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Company Spotlight - Dyno Therapeutics - Using Scrum in BioTech

June 29, 2022

 In this podcast we feature Professional Scrum Trainers and other Scrum Practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. In this episode, host Dave West interviews Tyson Bertmaring, Head of Partner Success at Dyno Therapeutics, where they discuss Tyson's experiences with Scrum and dive into the use of Scrum in BioTech.



Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the Home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature Professional Scrum Trainers and other Scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West  0:20  
Hello, welcome to the Community Podcast. Today's episode is going to focus on a company success story. We're going to be talking to Tyson Bertmaring from an organization called Dyno Therapeutics. He's the Head of Partner Success at Dyno, which, at some point we'll get into in a little bit more detail why Partner Success is talking about Scrum. But I'm really excited to bring Tyson to this podcast because Tyson and I have known eachother for oh gosh, how long have we known each other Tyson?

Tyson Bertmaring  0:57  
2019,2018, something like that. 

Dave West  1:00  
Wow. So for years, for about four years. And during that time, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how Scrum can be applied to Biotech. And what's different, is anything different, what's good, what's bad. And over those four years or so we've really explored some interesting topics around research and, and scientists and organizational culture that hopefully we'll get to share today. So welcome to the podcast, Tyson.

Tyson Bertmaring  1:31  
I'm happy to be here, looking forward to this.

Dave West  1:33  
Great, great, great. So I guess let's just begin at the very beginning. So, Dyno Therapeutics is basically pioneering the use of artificial intelligence to gene therapy, right, which sounds super, super interesting. So lots of research and development, lots of big science, did I get it right? Is that a good way of describing what you guys are doing at Dyno?

Tyson Bertmaring  2:01  
You got it pretty close there, I think a big challenge for gene therapy is delivery of these payloads or transgenes to have a therapeutic effect on patients. And there's limited, you know, delivery vectors today that can do that. And so there's a huge space of potential vectors that we can apply our machine learning methods to, and identify and prove variants on a variety of different properties and, and hopefully those meet our customers needs. And then they can license those capsids and, and then make products with it.

Dave West  2:42  
Which is great. So potentially, you know, sort of much more important than me in terms of your position in the world because you're trying to find gene therapies that solve some of the biggest horrible diseases in the world, right. And so, I'm glad that you're using Scrum. Hopefully, it's helping a little bit to improve and speed up that process. It's super exciting and obviously, very empirical. So you don't know what you know, until you know that you don't know it, I guess over and over again. Alright, so let's start and talk about Scrum. Obviously, our listeners are here wanting to hear about how you all at Dyno have used Scrum to make things successful. But before we do that, when did you first encounter Scrum, Tyson? You've got a little bit of an interesting history, you know, in terms of your life and before you went into Biotech. So it might be even, I wouldn't mind you sharing a little bit of that on the way. So when did you first come into Scrum?

Tyson Bertmaring  3:50  
Let's see. So I came more of a traditional route. I came from the military. I started my career off doing traditional project management. That's what we were taught. That's how you develop new weapons systems in the military. We used traditional project management practices. So I had known about Scrum early, but there really wasn't a pathway to use it in the military. We still to this day, we still develop aircraft. We still do a lot of things using traditional project management. And so I think the first time I ever came across it, I read this little pamphlet that was like it wasn't the Scrum Guide, It was something else. And I was like, that's interesting. I can't use it. I'll put it aside. So that's kind of like how it happened. Maybe that would have been about 2010 when I first came across it.

Dave West  4:42  
And then you know, we met in a coffee shop in Cambridge, and you said, I'd like to talk to you about Scrum. And then the rest is history. So you were working at a different organization then prior to joining Dyno Therapeutics, and you were trying to use Scrum in that organization. Right?

Tyson Bertmaring  5:02  
Yeah, yeah. So I left the military in 2013. And I took my traditional project management chops with me. And it worked fine. Like in, you know, commercialization like the later stages of the work that we do in Biotech. It wasn't until I got to CRISPR Therapeutics. And I was working as a PM or I was assigned as a PM to a research team. And I was trying to use, you know, Gantt charts with them. And I would, you know, take an hour, I'd really understand what they're doing. I put together a plan of what they told me they're going to do. And then the next week, I hear them saying things, and I'm like, that's not on the plan. So why are we doing that? And so this constant, like, you know, going in circles over and over and over again, not adding any value to the organization made me want to rethink that pamphlet that I had long read ago. And I was really curious about it. I think I reached out to you, I didn't know who to go to, I think I reached out to you on LinkedIn. And I wanted my boss to hear about it. And kind of just, I thought there was something here and I wanted to explore it.

Dave West  6:09  
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I just, it's almost as though traditional project management is a bit of like pantomime in these highly complex, highly changeable environments. It's sort of, everything's always going to be in a process of flux. Because as you discover things, right. And is that the reason why Scrum sort of like connected with you so much, this managing change, sort of element of the process?

Tyson Bertmaring  6:38  
Yeah, I think I think the change is the big piece. It's in all the work that I've ever done, research especially, it's like impossible to predict what's going to happen. And you need a way of working that can be adapting, and it can work in that sort of environment. And it was really difficult initially to think, oh, wait, the 10-15 years of experience I have going into this, it's kind of useless now. And you kind of have to read, retrain your brain, there's certain things I do today that are really like remnants of my past life that I have to kind of turn off because it, it can be very disruptive, this dea of traditional project management, it's around control, you're trying to control various elements of the work, whether it's cost, schedule, performance of the work, kind of have to turn that stuff off, when you apply, you know, the Scrum framework. And that's been kind of the biggest challenge for me.

Dave West  7:38  
Yeah, so I think we'll, we'll dig into that a little bit more in a moment, but I want to, okay, so you apply it, you started using CRISPR Therapeutics and using it getting some success, right?

Tyson Bertmaring  7:51  
Yeah, I mean, I was, I was kind of amazed that this team of 15, researchers, you know, research associate scientists, and we had our head of the group that they saw value in it, they showed up, they participated, they got used to, like, they got into that cadence, and the cadence really worked for them. And there was more transparency, right, we could inspect what we were all doing, people had choice in the work that they were doing. It was, it was, I think the people really saw that it was different than how they had been working. And, and I knew it, I knew it was successful, and it was the right way to work.

Dave West  8:27  
I remember you brought me in quite early at Dyno with the founders with the leadership there. And we talked about, I don't know if that was a check to see whether they really were true to it, or whether it was a hey, this is who it is hard to say who the conversation was for. But ultimately, what I found that was so refreshing, was the leadership at Dyno Therapeutics were just like, hey, we're gonna do everything we're gonna, well, I don't want to quote The Blues Brothers here. We're on a mission from God, and we're in a desert, but it felt a little bit like that - we've got a really great mission, we're gonna really and we want to do anything that gets out of the way to help us deliver that on that mission gets things out of the way to help that helps us that stops us from delivering as it were, it gets us on that trajectory. And I was surprised by their passion. Also, I was surprised and maybe this is something you can add a lot more color to the way that a lot of the things that they said though there maybe using different words, or lines so quickly to the ideas of Scrum. Can you just talk a little bit about, you know, how did that work? Did you know there's the transparency, the you know, the ability to change all of those things that are key for Scrum seem to be natural?

Tyson Bertmaring  9:51  
I mean, there were two elements that when I was thinking about where to go, it just made sense to me. One was it's a learning organization. Question, everything is about learning and then putting that into the work that we do next. So we have a closed loop workflow. So if you go to our website, right, you'll learn a lot about how we, you know, we have our methods, we use those methods to design libraries of variants that we think of promise promise for improved properties, we then experiment with those, those variants, and then we take that data and then we use it to make our next library. So it's very, it's very iterative. And it's built on this need to be continuously learning, which to me was just like a hand in glove fit really well with how Scrum is empirical and, and it just seemed like the ideal place for me to go and experiment. And then having the c- founders and having senior leaders and company also be curious about Scrum. And what it could do in the company was just too enticing then to give up.

Dave West  11:01  
Yeah, it, Yeah, it really did from my external sort of perspective, having all those things lined up, really created a new environment for success. That is rare, I'll be honest, you often don't see that you see the opposite, in spite of everything around Scrum, still reasonably successful. In this case, that's very different. Okay, so I'm really interested about Biotech, and with Scrum in particular. And it's something we've debated and discussed multiple times, and particularly around people and skills. You know, from an outside perspective, Biotech, and Pharma in general have all these incredible scientists that have all these specialist skills. And so the trick is bringing them together to deliver value. But you would have thought that they want to stay doing what they do, which they've spent, you know, they did a PhD in it that spent 20-30 years of education, thousands of dollars of student loans, and they want to continue to do that thing that they're good at. We have, you know, that happens in software development, it happens in all sorts of other industries. So how did you deal with that in Biotech? How did you know with using Scrum?

Tyson Bertmaring  12:20  
Yeah, I think, this is an interesting question. I think that if we look at work today, and many organizations, they're really kind of legacies of this industrial age where we're trying to manage the work through the skills that people bring to work. We're not really thinking about the value that we're trying to create at work. It doesn't really matter who does what, right, what matters is the work that we're doing leads to something of value. So I think like, once you create the conditions where there's a Product Goal, there is clarity around what is valuable. You can have these teams of people bringing in different skills and thinking about things differently, and providing insights and in like non-siloed functional ways that can lead to the creation of something that is valuable. And people can then associate the work that they're doing to that Product Goal, that thing of value, and less about what is my skill? And what do I bring to work every single day?

Dave West  13:27  
Wow, that's, that's a mic drop moment. So basically, one of the problems with the industrial paradigm is we have all these skilled professionals, I mean, that's a problem, and a benefit as well. And historically, because we've concentrated on bringing these resources together in pursuit of a project, it's ultimately the responsibility of the project manager and everybody else to glue it all together. Whereas what you're saying is that with Scrum in this way of working by making the Product Goal the thing that unifies everybody, and by bringing that to the team in a way that they all understand, suddenly, the skills silos become less relevant. Yes, you come with what you've come with. But ultimately, it's the goal that matters that's quite profound, actually.

Tyson Bertmaring  14:18  
And as a PM saying this, a project manager saying this, when I hear people say, I need to hire a PM, like that's a good signal to say, okay, something's broken. Let's investigate, why do you need to hire a PM, because you shouldn't need to, in my opinion, you want to create opportunities for people to create that glue themselves. And one of the things that was really eye opening to me at CRISPR was, you know, scientists, research associates, it's all about the skills they can build. They want to make themselves more capable and learn different things like they're interested in that but also that kind of creates value in themselves. And so creating a team where you have a Product Goal that requires people to provide all sorts of different, you know, contributions to that can create these like T people, right? So now your research associates, your scientists, they're not just single-skilled now, they have all these different skills that are kind of on the periphery of others that would normally do and I think it creates more exciting work and it creates more valuable products.

Dave West  15:26  
And a pretty profound, I don't know for the listeners at home or in the car or wherever you're listening to this from, that flipping it from not about skills to about outcomes changes the entire can they tie connection of the team and what they what they even think they bring into it. I think it's really profound and I really appreciate that insight, Tyson, that's awesome. So obviously, you've been exposed to the way we talk about Scrum, at, Professional Scrum, attended classes, been bored by me for hours on it. I do apologize, I'm trying to do better. So what do you think - it's not just about the framework? Right? There are other things that make it work. Can you talk a little bit about Professional Scrum? And what makes it work? At Dyno? That's more than just the events and the accountabilities and the artifacts and stuff.

Tyson Bertmaring  16:28  
It's an interesting question, too, because, you know, there's, there's people at Dyno that look at Scrum, as if it's some sort of dogmatic thing that we have to adhere to. And it's sometimes it's hard to see how it connects with all the other elements of how a well run organization should think about the values that we have the practices that we have, I think allowing Scrum, to basically be a base foundation of how we operate, or we think about the work that we do, in two week increments, we plan we execute, we do Retrospectives, but like why do we do these things, we do these things, because it connects back to like, trying to live our behaviors that we have in our company. So a lot of our value behaviors that we have at Dyno, they align really well with what are the values in Scrum, that they align really well with a lot of literature that you read these days and different books, from a lot of different thought leaders in the space, you know, around trust and around commitment, accountability, focusing on results, things like that. So I don't know if I'm exactly answering your question. But I think de-emphasizing the specifics of how the framework of Scrum operates. And focusing more on why we do this is really important, in my opinion.

Dave West  18:05  
Yeah. And I think that's the thing that was very clear from that first conversation that we had, that I had at Dyno was this, this very clear kind of connection with the values particularly around trust, transparency, flexibility, the little bit of sort of humor, hubris, whatever you want to call it, you know, not taking themselves too seriously about how, though this is very serious work, and they, and everybody cares very deeply about it. The bottom line is, we aren't going to be perfect always, we're going to make mistakes, that sort of flexibility. I think it was incredibly apparent and, and also discipline, the fact that you were going to do it, and we're going to really try to do it, we're not going to do it and say we're doing it but do something else. And I think that was very, very clear, as well. So the last question and you know, I'll let you get back to the very important work that you're doing every day. So I don't want to keep you from it, Tyson, is really around what you've seen - the results, the outcomes. Now, you know, in many situations, there's existing processes and failed projects and all that sort of stuff. But obviously at Dyno, you sort of came in, not on day one, but pretty early on, and you set things out, but compared to that sort of traditional project management life that you previously led, maybe in the military or before or between the military and where you are now, can you sort of look what are the big benefits, the results, the outcomes that you've seen?

Tyson Bertmaring  19:38  
Yeah, I think it's a good question, too. I think it's what's really challenging, I think, for organizations to adapt to a different way of working, it takes a while. It takes a while to get that discipline up to get those results that you're looking for. And maybe some organizations just don't have the patience to do that. So we're almost two years into this. And we still have a long way to go. Don't get me wrong. But the benefits that we've seen so far is the level of feedback that we're able to have. Because we have transparency. I don't know what the parallel universe would look like at Dyno. But I have to imagine, if we had less transparency, less feedback we'd have, we'd have like, worse ideas. And we would, we would probably be in a worse shape than we are today. But it's really hard to show people that parallel universe and so I think time will tell right, I think if if Dyno is successful in the long run, and we're able to, you know, achieve the vision that we have for gene therapy, then I would imagine Scrum will be one of the things that we look at for, why that was possible.

Dave West  20:53  
Wow. I know, it's gonna be a success. Tyson, I know, having met you and a few members of your organization, I know that the mission you're on is truly worthy. And I know it will be a success. And I know that. Or maybe this is a little bias that Scrum will be a part of it, even if it's a very small part of it. Because it's all about unlocking the potential of the human beings that you have there. And you have some amazing, smart, incredible people that are doing incredible work of which you're one. So thank you for taking the time today. Thank you for spending a little bit of time with the audience. I know this is a huge topic and iceberg of a topic. And we've only really got the bit that we can see above the water. But I'm very excited about the future. Hopefully, we'll have future conversations as things progress as we learn more and as you continue to grow on the success that you've had. So thank you for spending the time with us all today, Tyson.

Tyson Bertmaring  21:55  
Thanks, Dave. And thanks for the opportunity to share and I hope our future as Biotech is really embracing this way of working, so anything I can do to to help that future, you know I'm there.

Dave West  22:07  
Great. So, thank you, the listeners today, for attending. I guess attending I don't know, listening would probably be a better word right? To the Community Podcast. This episode focused on a company success story. I say success, but Tyson's like it's not there yet, but success story of Dyno Therapeutics. I've been very fortunate to have Tyson Bertmaring with me today who's the Head of Partner Success, who's been using Scrum in their organization to really define how they're structured. Thank you for joining today's podcast. Obviously, there's going to be other success stories on this channel. So I'm excited to share them with you. Take care.


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