge fan of audible, if you don’t like the book you can simply return it. You can’t ask much fairer than that!

The second way of improving the rate at which you listen. My wife laughs at me because she says I listen to everything at “hamster speed” which I suppose I do. The first time you try to speed up the playback it is really hard to follow what’s going on but, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you catch up. Try adding going to 1.2x and then a few days later 1.4x and so on. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can get up to 2.0x and even 2.5x. For quite a while I resisted this, I didn’t want to rush my absorbtion of the books or my enjoyment of the fiction. However, honestly, if I listen to something now at 1.0x times it sounds like the narrator is drunk, speaking slowly, and slurring.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you use audible or another supplier? What speeds do you listen to and why? Comment below and don’t forget to follow the blog for future updates.

Personal KPIs

I’ve spent a lot time reading about daily habits and routines recently. Both Atomic Habits and Routine Machine strongly advocate spending a small amount of time each day to contribute towards your larger goals. I like the idea, after all as an agile geek I fully support the importance of transparency. Otherwise, how can we expect to inspect and adapt?

I mentioned some of my 2021 goals recently. Some of these are perfect examples where I must display if not daily, then weekly behaviour if I’m going to hit them. Donuts and Dragons isn’t going to write itself, I need to put words on the page day after day. My reading goal isn’t magically going to happen, I need to spend a little time each morning listening to audible or perhaps reading in the evening.

To this end I’m experimenting with a Personal KPI spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet I’m tracking various KPIs such as “Donuts Words Written” and “Time Reading”. I’m also tracking various KPIs around health and daily routine. Am I hitting Inbox Zero every day?

My spreadsheet gives me a daily score, however most beneficial I believe will be the weekly rolling averages. I don’t have to write a blog post every day, however I aim to write at least three a week. I don’t have to listen to my audiobooks every morning but I do want to make sure I’m listening for an appropriate time each week to hit my quarterly targets.

Am I on track to hit my personal goals this year? Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

It may seem like overkill, but I’m hoping that this mechanism will help me stay on track for some of the big goals I’ve set myself this year.

What do you think? Is this overly complex for personal goals? Do you have a similar mechanism and how did it work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Atomic Habits Book Review

This morning I finished listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear. I picked it up after being thoroughly impressed by John Lamberton’s Routine Machine.

Atomic Habits is a different book, more granular and if you’re interested in personal productivity then it’s a good read.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones:  Amazon.co.uk: Clear, James: 9780735211292: Books

In the book James first sells the value of habits, discussing how small incremental changes each day are vital to achieving major results. Then he moves on to deconstruct the various parts of a habit including Cue, Crave, Response, Satisfaction. In other words something triggers our habit, then we develop a craving for something, we act in a pre-trained way to satisfy that craving, and gain satisfaction.

In a positive habit this may look like:

  • Every morning when I get up
  • I want to clear my head
  • So I meditate
  • And feel better afterwards

However, in a negative habit this could be:

  • When I’m bored
  • I crave entertainment
  • So I open social media
  • Which entertains me

James then talks about how to hack these habits by eliminating cues, changing rewards, and building commitments so the habits you do want to form stick and the ones you don’t are broken. It’s good, sensible stuff.

As I mentioned above there’s a LOT of crossover with Routine Machine, however Atomic Habits goes far more into the techniques for forming and breaking daily habits. In his book Mark Lamberton focuses on how to point these in the direction to achieve big things. I see the two books as a very valuable pairing because, if I was to raise a criticism with Atomic Habits there’s not enough pagespace dedicated to creating structure so habits point you towards your longer term goals (although the idea of reinforcing identity is a very good one – see “Habit 2” of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I listed my 2021 goals in an earlier post and I think there’s lots that can help me here. Specifically I want to work on the cues and immediate satisfaction of my reading, writing, and blogging. Perhaps putting together a calendar so it’s very obvious which days/weeks I’ve missed.

Have you read Atomic Habits? What did you think of it and have you encorporated any of it’s advice into your daily routines?

Focusing Your Time With Forest

I recently discoved a fantastic app.

Like many people the constant bombardment of notifications, messages, emails, and reminders can be overwhelming. Our brains are wired to give us a little shot of dopamine for every “Like” we get or each time someone sends us a message. The most addictive mobile games capitalise on this by setting short terms goals staggered through the day which encourage us to pick up and play over and over again. It’s fair to say that it turns us all into a bunch of phone zombies.

Mobile phone addiction is real and I’m a sufferer! Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels.com

Knowing I’m especially guilty of “just upgrading that building” or “just reading that email” while I’m trying to work and spend time with my family I was curious when I discovered Forest.

Forest is well aware of all those little dopamine triggers but uses them for good, not evil. The premise is simple. You select how long you want to put your phone down for and plant a tree, if you leave the forest screen to use social media, read your email, or look at pictures of cats then your tree will wither and die. The more successful times you leave your phone alone the more gold you earn, the more trees you can unlock, and the more real life trees which will be planted because of you.

It’s sneaky, but it works. I’ve written this blog post without looking at my phone once (well, except to capture the screenshot). Within a few days I found myself avoiding picking up my phone to answer calls or take photos during my Work or Family time. A far cry from when I’d jump at every text message to reply immediately.

Do you already use Forest (or something like it)? Do you have any other tricks for helping you focus and avoid mobile distractions?

The Advantage Book Review

When I saw a copy of The Advantage on the shelf at the airport I picked it up straight away. I read Five Dysfunctions of a Team a few years ago and considered it leadership gold. Learning about organisational health from the same author, sign me up!

I’m disappointed to say that for me, The Advantage just didn’t hit the same high notes. Despite only being 216 pages the book took me around eighteen months to complete and that’s simply because I wasn’t engaged and I felt I had to force myself through the final few sections.

The early part of the book recovers a lot of the same ground as Dysfunctions, I have no problem with that. Creating a leadership team who feel safe and can operate together as a team is no doubt a key part. Then we moved onto organisational values, both desired and acididental. I found that part quite interesting but when we moved onto creating and reinforcing clarity I drifted and drifted.

It’s quite possible I missed the point, the book is highly rated on Goodreads so many people have clearly got a lot from it. Unfortunately, this won’t be one I pick up and re-read again in a hurry. I will however go away and try to define my teams’ values – I grant, that’s a very valuable exercise!

Have you read The Advantage? Do you disagree with me? Let me know either on Twitter or in the comments, I’m always happy for someone to point out something I’ve missed!