Skip to main content Professional Scrum Trainer Spotlight - Will Seele's Journey to becoming a Scrum Master

March 12, 2024

In this PST Spotlight episode, Guest host PST Ryan Ripley from Agile for Humans interviews fellow PST Will Seele, a distinguished personality in the Scrum world. They explore Will's Scrum mastery journey, from his initial encounter with Scrum at Hewlett Packard to evolving into a seasoned Scrum Master.



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: 0:20
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 Ryan Ripley joining me today as we'll see Lee. Well, good to see you again.

Will Seele: 0:45
Hey, Ryan, longtime no see

Ryan Ripley: 0:48
will, of course has been working with Todd knight on the evidence based company and all sorts of other craziness. But let's jump right into the questions. Well. Can you share the story of how you first encountered Scrum and what motivated you to become a scrum master? And was there a particular moment or experience that sparked your interest?

Unknown: 1:13
Yeah, yeah. So the the interesting thing there is I encountered, probably agility, long time before I encountered scrum proper. So the first time I encountered scrum I was I was in a two year traineeship at Hewlett Packard is very early on in my career just out of university. And I was working in software professional services. And one of one of the big clients, HP had at the time, started on an Agile transformation. This was a large bank. And they said something that could be summarized as we're going on an agile journey, and so are our suppliers or they are no longer going to be our suppliers. So very, very soon after that being being fairly new and having had some experience with with agile work. My manager at the time, Lise lot said you're going off to scrum class. So you can understand this better, and then help us understand it better. So they sent me off to a PSM which was taught by Barry and Barry Overeem. And Ron Aaron got up. And took that PSM and immediately got put on a project to build a network supercomputer in Denmark. That was my very first scrum master gig. It went about as well as you can expect

Ryan Ripley: 2:52
for a supercomputer project in Denmark, right? Or a

Will Seele: 2:55
supercomputer project in Denmark all remote with a team partially allocated with a client that had never heard of Scrum before with a team that had never heard of Scrum before and one person with two days of class on.

Ryan Ripley: 3:07
So it went great. Oh, yeah, it was amazing.

Will Seele: 3:11
It was amazing. So it blew up, right? It completely blew up. But the thing that I liked about it, right, that that kind of kind of really sparked my interest as as this is something I want to pursue was how fast it was clear that it was blowing up. Yep. Because we were doing one week sprints. And our first sprint was a complete mess. We didn't get a backlog in place we couldn't get we couldn't even get access to some of the systems so we weren't able to deliver. And then the second sprint was a mess, and we couldn't deliver. And then one of our experts had to leave because they were allocated to a different project. And so we couldn't deliver. And so three weeks in to what was meant to be a six month project, I could already signal back with the absolute lack of experience I had, you know, this is completely going to fail. Right? And I'm not equipped to do any of this. Right? And so that fast learning there of exposing issues that probably in a different environment, right, having been a junior pm project manager as well probably would have stayed hidden because we were still in requirements analysis, etc. But the fact that it immediately showed the mess that we were in really gave me this idea of this is this is worth pursuing this is this is interesting. So I kept doing those projects and fortunately he kept doing those projects and we got better at it so that's that's that's what I kind of knew as much as I liked technology like I joined as a trainee I was I was doing solution architecture at At the time, that's kind of when I when I realized like, okay, no, this is my passion, like I love technology. But this kind of stuff is, is where I get my energy from. Nice.

Ryan Ripley: 5:13
So was there a specific project or situation? And maybe you've kind of already talked through this a bit, where you had a eureka moment, something that made you realize the true power and potential of Scrum? And if so, could you describe that? Yeah, so when did the scrum Sledgehammer hit you right in the face well.

Will Seele: 5:35
So, in retrospect, this this, ironically, happened a few years before. When I was in when I was in university, and we, myself and two others, as part of a course on entrepreneurship started a started a company in, in data analysis. For us, we were looking at data from emergency services. And the first ask of that program was make sure you have working product three weeks from now. Which blew our minds at the time. Right, because we were still being traditionally educated in kind of traditional product management. But we got something working in three weeks. And it wasn't perfect. And it certainly didn't meet everything that our future customers were looking for. But it allowed us to go talk to customers and say, Hey, here's stuff that we're that we're working on. And then we had working product again, two weeks later, right, which still seemed ludicrous was but we made something and that product, right, bad as it was. Got us through the door at multiple companies to talk to people pretty high up. Right about emergency prevention, and about how this might interface with insurance systems. And those sorts of things. So, right, it wasn't scrum proper. Right? Certainly, in retrospect, we could say, well, there was there definitely was a development team, there definitely was a product owner. But we were missing. We were missing the events, we were missing the scrum master. But this idea of getting something done quickly. Right. And the kinds of conversations and the kinds of value that that created was super powerful. So later on in my career, right, and this is this is years later further on in the in the journey I was doing at HP at the time, we were doing larger projects, where when you added the rest of the elements of Scrum right now that you had a scrum master that has some failed things under their belts that could support others. Now, you had a mandated product owner now that you had a cross functional development team, right? All those things made sense. And it allowed us to get get the right conversations with our customers early on and find problems and fix them. And so yeah, that that power of getting something done really was the eureka moment of it doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be complete, it doesn't have to go to market just needs to be done. So you can have that conversation. Nice.

Ryan Ripley: 8:12
So how has your perception and execution of the scrum master role or accountabilities evolved? Are there aspects of the role or accountabilities that you viewed differently now compared to when you first started

Will Seele: 8:29
so I think when I when I got started, I really had this idea of the the development team it because it was still the development team at the time, this was this was quite a while ago, is fully self organizing, right? And you're there to help their process and and guide them along and coach them along. And coach people in the environment to take away issues. And I was still very much a problem solver back then. And I think there there There absolutely are teams that really want to take on that full self organization where you take a pretty passive coaching rule only pull approach. But what I see what I see now as a scrum master is you need to adapt to where your team in your organization is. And sometimes that means taking on a very visible leadership role. Right? Yes, we've all decided to do Scrum. Now. We're gonna do it professionally. So let's get that process on the road. Let's get something done. Let's make agreements for how we want to define our workflow and holding them to account. And so it's still part of I think the coaching and facilitating role but but the the mentorship and the leadership that that it takes, I think is requires a much more much more attention. And I think also looking back At 27 I wasn't a good Scrum Master. I didn't have the kind of experience and I couldn't be a leader of people at 27. But I'm sure others with other life experiences probably could have, but I certainly wasn't there at the time. So I don't believe in the junior scrum master accountability anymore.

Ryan Ripley: 10:22
Yeah, I think that's a huge shift where, and I was talking to fellow PST David Sabine out of Canada, on a past episode of becoming a scrum master. And you know, maybe the influx of project managers early on into scrum coupled with the relegation of Scrum Master beneath Agile Coach probably led to this myth of the junior scrum master, at least that's the story that is in my head and not proven not researched, really just off the cuff. But yeah, I think the shift is coming. I've posted recently on the blog about your next scrum master should be your manager, which had mixed either people loved it or hated it, not a lot in between. But perhaps that's where it's going well, that it's really this is a serious job. Or this is a serious set of accountabilities not to be picked up by someone who's never actually delivered something before. And, you know, maybe there's something more to it than just getting the coffee and scheduling the meetings.

Will Seele: 11:25
I remember one of the very first conversations we had, where you talked about kind of the road to doing Scrum Master work at a company. And I think I think you shared at the time that part of kind of the entry criteria for you was, I want to be able to sit with someone high up in the food chain for at least an hour a month, because I'm gonna go and uncover things about this organization that I'm not going to be able to solve and that my team isn't going to be able to solve. And that was that was kind of that moment for me of Yes, right? Because that is Scrum, right? Scrum is Scrum is that flashlight you point in your organization is going to find those imperfections. But when you realize that and you have an I'm going to exaggerate here a bit, but you have a 21 year old recent graduates, that's that said, Well, you're going to be the scrum master for this team. Even if they get the hour a month, they're not they're not able to have that conversation. They don't they don't speak the language, they can't translate those problems. It's just not happening.

Ryan Ripley: 12:29
You You have not suffered. So you cannot be helpful. Like I I really am starting to believe that as I get older, it's you haven't suffered through it, you probably shouldn't be coaching someone else on it. So anyways, now that we've alienated half the audience, let's move on. So speaking of the newer scrum master will so I think this is a good lead in although we might have demotivated most of them. What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become a scrum master? Is there a particular mindset skill or habit that you believe is crucial for someone in this role or for the accountabilities? background and education working experience? Like what kind of things? Would you tell a scrum master that someone aspiring to be a scrum master, that they absolutely must work on what they must have.

Will Seele: 13:19
So I think I think the core of being a scrum master is you have to, you have to lead by example. Right, you are uncovering things, and you should be willing to speak truth to power. And you should do that in such a way that people support you in this that they are willing to follow you. And so probably my advice strange as it sounds, is, go do that a few times, go go find where the limits are, go get fired a couple of times, because you point out the things that people are very, very, that everyone knows, but no one wants to talk about because it's unpleasant, right? And the first time that happens, you'll find that you're all alone, because you're unable to communicate that and go do that again. And now get people on your side, right? And get to that point where you are able to lead and reflect to people on how to improve in such a way that they're willing to follow you. And that's a good point where you where you turned into that scrum master. Does that sound too abstract? No.

Ryan Ripley: 14:36
I think it's good. Last one for you. Well, what is the one book every scrum master should read? Doesn't have to be an agile book doesn't have to be a scrum book.

Will Seele: 14:53
No, no. fixing your scrum would be the page. No, no, it's Um it's Dan Ariely Ailey's predictably irrational, okay? Because you're working with humans. And the the mistake a lot of us make, probably, especially people in people in it or that come from, from the exact sciences, is we like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings. That's just not the case. A scrum master role is highly political. And so understanding how people are irrational is critical to your development.

Ryan Ripley: 15:40
I like it. We'll get it in the show notes. Well, those that's all for my questions, anything you want to promote or put in front of the audience before we wrap this one up?

Will Seele: 15:51
Yeah, so maybe not entirely scrum related. But we have just announced the first evidence based leadership course in European timings for February 22 and 23rd, which is now open for registration. So this is something new that we're that we're creating, which I think is definitely something worth adding to the scrum master toolkit, if you are one. So yeah, that would be my recommendation for a lot of people to take as part of their journey. Yeah,

Ryan Ripley: 16:26
EBM does certainly look like it's the future, doesn't it? And evidence based leadership is a great application of it. Cool, thank you. Well, appreciate you being here. And hope we can talk again soon.

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