Exclusive Interview With Naveen Kumar (Professional Scrum Trainer)- Agile Coaching, Agile Adoption and Transformation

In this interview, I talk with Naveen Kumar, a Professional scrum trainer (PST) with scrum.org. Naveen is from India and will do a series of trainings in Indonesia during May, June and July. He will also speak at our Agile Indonesia 2017 Conference.

Naveen, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am into software development for more than 20 years and practicing Scrum and XP since 2007. I love teaching and have been teaching Scrum and XP for long. I work as an agile coach to help organization to learn and adopt Scrum, Kanban and XP etc. I like designing software, discussing architecture and writing code using various languages like Java, .Net, C#, Ruby, Python and C++ etc. I facilitate Scrum.org trainings for Scrum Master, Development Team and Foundations courses.

What makes you a good trainer and/or coach?

1st thing first. You need to be a good presenter. You may have lot experience but if you should know how to connect with students. 2nd – real experience count a lot. If you have not experienced scrum then probably it will not work out.

Lastly, you should be a good storyteller. The story helps people to understand context. This is applicable for the trainer but coaching should be different. Coaches should be good listener, facilitator and mentor as well with whom team feels comfortable in discussing issues.

I’ve been deliberating becoming a PST or CST during the past year, but haven’t taken a final decision yet. Why did you decide to become a PST? What are some of the best things that happened to you since you became a PST?

It was the same for me. I wanted to get a license to teach people so they can qualify for certification if they wish to. Kept exploring Scrum Alliance for a year for CST but I was hearing more and worse things about Scrum Alliance. Especially how CSM (Certified Scrum Master) is loosing values due to bigger batch size, easy exam and courses not aligned with other CST’s courses etc. I don’t know how much it’s true because I was hearing everything over social media so validating it difficult.

I was more keen to work as coach/consultant rather than trainer so while searching new assignment, I met a PST and he suggested to go for Scrum.Org because the majority of PST works as a coach rather than just trainer. I took a year to become PST but the journey to becoming PST was very transparent through continuous feedback from scrum.org.

Good things after becoming PST – Got many requests for coaching due to PST title may be all because organizations have more faith on Scrum.Org. I am loving it my credential as of now as I love traveling different part of the world. Training and coaching gives me a lot opportunity to travel.

Yes, I hear a lot of opinions about scrum and the certifications. I think that India also has a very specific culture around scrum. And I also noticed at Agile India, the guys at scrum.org are keen on getting more trainers and they support people well.

Some people keep complaining about everything and some people don’t care about anything. Basically few people will keep criticizing the certification business, so just ignore it. Scrum.org people are promoting more in this region because they keep getting training requests from India, but they don’t have many trainers to fulfill demands. Basically many in India are now looking for beyond basic Scrum training and Scrum.org courses are known for that.

I’d like to learn a bit more about you personally. What are some things you learned that made you better over the past years?

I am a learner and keep learning from everyone. I am an easy going person and don’t hesitate in connecting with others. I have attended many conferences and connected many people over there. I feel local user groups and conferences are great places for learning.

I learned about Professional Scrum from a PST that helped me do my job better. I attended LeSS training from Bas that helped me to understand Scaling challenges. Nowadays learning more about leadership challenges and working on preparing a workshop for leaders.

People are always great at bragging about success, so my question to you: what are some of the big mistakes you’ve made in the past? What did you learn from them?

I don’t think I have made any big mistake, but I do make mistakes and every day. This is being human. Some of them are here – Implemented Scrum without understanding the purpose of Scrum and failed, but that’s OK; we learn how to practice Scrum. Tried to stop a team member by giving more salary when she resigned and many more people resigned thinking I will ask HR to raise their salary too. Joined a wrong job due to a misleading job profile but I was able to come out in 2 weeks. Tried running a business but then understood business is not for me.

Which two people are your superheroes and inspire you? Why?

My father and then all spiritual people. In fact, everyone is a superhero for me and I only need to see those superheroes from a different angle. You have lived in India for long, so think how do you see a tea seller at a railway platform? The guy comes early morning and runs in parallel to the train to sell a cup of tea? Isn’t he a superhero for his kids?

What I have noticed in my own trainings is that a 2-day scrum training is just a tiny start for a longer and bigger process. In a smaller enterprise, a short training can move people towards scrum and agile right away. They have the freedom and power to change things. In larger enterprises, with hierarchies, reporting structures and KPI’s it’s another story. What is your experience with this?

2 days is just about awareness but passing PSM and PSD exams need knowledge and ensure people should read scrum guide and few books. Basically, 2-3 days training and then self-study helps people to gain knowledge about Scrum. But can they take the Scrum journey forward in their enterprise? The answer depends on individual capability but general practice is to hire a good coach for short-term. 3-6 months coaching by an external coach is a better approach.

Training is a must to bring awareness and coaching depends on organization willingness. Some organization choose to do it themselves by experiments but many prefer to have at least short-term coaching. Short-term coaching helps in start empirical process that can further be supported by internal coaches.

In your experience, what are some things enterprises need to change their culture, hierarchy, reporting and KPI systems to adopt agile?

I think this is not the right approach. It should start from Why Agile? Why Change? That will automatically help in what to change.

So nothing needs to change unless the enterprise has a clear goal about why Agile.

What would you say are the 3 biggest challenges for a team to get started with scrum?

1st is the lack of Scrum knowledge, 2nd is poor organization design that promotes too much hierarchy and 3rd is command and control mindset.

Ok, the first obstacle has a clear solution we discussed earlier. How would you advise people to go about the second and third challenge? Specifically, what are some organizational designs that support hierarchy?

I think it should be more internal. The only things that help here are reading, experimenting and adapting to change. Good to have a coach that can help you in facilitating your decision but there is no straight answer for this question.

Command and control are also an interesting point. I have learned that in countries like India and Indonesia, the whole system is based on command and control, from the way people are raised onwards to the way they work in organizations. What are some of your advice on how to change this?

Are command and control good? Maybe. Is it bad? Maybe. Basically, we need to see this topic in a certain context. Why is command and control here in India and Indonesia but not in developed countries? Oh, it was there and still there even today. It has a very strong relation with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Do people enjoy command and control? No. Then why do they practice it? Because many don’t know about the alternative. Compensations are based on it. It gives power over people etc. Still, it is not good but change will take some time.

What are some mistakes you see a lot of people make in applying scrum?

Especially around Scrum Master role. Many Scrum Masters don’t believe in self-organizing but play this role. This is harmful as they will never let the team make decisions or they will keep influencing team decisions. 2nd big problem – many teams don’t understand the power of retrospective and try to avoid it. This will not help in building high performing teams and here Scrum Master must educate team about the power of retrospective. Leaders should support self-organizing by changing organization design wherever and whatever needed.

One thing I notice is that scrum can become a dogma. People can focus on the theoretical foundation and become very rigid in the roles and events. We as scrum trainers need to train the basic framework and we should teach it in a ‘strict’ way. But I also believe if people see a variant as a better fit or wish to change something in the event pattern, nobody’s there to tell them not to do that. How do you see that?

This is exactly the reason people from Scrum community talk about SHU-HA-RI model. Teams need coach/facilitator during the initial stage of Scrum adoption (SHU level).

We should teach why NOT to start with the variant of Scrum. A team may prefer to look for ScrumPlus once understood the value of scrum (HA) level and so on.

What’s scrum plus?

We know Scrum is the most popular framework and every organization is trying to adopt the Scrum framework, but only Scrum is enough? So basically ScrumPlus means what other things are needed to make Scrum successful such as Engineering Practices or Kanban etc.

How does scrum relate to Agile in your world view?

Scrum is the most popular way to be agile. Scrum is the most popular framework and more than 70% of teams practice Scrum or Scrum + XP.

What are some tips you have for people to be a ‘good ScrumMaster‘? And product owner?

Good ScrumMaster means I understand my role as Servant Leader, Process Owner, Facilitator and System Thinker. Understand Scrum very well and must believe in the self-organizing team.

The product owner should know domain knowledge but most important skills that needed for PO are StakeHolders management, managing Scope, Cost and Time by frequent inspection of Scrum artifacts in collaboration with the development team.

Thanks for all the insights! You will come to Jakarta in July to speak at our Agile Indonesia conference and you will also conduct a PSM and PSD training. What are some of the unique things you will bring to the PSM training, specifically for Indonesia? And who and why would people join the ‘not so well known yet’ PSD training?

PSM training will have 2 parts – 1st – Role of Scrum Master in Scrum and 2nd – practical challenges. I don’t prefer to run boring PPTs in class so my class is full of activities and stories. Stories are around practicing Scrum in our culture (south and southeast Asia).

PSD training is something that I recommend everyone to go through. This is the workshop that helps you design your ALM (application lifecycle management) and learning engineering practices. The workshop gives an opportunity to learn Behavior Driven Development, Test Driven Development, CI/CD, Agile Testing and many more. This is a fully hands-on workshop where participants learn tools like Cucumber/Specflow, Jenkins, Selenium, Junit/Nunit, Git and build tools etc.

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