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Professional Scrum Trainer Spotlight: Jay Rahman

March 28, 2023

In this episode of the Community Podcast, PST Jay Rahman joins our host Dave West and shares his experiences that led him to where he is today. They discuss Scrum in finance, leadership, agile mindset and more!



Lindsay Velecina  0:03  
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, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West CEO here at In a chilly Boston, Massachusetts. I'm very lucky that with me today is Jay Rahman. He is a Professional Scrum Trainer based in the United Kingdom, though he spends a lot of time in planes and trains and all over the world hotels, etc. So welcome to the to the community podcast, Jay. Thanks, Dave.

Jay Rahman  0:49  
Good to be here.

Dave West  0:50  
It's great to have you and I, I've got so many things to talk about, and so many questions to to position to you and ask you, because you've been doing some really interesting work over the last two years. But before we get to that, I think our listeners would like to know a little bit about your journey to professional Scrum and what, how you got here. Can you sort of fill in our listeners?

Jay Rahman  1:15  
Sure. Yeah, sure. No problem. So I've been in the IT and software space for about 2728 years now. So I've been doing this a while. Found myself as a developer, young developer, kind of getting into delivery and learning all about development and really enjoying it went through the went through the kind of levels up to lead team, lead architect, all that kind of stuff. found an interesting phenomenon in software teams, which was we couldn't deliver anything on time and to budget. And scope was always going to be different. I mean, if you gave us a letter, we wouldn't be able to get it to the post box in time, right? That's the kind of phenomenon that we were dealing with at the time. So that kind of led me on a bit of a quest to figure out, how can these really amazing, intelligent people, working as a group working as a team working as a unified team, all with the same kind of ideas, wants to get stuff out the door? How is it that we can't actually do it? And what are we going to do about that? What are we going to actually do about getting stuff done and delivered? So that's, that was the question that kind of really sparked the journey. And then I found myself dipping into things like XP, and RUP and all that stuff, a long time ago, which finally led me on to move on to getting into Scrum, and really kind of diving deep into that space.

Dave West  2:30  
And where were you? What kind of industries what sort of software were you writing? And what sort of teams are you part of Jay? Yeah, no,

Jay Rahman  2:37  
So I was primarily, I was a Java developer, when I said to Java was the technology space, primarily in financial services. So started off in, in most of the asset management spaces that you probably know, so Dun and Bradstreet, places like that. And Goldman Sachs, that's kind of where I've been Deutsche places where everyone kind of knows it's a high pressure environment, you have to get things done. You know, the margin for error is very slim. And if you get it wrong, and you make mistakes, then the the ramifications, the consequences can be quite serious. You know, both from regulatory and for whatever the, you know, the application that you're building, you know, sometimes you're dealing with millions and millions, and more recently, billions and billions, right. So if you're building that kind of application, infrastructure, you're building code that needs to do stuff you out, you want to serve as clients, you want to make sure that a you're building something that's, that's effective, that works that delivers value. And most importantly, you have to make sure that you're getting out there on time, otherwise, you're going to be standing still next to your competition and going to soon you're going to find no, you're going to find yourself out of business. So you know it as an enabler, and as kind of as a means for delivering strategies is becoming increasingly important now, as you know, but back in the back in the day, way back then it was super important. So you had to get it right. He had to get it right first time.

Dave West  3:56  
So it's always struck me as a little bit of a, an odd situation that these financial services companies, obviously have been in the technology space for a long time. They're one of the first users of computers and they are ultimately an information, business. But they they they've always separated the technology from the business. Is that Is that something that you that was slowing down? Then some of these deliveries was that one of the challenges that you were facing when you were a young buck in the City of London, you know, wearing one of your pinstripe suits?

Jay Rahman  4:35  
Yeah, I mean, it's certainly a factor, right, you know, we and I think, you know, back then and even now, it tends to the it kind of infrastructure or the it kind of, you know, organizational element of a firm tends tends to want to be left alone to to deliver whatever they're going to deliver, right? The business is basically told, hey, just give me whatever you want to give me an art and I'll build it and I'll give it to you and it's gonna be fantastic. You know, even even you know, we do a lot of agile sort of recoveries and program deliveries and stuff. And sometimes when a firm has been in there before, and Agile has been introduced to the business side of things, they get told, Hey, we're going to bring in these product owners, we're going to own it all, it's going to be fantastic, there's gonna be no change from your side, just right, it's a massive check, and it's gonna be great. And nothing can be further from the truth, right? So, you know, for organizations to be efficient and effective, we need to be thinking about how we can work as one front to back. So the business needs to be absolutely engaged and responsible, and feel accountable for what's going on, as well as the, you know, the IT side of things. We want to get across the idea that you're working as one. So it's not about silos, it's not about passing messages set, not about blaming each other, when things don't go quite go to plan. It's about working as one solving problems as you go, figuring out what really delivers value than getting out and getting outdoors as soon as you can. And that can only happen is, you know, when you're operating as one, you're bringing us one whole unit as an organization as opposed to be.

Dave West  5:58  
So So what undermines these financial services organizations, they're in a what, what stops them from building cross functional teams delivering value? You know, I mean, ultimately, agile isn't isn't rocket science, it's you get a cross functional team that have almost got all the skills necessary to deliver value through points and with a clear problem with a clear customer, you empower them, enable them and support them to deliver that, you know, it's it's pretty, pretty straightforward. But what gets in the way, from your experience of all these financial services companies, you've worked with what gets in the way?

Jay Rahman  6:36  
That's a big question, Dave.

Dave West  6:38  
I know. I'm asking, yeah. You've got a big brain. And I'd love to hear your experience. It doesn't have to be a definitive list. But some of the things would be great to hear.

Jay Rahman  6:50  
I think there's a number of factors, I think, what we have seen is we've seen transformations and changes, tending tending to go on a continuum. So first, everyone thinks it's all about engineering. So they get into the engineering space. And like I said before, sometimes when Agile is sold as an experiment, it's sold as hey, we're going to just do engineering work. And then that can only take you so far. So then they realize oh, actually reporting to get into the product space and link up product ownership, professional product ownership, what that actually means delivering value, making sure we're actually servicing our customers and clients. linking that with engineering so that they'll bring as well. And that, again, that takes you to a certain point. And then suddenly, they realize that actually, we need leadership involvement. The leaders need to be involved, so they can figure out what frictions are preventing these teams from delivering. And what we need to be able to do as leadership teams need to be really understanding what their role in agility is. And it's not just about mindset, you need the skill set that accompanies mindset. So I'll give an example. We were talking to one, what as a CFO, and he was saying, oh, you know, I really get the Agile principles. And well, I you know, obviously you believe collaboration is right. And he was like, yeah, absolutely right, who's gonna? Who's gonna disagree with collaboration being a hallmark of agility? No one, but then asked him what? Okay, so what are you going to collaborate on? And when are you going to do it? When are you going to make yourself available? Do you understand what you need to say and do who needs to be there, and then suddenly, I got a blank stare. And then I said to him, Look, you know, the value of agility for you is this, if you were to leave the organization alone for a month, two months, or whatever, would you come back to a stronger organization. And yet, pause for a second, realize that actually, I probably wouldn't have come back to an organization that was weaker, because they needed him there as a linchpin to keep the organization working. Now, every leader knows that that's, that's not the right way to be, but who has the time, who knows how to manage their teams and build frameworks on organizations that it gets stronger when you're not there, you know, become anti fragile. Agility helps you do all that kind of stuff. So you've got it, you've got it, you've got different, you've got different actions that need to happen at different layers, but most importantly, ownership it needs to go and accountability and knowing what to do is important throughout those layers, right? So we tend to find that those three layers tends to be when to where you tend to be looking for leadership, product ownership and engineering. There are challenges in every single layer, but you do need to address them in I guess, in a holistic way.

Dave West  9:17  
That's super, super interesting. I love those, those three. So it's my experience as well. I often see organizations focusing on engineering and then they realize that they're engineering the wrong things or their alignment is a little bit off and the job is massive amount of dependencies and waste creeping in because of that, so then they go to product and they start looking at product models and trying to build a product organization. And then they realize that after they've done that, that ultimately that that direction, the support the environment, the psychological safety as a master then leadership becomes a natural next step and and surrounding all that obviously is how do you measure success? How do you fund how Would you prioritize those that that sort of like broader investment and measurement kind of governance kind of kind of model? It's super interesting. But I, I'd like to lean into something you said about linchpins and heroes. So I worked in the financial services sector. And so many years ago, we still had to wear suits in the City of London. And we were a message came down from the top when we could take our jackets off. Obviously, we didn't have a jacket. Yeah, it was revolutionary. This is the days when there was a big ashtray in the middle of your desk, you know, and people used to smoke, the early 90s. And here, heroes, linchpins, you called it heroes, crucial people. In fact, the entire reward system promotions, you know, was always around these these heroes, these super crucial people that knew everything that were the, if you you know, if you left them, if they disappeared, the company or the system or the app or whatever, you know, would collapse. Is that still the case in financial services?

Jay Rahman  11:07  
You know, it was I was working with another senior exec. He was telling me a bit about, you know, J, one of the things that we do is we deploy scrum as a risk management approach. Right? That's, it's great at that. As a framework, as you know, risk management is core to it very many people don't really understand that as a concept. But I was explained to him that look, you know, this is the this is the way that you need to build an organization that thrives most importantly, that becomes resilient and is anti fragile, right, something that's gonna get stronger when things go wrong. And he said, Yeah, but Jay, you know what being the linchpin is great, great for job security. So, great joke. But, you know, unfortunately, a lot of people think that way. I think also the way that people are awarded, you know, if you're, if you're, if you're great, or whatever you do, like if you're a great engineer, and you're brilliant at engineering, what tends to happen is you get rewarded for your skill set, and you get elevated into a leadership position. Leadership requires a different skill set. It's not about being the smartest guy in the room. It's about bringing people together, and bringing the right skill sets together. And then empowering people to do their jobs and eliminating the friction so they can thrive as one, right. That's what leadership is about. It's a different skill set, you know, so you're rewarding somebody for becoming a being a phenomenal engineer. So they're rewarded for their engineering skills. But leadership requires a different type of skill set. So I think I think the way that firms look at, you know, upgrading people, and giving people awards and kind of promoting people is politics needs, you need to review how that happens. But most importantly, need to recognize that the skills needed in leadership layer, regardless of where you are middle manager, or upper leadership are slightly different from those needed to be great engineers.

Dave West  12:54  
That's so true.

Jay Rahman  12:56  
Yeah. But you know, you're quite right. I know guys, that our senior leaders, brilliant analysts, they were brilliant quants, they were making millions and millions for their clients and stuff. And now they're, they're managing teams, but they love the way they like to communicate through email. So you know, they're not gonna they're not ones for, you know, having conversations and figuring out problems and challenges. We work in one team, actually, they're the decision cycle time was three months, we first started talking to, so three months to make a decision about what you're going to do. And that went from three months to 30 minutes, just by teaching them how to collaborate well, how to be focused in your conversation, how to use risk management approaches, which Agile is a great app, by the way, Scrum is fantastic. If you if you know how to deploy them. Well. Yeah, so I mean, what's the ROI on that? These guys are probably paid, you know, hundreds of 1000s a year, you've got 510, senior leaders trying to make a decision, and it's gonna take them three months. Now, that sounds mad, but that's that's what happens. Right? And, you know, unless you measure it, measure it and know about that. People don't realize that, hey, it took us three months to make this call. Yeah,

Dave West  14:01  
decision latency is a significant problem in every organization. And if you increase the amount of complexity, and also the impact, which is obviously if you make a mistake in you know, delivering a new whatever, annuity trading platform or asset management platform, you can have, it can have a huge impact. So that increases often the latency of those decisions, because you want to get more people involved, you know, and make sure that everybody's got a perspective on it.

Jay Rahman  14:30  
Yeah, leaders, leaders tend to feel quite vulnerable. Funnily enough, you know, you when you look at leadership, especially senior leaders, because they worry that if they get their decision wrong or something, something goes wrong, it's on them, and their job security might be at risk. You know, they're not in a position where making mistakes is is easy. So what did they do? They spread responsibility. And when you start to spread, I mean, we I remember working with one team, we told them, you know, month X that the delivery that they had originally originally Plan is just not it's not tenable. It took them eight months to realize the truth of that statement. Eight months, it's, you know, and where did that statement come from the team, the team would look to the work, reviewed it, understood it, estimated it, thought it through, put in a fudge factor out of contingencies, said, Look, you know, even if we add, even if we worked, you know, 24 hours, 30 hours a day would still take us far too. This is like four times the amount of work, we need help and support now, a month later, the management team were like, Okay, maybe we should actually add more teams and manage the scope. Why was that? Because they were afraid of making a mistake, right. And, you know, they had made, they had potentially communicated things to senior leadership, where it wasn't safe to say, hey, look, we've learned something new here, we need to revise our estimates, we need to think about what we need to do, we need to figure out a way to manage the risk.

Dave West  15:51  
And again, can I bring in a number, right, so how, obviously, a lot of the leaders haven't got that experience of leadership, they're very good at the craft of delivering these financial services products? Not necessarily leading teams doing that. So is there a role for Scrum Masters, agile coaches, to sort of like, support that, in a way? Are you seeing much support for that bringing in those kind of those kinds of roles? You know, again, it's a very testosterone aggressive lot of these financial institutions are very, you know, sort of like, classic Wall Street, the movie kind of cultures. Whereas the sort of classical Agile Coach scrum master, though, very much focused on outcomes, and delivering value and reducing waste, may approach it in a very different style. What's your, what's your experience in that on in j?

Jay Rahman  16:51  
So, I think you need it, you need, we, you know, we found that you need a very specific type of Scrum Master and Agile Coach, you know, we're, we're, you know, we come from the thinkings obviously there is a little bit of bias here, but we're all about delivery, right. So the lovely thing about people that are thinking about delivering and releasing value is that they're, they're focused on eliminating impediments. And really having that kind of drive to get stuff out the door is super important. There is a different, there is a different kind of Scrum Master, and Agile coach that's not so focused on delivery. And that's okay, as well, they're more focused on the people space, what we found is, is that people actually love to deliver. So, you know, artists love to see their works of art on people, you know, on the walls, engineers love to see their engineering fees being used. I'm sure the guys at Tesla, who built the Tesla love to see people driving rounds, and staying safe, right? Delivery is such an intrinsic part of human motivation. So we find that delivery is super important. And so our whole ethos, as I'm sure you'll agree, is around that. So the Agile coaches and the Scrum Masters, that we bring on, and that we kind of introduced to our clients, or always, always have that focus in line with this from the old thinking. And that's, that's super important, because that is what helps leaders because leaders are really about success through delivery and safety through control. I mean, that's how leaders tend to think, you know, how do I prove that I'm great, how do I prove that I'm good? How do I show value, I need to deliver stuff, you know, whatever their organizational goals are, I need to get them out the door. So they need people that who are advising their thinking on the same lines. And then the safety through control element is mean, that taught mostly it is taught, you know, we need to micromanage people and all this kind of stuff, right. But nothing further can be from the trip. There's other ways to help teams to figure out what's going on. And, and, you know, keep a barometer in terms of how the teams are doing. You don't need to micromanage people, we need to give them space and autonomy, but at the same time, be able to check using the right tooling, how they're doing and stepping in the right place. Great Scrum Masters and great agile coaches that come from that delivery mindset. And I think also really understand what the business is trying to do are just a massive, massive asset, you know, they can then they can advise the organization how to shift their behavior, because delivery is not just about mindset, as I as I keep saying, you need to you need the accompanying skill set. To be able to do the behavioral shift, you need to know how to act in a certain space. When challenges come up. How do you manage that? Do you build up your teams? Do you tell them they better get it done? Or else you tell him? You cancel everyone's holidays? What do you say to them? Hey, what are the frictions you're facing? How can I help you? What can we do to get this job done? We need to get this done. This is the goal. This is the direction. These are the this is this is what happens if we get it wrong, or this is what happens if we were late. What can we do to figure this out? Let's work together and make it happen. You know which leadership approaches you're going to use and one of the triggers that are gonna make you choose the right leadership approach. Those sorts of things come from coaching and mentoring, Scrum Masters and agile coaches, who are well versed in delivery. Understand the organization understand And the kind of pressures that leadership teams are facing, those are the guys that are like worth worth their weight in gold.

Dave West  20:07  
I kind of wanted to drop the mic there can it ultimately the the best control is no control at all, you know, and I think there's a, it's sort of like counterintuitive, you know, when, when push comes to shove, when you're in a stressful situation, often you resort to being sort of micromanaging lots of detailed spreadsheets that did. And ultimately, it's the opposite. Focus on the outcomes, create the space, empower the teams to make the difference. And, and success success happens that that that is awesome. So we're coming up to the the end, we like to keep these, as you well know, podcast short, so that people can listen whilst walking the dog or maybe on their commute or, or maybe even ironing, ironing a couple of shirts, I'm not sure people do that anymore. The so you're heavily involved in the transformation space. Now, that's kind of your your thing, you know, training as an enabler for transformation, rather than being focused on on just training. So tell me a little bit. The last thing I'd love to hear, you know, if organizations are embarking on these transformations, I'd love to hear, you know, the sort of light you're leaving words around that what would be the biggest and most important thing that they should concentrate on? Do you think, Jay?

Jay Rahman  21:26  
Wow. Okay, so I think so, the things that we have found, so we've, we've, we've done a lot of recoveries, a lot of transformations, I think, part of the challenges is to keep it as simple as possible. I think, a lot of the times firms or organizations want to go straight into scaling approaches, and they, they pick a mission critical program, which they think right, we're gonna deliver this, we 30 teams, we're gonna go to a scaling approach, it's gonna be fantastic. And they don't, they don't take into account the fact that a, you have to help the organization learn, and there is a learning period, there is a time for which the organization is going to be learning. And they need to understand that actually, there is a learning curve, and a journey that the organization needs to go on. And part of that is going to be trying stuff, making mistakes, figuring out how, how they can adapt agility, for their context and their space. That's all going to take time and effort, you have to be able to manage that learning journey with the delivery. So for example, we did some work at an asset manager in in Zurich, where they had kind of started a mission critical strategic program, hard deadlines, you know, lots of things on the line, try to go down a route, whereas traditional, essentially waterfall brought in an army of consultants, like 1520 people and just tried to like brute force crack it, there are small firm, right, so they just had you know, they were they were generating all kinds of overhead. I think they managed to burn through a significant portion of their of their funding really, really early. They asked us to come in and step in and support and support them. And we came in with a super small footprint, like three or four people help those teams understand what agility is, help them figure out. And obviously we use Scrum as the framework of choice to No, no major scaling approaches, nothing like that. The only thing we did was, we came in figured out who the teams were added Scrum Masters and experienced coaches, I think, yeah, like I said, the footprint was about five people. Save them, I think 5 million plus in consulting fees in the first quarter, and just help them deliver their socks off. We focused on the core elements of their strategy that made sense, delivered that rule kind of ad 20 piece that really made a difference first, and iteratively delivered. And that's what we did. What we found was that their partners, what what made this kind of really, really difficult was because there were so many different partners delivering things. It was a major major transformation, strategic platform's, managing lots of different types of funds, and all these sorts of complexities that you can think about, with lots of people involved. We found that the program team, especially the leadership team, who also operated in the scrum framework, was fighting to aggressively manage risk, because their whole thing was about how can we ensure that our teams really understand take this on board? What can we do to eliminate the frictions of the bank that prevent agility from from moving forward, right, so their backlog was around that kind of transformation, organizational change. When we first started the risk, the risk register was around the triple digits. We found that the organizer was with the leadership team stepping in and we had people from the CXO level, that kind of stuff had part of the team, they were able to take that risk those risks down from an organizational perspective, down to the 20s and just keep it around that point. So managing the organizational change, eliminating challenges that the teams are facing day in and day out. In a cadence that worked for the team. Those are the kind of things I did and they were managing the delivery. They manage the the learning journey, and they ensure that they supported the teams with training wherever else they needed. I remember we got to space Just a spate they they reorganized the team such that everyone could sit together, I think within two weeks. And that's that's unheard of normally a change in a bank like that, you know, an organization just moving desks can take six months, right? They did it in two weeks, because they understood the challenge, they understood the friction that was causing the teams, teams came together in one shot, and then we start to see real acceleration. So managing the learning journey, as well as managing delivery, I think is super important. We found that the leadership teams that really kind of do work as a team that operate as a as an Agile team, learn consistently. And I'm talking about guys that are looking at agility as a risk management space, their space, right. So the retrospective, for example, we had senior leaders with, you know, 200 300 people that they were that reported up to them in aggregate, turning up to the retrospectives because they they themselves viewed the retrospective as a risk management approach. How is it that we as a leadership team, what are the risks that we are facing if we don't work? Well. Now, this happened pre pandemic. Now, when the pandemic hit, these guys didn't skip a beat, they continue delivering, kept on hitting targets, had to work really, really hard to manage the risk. But they had a framework that really supported them and they were using Scrum, nothing more, nothing less, super simple.

Dave West  26:12  
That's great. So ultimately, get to delivery as fast as possible, build a sort of leadership or change team around that that uses scrum to manage that backlog of impediments that stopping the team from delivering and just keep going. I think that's the message that Jay sent to date listeners. So thank you so much. Jay Rahman, from the UK, professional scrum trainer based in the United Kingdom. Thank you for spending the time today. I'm sure our listeners particularly people in financial services, but others will will appreciate some of the the interesting sound bites that you provided.

Jay Rahman  26:52  
Thank you. It's been a pleasure to be here. Great. Well, this is

Dave West  26:56  
Dave West here, the host of the community podcast. There's another thrilling installment and this is just one of many, so if you like this, please subscribe to the to the channel and keep listening. Thanks everybody. Bye bye.

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