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PST Spotlight - John Coleman's Journey to Scrum Mastery | Expert Insights & Tips

May 21, 2024

In this episode, PST Ryan Ripley guest hosts and interviews PST John Coleman about his journey to becoming a PST.

Encountering Scrum: John Coleman first encountered Scrum while working in a factory in Ireland. Faced with increasing production capacity by 40% without additional floor space, he trained with Ken Schwaber in London and successfully implemented Scrum to manage the crisis.

Eureka Moment: One pivotal moment for Coleman was realizing the power of the Sprint goal. It helped the team prioritize and manage work effectively, avoid extensive delays, and focus on achieving outcomes rather than just completing tasks.

Advice for Aspiring Scrum Masters: Coleman emphasizes the importance of being a positive change agent. He advises aspiring Scrum Masters to be encouraging, manage resistance positively, and foster a collaborative team environment focused on continuous improvement.

Evolving Scrum Master Role: Coleman discusses how his perception of the Scrum Master role has evolved. He highlights the shift from strict adherence to Scrum rules to a more flexible approach incorporating other frameworks like Kanban to achieve better results.



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.

Ryan Ripley  0:22  
Hi, everyone. I'm Ryan Ripley with Agile for humans and professional scrum trainer with I'm stepping in as a guest host for episodes highlighting the experiences of other Professional scrum trainers. I hope you enjoy getting to know these amazing people. Welcome to another episode of becoming a scrum master. I'm your host Ryan Ripley joining me today. I would say good friend and colleague. We were colleagues as stewards at one point, right. That's Mr. John Coleman. John, how have you been?

John Coleman  0:56  
Great. Thank you so much for having me on on the show. Of course,

Ryan Ripley  1:00  
glad. Glad you're here. John, I'm gonna jump right into it. Of course, you're a fellow PST with But before that, definitely a scrum master. And so this is all about becoming a scrum master. A lot of people want to know, the origin stories and our advice and tips. And so I've got five different questions to frame that out. And I think we'll just get into it. So can you share the story of how you first encountered Scrum? And what motivated you to take that next step and actually become a scrum master?

John Coleman  1:37  
Thanks, Ryan. I was in a factory in Ireland. That's where I'm from originally. And it was a very big factory, there was a supply chain of 10,000 people. And I was working in a supplier as part of that supply chain. And we were kind of a critical supplier. And the dogs in the street knew that there was a new factory being built in Poland. But we weren't supposed to know is supposed to be a big secret. The general manager manager at the factory came to me and he said, John, I was an IT manager there. And he said, John, I need you to increase the capacity of the factory by 40%. And you got four months and no floor space to work with. That. Thank you, Joe. Joe's the guys down joke have and and we were we were struggling with even small changes. So because we had a Lean program, and they had all these continuous improvement initiatives, and even a small change was taken nine months to get through because we had a lot of queues. And so I knew I was in trouble. Right. And so I went over to get trained by Ken Schreiber in London, biggest scrum master class I've ever seen. There were 15 tables, I think it was at a table of 10. Wow. Roman pitcher was there as well. And there was another a UK trainer there as well. His name was and coming to me right now. And yeah, I learned all about Scrum went back and destroy the factory in Ireland. I was it was a good ending.

Ryan Ripley  3:03  
Yeah, that's a that's quite a class to be in. And learning it straight from Ken. I was fortunate enough to get into a class with Ken while he was still teaching, and it is quite the experience.

John Coleman  3:17  
So it is and it was like, I had been reading about Scrum for a while, you know, and they heard about extreme programming a few years before and, and I hear it wasn't this kind of impossible situation, I felt like I was gonna get fired one way or the other. So I was able to go, you know, and so I went through it, and we were actually very successful with it. It was so successful that when they were someone decided to put another system in at the same time that was dependent on our system going in. And it was going live two days later. And we had to think, Oh, well, if they go live and have one of their roll back, what if we roll back and think of all these situations, and then their initiative is running in trouble. So we use Scrum to recover that as well. So it's actually double trouble. And I was, it was really good. So that was like, that was like a really precious moment for me. And I said, Okay, I was the project manager as well at that point. But it was kind of like one of the worst project managers in the world because, you know, I was, you know, the changes would come in and I'd say life changes, business changes, it's okay, bring it in, it's fine. I'll figure out a way to swap things around and change control for more money, you know, but it was probably the right time for me to move on, I think something different.

Ryan Ripley  4:32  
So I mean, you've you've crafted this wonderful story. So I have to ask, did this the factory survive or did it all move to Poland?

John Coleman  4:41  
The factories in Poland and some of the funny stories that are still telling my training, some stick around a bit is still in Poland as well. Yeah, so not much changed. I mean, they changed a lot obviously since then, because there's been progress but in terms of the design that we put in I understand it's it's still there so wonderful. But the move the whole thing, but we managed to survive another day. But yeah, yeah, okay, the factory had to move on, but at least they had more production for the time that it was still in Ireland and also, Ireland did not decide. Let's put it that way. Nice.

Ryan Ripley  5:18  
So this question might bleed into the previous one. And maybe maybe you've already answered this. But, you know, I also like to ask about specific situations where there might have been a Eureka, or light bulb moment, something that showed the true power and potential of Scrum, I think the story you told us a great example of you have another one, you know, just that experience where you just sat back and went, all right, I can never go back to the way I used to work because this was too good. Like this moment here. I want this forever. You know what I mean?

John Coleman  5:51  
Yeah, that very first initiative, we were, it was four months of work. And two months in, there was a piece of work that we thought might only be two days of work. And we discovered it would take maybe two months, well, that was going to blow us out of the water that that meant that everything's going to be laid it was going to cause huge problems. And we looked at it, and the power of goals, the sprint goal and Scrum, it's very religious word sacrosanct, you cannot change it, someone's very strict and unhelpful, but actually was very helpful because it crystallizes the mind. And we had this part that had two serial numbers that we thought was an axiom of supply chain one part one serial number, we would have, we would have had to change the whole back end system for really no business value. So I don't know what inspired me to ask this, Ryan, but I went to the product owner, I said, we don't have any technical technical solution within the Sprinter to do this. I said, Do you have any business solution? And she said, I do. So what is a? She said, put a paper sticker on the bed. So you don't want me to change the computer screen? No, put a paper sticker on the bed. So when they pick that part, they know what to do. I will instruct the line supervisors. Really that sounds way to sprinkle you serious? She said, Yeah, if I knew was going to be two months, I wouldn't ask her. Okay. So that was interesting was like that was the power of outcomes over outputs there. Were there was a focus of oh, what are we trying to achieve here and Amin and the old fashioned way, we probably would have dug our heels in maybe for two months trying to figure it out. And then we'd be late. Right. So that was a big moment.

Ryan Ripley  7:36  
That's huge. That collaboration between the business and tech, it just what amazes me, John, and I'm sure you've seen this too, is that I mean, I've been at I've been cracking at this now for how old am I 25 years. And it still feels like there's a divide, right. And the only times I've ever seen it squeezed together and sort out is in some sort of Scrum context. I think Kanban teams do a pretty nice job with it too. But same same types of principles of, you know, collaboration, cross functional. And I think a lot of that carries, even though the Kanban. Folks, we don't always admit that some of the scrum thinking has bled in and the scrum thinkers don't always admit that Kanban has kind of snuck in but, you know, outside of of those ideas, it just feels like that that divide is still very present. You know, and that just amazes me sometimes that we haven't, we haven't squeezed that in all too much.

John Coleman  8:38  
Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, Brian, because something that I've noticed as well, I think something that might be increasing the divides would be maybe sometimes SCRUM masters can be a little bit too strict with Well, I'm probably saying it the wrong way. They're being too obvious about this is you have to do this because this is what scrum says you have to do this. Because that's and the secret really is, how can you make it? How can you make your scrum look fluid, where we're focusing more on the products and the value than the process. I mean, don't get me wrong, we still do everything we need to do. But the real magic is when it's happening. But it's like nobody notices that it's happening. It's just natural for everybody. It's of course, we're gonna get together and work as a team and heading in a direction towards some product goal and takes one step at a time and deliver one sprint goal after another and we'll discover surprises along the way. But we work together and we build trust as a team and we we deal with these complex situations. And I think people forget that sometimes that you know, when they're having all these kind of wars battles, so to speak, we kind of get a little bit lost and I think we should all remember that. We do really need to to come across as helping, and not being kind of not getting getting in the way. If you're not, I mean, you know, I

Ryan Ripley  10:07  
remember a very distinct moment of frustration and you've worked with me enough to know that sometimes in my frustration, I will just shoot something out of my mouth and wish I could pull it back. Someone turned to me and use that phrase that you use, they said, well, Scrum says, and I turned to them, I just fired right back. And I've never seen a PDF talk, knock it off. And scrum doesn't say anything. It's silent on almost everything that people want to speak to. And it just, it amazes me. But yeah, I think you're right, the idea that we're here to help rather than be right, or be correct, or be dogmatic or fill in the other terms, hasn't really, that helpful, that help or mindset would certainly go a much go much further.

John Coleman  10:58  
I think so. And I think a lot of the brevi misperceptions that people have about Scrum is because they, they've been learning the, they've been learning something different. I'm sure you've happened to you as well, you've have, you might even have someone coming in to an advanced scrum master class PSM two, they might have been trained a few years ago, I thought they were doing Scrum for several years. And they find out during the class, they weren't doing Scrum at all, you know, and they were probably saying, Oh, this doesn't work or whatever. But you know what, it's actually really simple. There's hardly any must have things in the scrum guide, actually. And if you've got a really good scrum master supporting you, it'll just feel lateral. That's, that's the way it should be right.

Ryan Ripley  11:39  
And speaking of perceptions, you know, the way that the scrum master we have role here but accountabilities, however, however you want to place it. How is your perception and execution of the scrum master accountabilities evolved over time?

John Coleman  11:59  
Yeah, it's, the wording has changed the Deaf of us. And some people are uncomfortable with the latest wording, I don't have a problem with the 2020 guy to think it's absolutely fine. And, and the way I'm kind of going, as well as I think you could actually interpret the particularly the scrum master accountability, that doesn't really have to be somebody does it? Do we have to have someone who started the organization do we have to create a new person for that? I'm going to say something a bit out here now. But in the less community, for example, we don't have a big problem with managers. They even have an optional role for managers over there, because they think they can fix problems and get things out of the way that could help SCRUM masters to fix things, which begs the question, then, could the manager be a scrum master, and I'm kind of in the camp that they could, you know, you have to be careful, of course, you want to foster the self management, you need to want people you know, to feel like they're a controller or something like that. But actually, I've seen really, really good agile leaders, being the manager and the scrum master for a team. I've also seen situations where, let's say, Ryan, you're my line manager, you know, a lot of the time I might say, Well, I hope your scrum master for a different team, you know what I mean? But I have seen situations, you know, just so I can still self manage, you know what I mean? Because you're looking after my pay review and all that. But I've seen situations where even where it was the same person manager, Scrum Master. And it was it actually wasn't a problem. Because we were fluid. It all goes back to not kind of overcooking this thing that it's we're just trying to work together to figure out how we're going to do this thing. And somebody is worried, what's the value, somebody's worried about the effectiveness of the team. And somebody's worried about quality. And together, we're all trying to make things better. And I really liked the way scrum that org have moved the needle as well, in terms of merging with other approaches, you mentioned the influence of Kanban. So we're, we're less fussy now about how you size your work, for example, and lean UX is that we have a Lean UX class, the scrum at Lean UX class, which I think is amazing, because there's lots of talk about what percentage of your backlog is really actually used by users and customers. And you could actually get rid a lot of those if you ran it. Okay, for some items where you got customers bang on the door down you, you just build those, but for the items where you're not really sure you can have as the value. You can know your score with the new x and the scrum that org are like right there with this. And I think it's really cool that we've got discovery to delivery within the scrum house and we got Scrum or Kanban and we got some, we got lots of right here as well me We got people with we've got a DevOps, some good executives, you know, at scaling allsorts. It's a really healthy, nice community.

Ryan Ripley  14:57  
It is I mean, it's Um, it's certainly a great group of diverse thoughts and mindsets, right. And sometimes it gets a little messy. But what I like about the group is that we always clean it up pretty quick, you know? Yeah, that's true. So very good. I think we'll move into advice. You know, I know sometimes advice is a dirty word. But in this case, we're going to encourage it. What advice would you give someone who is aspiring to be a scrum master? They haven't started yet. But they're looking at it. They're kicking the tires. They're thinking about it. Yeah.

John Coleman  15:34  
So this is very interesting, because it comes up a lot for me that I often ask people when they come to my training, are you curious? And I'm trying to find out, you know, do they want to go beyond what we normally cover in the class? Is there some extra stuff you want to cover? But really, what I'm looking for is, are you a change agent? Are you? Are you going to be one of these people? Who says, you know, yeah, it's awful. The thing things are terrible here. And slump is so big shoulders and you know, just kind of going round, everything's miserable. Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person? When we see people having some struggles with using the approaches we're trying to help people with? Are you going to be the person who's going to be encouraging people? Are you going to be the person who's actually against the whole thing? So I think the material question is, are you a change agent? Are you willing to be the face of the change on the inside of the customer changes on the outside? Are you willing to help managers, people and teams people and other teams to see another way of working case you invite people of course to change but but the people wants to have been once they've said, I want to do this? Are you willing to really help them on the hard road? And when the when things get difficult Are you willing to, to really, you know, dig deep and help people to get through it? I think that's the that's a really important thing for me. I know it's a bad metaphor, but I sometimes talk about the the World Cup football final, you know, Messi and Ronaldo, you've probably heard of these players. And, and I say to people, it's a bad metaphor. metaphor is always very dumb. But I say imagine a World Cup football final. And the referee says, yeah, it's okay, you can all break each other's legs, it's fine. You know, it's, it's okay. You know? What, what kind of a spectacle would that be? And I'm not saying about the rules. I'm just saying, like, if you're if you're trying to, you know, end up having a good game, basically help the team to deliver really good value. Are you willing to make the tough decisions that will help the team to move forward? Are you willing to step in? On this conflict? Are you willing to the team should self manage, of course, but are you willing to step in when things get awkward? Are you willing to deal with the questions, the difficult questions that people will ask some of them are valid, and some of them were more coming from a place where people are resisting? Not in a positive way? And how you want to deal with that? Are you are you want to be a young, you're going to be able to?

Ryan Ripley  18:28  
Yeah, it's really, are you going to be the champion? Or the cynic? Yeah. And if you're the cynic, this won't be a fun experience for you. So

John Coleman  18:39  
Exactly. Yeah. I make jokes sometimes about some people being no change agents, as they've been promoted to some kind of Scrum master or coach or whatever. But actually, they're against the change. And I even call them double agents, you know, but I have a bit of fun about that. I don't not to their face, of course, but. But if you think he is, in my minds, you know what I mean,

Ryan Ripley  19:00  
defenders of the status quo in data, we run into a lot of them. But you know what, at the same time, it's, you know, we get into these conversations about management and leadership. Oh, they don't get it. Oh, they won't listen, and maybe we just haven't set it in a way that makes sense to them. You know, maybe Yeah, I think there are some people out there that just want to see the world burn. But I also wonder if there are a few of these cynics or double agents, and I've called them similar things to, but maybe they're just scared, maybe they're just worried. It was actually Esther derbys work who opened me up to a lot of these ideas. Like, I'm not naturally full of empathy. Right? So I really have to try hard to think about, well, why would this person be upset or why would they resist and normally just like just do it? It makes sense. Just come on. Let's just do it. You know, the very logical direct, what I think is logical and very direct. And yeah, it's Assuming you meet all sorts of types, and I think to your point, if you are not that positive Champion of Change, those different personality types and resistance are just going to wear you down.

John Coleman  20:14  
Yeah. And just on that I, I asked people to think about resistance have three types. So you have the genuine person who really cares who has come, sometimes we can be guilty of saying, Oh, they're just putting up a fake wall, there's no wall. They're just resisting. But actually, sometimes there really is a wall. And if we actually understood their business demand a technical domain, we might say, Oh, we don't have 10 tools in the toolbox, we can only actually only use two maybe, or maybe even only one. So that's, they can be your biggest champions. So I take resistance as a gift sometimes. And then you have the person who always says no, no, no matter how good the ideas are, always say no. And then you'll have the person who says yes to everything, but they won't do anything. They give you a lip service, which are the most dangerous people. And I was having a chat with a coach recently. And I was saying how to the one and one of the colleagues moved on, he said, I was I was like, I got now and I was getting on the new job. Or he's having an awful time. Everybody's saying no, no, no, no, the tender friends. No, no, no, don't do it. And you know, this guy. And they said, We think we prefer where we are. Because, you know, they're all very nice, and they don't data and I said, You know what, I think I prefer to be where he is because at least they're being honest. So they say no, I can deal with that. And we can make a we can say okay, maybe I don't need to change an array maybe can work with someone else who wants to make some change. But when people give you lip service, that's very difficult. So I tried to judge people then now judges the wrong word. But I tried to assess based on behavior then rather than words, what are people doing, as opposed to what are they saying, you know,

Ryan Ripley  21:45  
I think that's all great advice for the aspiring scrum master. It's not all about the framework in the tech, there's a lot of people reading and a lot of and you're gonna mess a lot of it up. And then you're gonna get to apologize and try again. And, but that's being human, I guess. It's good stuff.

John Coleman  22:04  
That isn't eight. John, I

Ryan Ripley  22:06  
got one more for you. Sure. So I know this is a tough one. I think we're all avid readers. And I don't know about you, but I've got a stack of books as tall as I am in my backlog. But what is the one book that every scrum master should read? And it doesn't have to be a scrum book doesn't have to be an agile book. But what do you think is the one that yeah, go ahead and grab that right now?

John Coleman  22:30  
Yeah, is one I've been doing a lot of research lately on companies. And I've been studying Pixar. Oh, great. And there's a book creativity, Inc, which was refreshed in 2023. And I listened to the update. So the audio version of Ed Catmull did a super job with that. It's a great example of culture gardening, where you're kind of creating the environment where agility and innovation can grow and responsiveness and empiricism and the human side is very Pixar were very good seller, very good at the human side, and also passing the knowledge on to the next set of leaders. I'm very curious, what will happen with Disney will Disney kind of stick their claws into Pixar and take the magic away or will build Pixar be allowed to continue but that book for me was powerful. Another one as well would be trillion dollar coach by Bill Campbell, I thought that was an excellent book as well. Lots of agile books as well. Don Reinertsen flow is a fabulous one, even reviewed her into scrum flow is a big concept that's kind of supported while in the scrum guide. So they'll be sorry, probably give you too many No, but no,

Ryan Ripley  23:43  
I would even I'd even add your work on complexity to that. Think every scrum master should be looking at those different ideas and thoughts. You're also a contributor to the Kanban guide. And there's no reason why a Scrum Masters shouldn't know the ins and outs of Kanban as well. And so you've made a lot of contributions in those areas. And I think Scrum Master should should definitely be taking a look at your work as well.

John Coleman  24:07  
Thank you, Ryan and yours as well. I hope your recent book is doing well. The evidence based management.

Ryan Ripley  24:13  
You know the I think people like it, we'll see if I if the if the royalty check is Is bigger than $1.25. I'll be happy No, I we'll see. We'll see how it does. But I appreciate that too. All right, John, we've hit the end of the questions thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch up with you. We don't do this enough. Anything you'd like to get in front of the audience? Before we call it a day?

John Coleman  24:45  
I think we just need to be nice to each other. And let's try to avoid gaslighting and saying that. Oh that community over there are terrible. They're all awful. There's there are some really good agility coaches. There are some really good Scrum. astor's are some really good product managers, product leaders and let's not be throwing stones at each other. Let's try to work together and see what we can do to make make the world better. I

Ryan Ripley  25:10  
love it. Great. Thank you, John. And I hope we get to do this again soon.


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