Ilan Goldstein

How a traditional project manager felt relief by doing Scrum

About 2 years ago I noticed that I no longer recognized some of the more recent Scrum trainers. I really want to get to know the wider Scrum community, and I decided that the way that I would do it would be by doing interviews and then sharing those videos.

This is the start of that. On an ad-hoc basis I’ll do an interview with a Scrum trainer, coach or personality (whatever that means!!) and bring you their stories. Where they’ve come from, what they’re doing and where they’re going in the future.

I don’t expect this to be a polished exercise … and neither should you! Much of this is new to me and I’m learning as I go. Because of that, I’m going to start with people that I know, until I’m more comfortable, and only then expand the scope of the interviews.

This is the very first interview … and Scrum trainer Ilan Goldstein, CST PMP-ACP was gracious enough to help me stumble my way through!

Here’s the interview.


Kane: Today I’d like to introduce Ilan Goldstein, who is a certified scrum
trainer, based in Sidney. He was one of the co-organizers of a very recent
scrum Australia gathering just a few months ago. So, welcome, Ilan.

Ilan: Thank you very much, Kane. Good to be here.

Kane: And how are you today?

Ilan: I’m doing very well, very well. Getting a bit chilly down in Sidney,
but can’t complain.

Kane: Cool. And so, the scrum gathering. That was just a few months ago.
How did that go? What was the feedback from that?

Ilan: It was about three weeks ago, now. And for an inaugural event,
actually for any event, we had phenomenal feedback. Really happy with how
it went. It was absolutely embraced by everyone who attended. We had a full
audience and it went exceptionally well. The environment, the warmth of the
community, the talent of the speakers, it all shown through. We couldn’t be
happier with the outcome.

Kane: Excellent. And how many people attended in total?

Ilan: There were about 320 in total. Which was phenomenal, again, for a
first time event. We were expecting around the 200 mark, so it exceeded
those expectations as well.

Kane: Pretty cool.

Ilan: Yeah, really cool.

Kane: So, as I said in my email to you earlier, this is really an
experiment for me to get to know some of the more recent scrum trainers
that I’m not familiar with. And scrum trainers in general that I may have
heard about and not worked with. And so I’d just like to try and get a feel
for your background, where you’re from and what brought you into the scrum

Ilan: Sure. What brought me into the community, I would say initially the
entry into the broader scrum community was really triggered by the
phenomenal help and feedback that I received on some of my earlier scrum
projects. The community struck me as being exceptionally open and willing
to share ideas and offer advice. And I found that to be quite refreshing,
in this space. Definitely not closed books. Everyone was really open and
that really triggered me to say, ‘Hey, I want to get back to this
community.’ Since then, that’s what I’ve been trying to do through things
like the conference, blogging, writing, training and so on.

Kane: Cool. Was there a particular event or instance that pushed you toward
the scrum community? Was there an event that sort of started your journey
toward scrum?

Ilan: I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was a single event. It was a
collection of
interactions. I just found posting online and contacting even
the luminaries and getting almost instant replies really made me start to
think, ‘Hey, this is a community I really want to be involved in.’ This is
a friendly bunch who are willing to share. It was really a collection of
smaller interactions I think.

Kane: It’s interesting to hear you say that because my experience with the
scrum community has always been the same as well. Everyone’s been very open
and willing to accept you and where you’ve come from. Everyone’s been very
willing to accept who you are.

Ilan: Absolutely.

Kane: Your very first scrum project, do you remember it?

Ilan: Well, define first scrum project. I’ll define it as my first pure
scrum project. Because I have to admit that my earlier projects, looking
back at them, you couldn’t really call them scrum. There were a lot of
scrum elements.

My very first agile project, actually back in 2001 after reading one
of Ron Jeffry’s XP drafts. That got us actually into applying some of what
are now agile principles. That was a long time ago. But my real first pure
scrum project would have been in about 2006, and I recall it fondly, in
fact, because it turned around a significantly troubled project that was,
it was a deployed software application. It literally was a year behind and
there was really nothing to lose.

So I went, ‘Hey, let’s do this holus-bolus and see what happens.’ It
really instilled significant discipline around the scope creep that was
happening and the quality issues that were occurring, and it was wonderful.
It led to a string of successes for that company. Most importantly to me,
and the achievement that I’m most proud of.

It led to a completely reduced staff attrition rate, keeping a team
together. The morale went through the roof. So while that project was
troubled, I remember the scrum element of it very fondly, and I would say
that was my first pure scrum project. It worked very well.

Kane: Cool. When you first started doing scum did you have that fear? It’s
difficult to describe it. When I did my first scrum project, to me it felt
incredibly chaotic and terribly out of control. I had a great deal of
trepidation, a great deal of fear. Did you feel that or was that not really
something that you experienced?

Ilan: Well, I think I had a little bit of the reverse. Because . . .

Kane: Oh, excellent.

Ilan: . . . I was feeling the trepidation and fear as this project was
really going off the rails, and introducing scrum, there was, as I said,
nothing to lose. So I was very optimistic about it and hopeful. And it
allayed, it gave me hope that there was something there that could help
this really troubled project. And in fact, when I’m coaching organizations
I recommend that they start a pilot project on a troubled project, if there
is one, because, again, there’s nothing to lose in that situation.

Kane: That’s brilliant. That’s really good advice. I’ve noticed that as
well. Failed projects tend to be some of the most successful scrum

Ilan: Yeah.

Kane: Because, as you said, they’ve got nothing to lose.

Ilan: Absolutely, and as you correctly point out, there’s a lot of change
involved. Change triggers fear and trepidation, and if things are humming
along nicely that’s justified. But when the project’s already doomed it can
just give you hope and give a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Kane: Interesting, interesting. So, let’s see. Where was I? I’ve got a few
questions here. Let me just get through them. Oh, yeah. Here’s a good one.
What’s been your toughest scrum challenge so far?

Ilan: Toughest challenge so far. My toughest challenge, I’ve had lots of
challenges, but I would say the toughest challenge that I’ve found, and I’m
still finding in organizations that have adopted scrum, is the ability, or
the desire more so, to keep teams together.

I’m finding that too many organizations like to chop and change teams
up. Pull people off, put people in. Move them around for a variety of
reasons. As we know, this really damages the prospect of generating mature,
self-organizing teams. Not to mention the other issues that transpire, such
as difficulty in forecasting, so on and so forth. So I would say right now,
that’s what I’m struggling with. Trying to keep the teams together.

Other challenges that I’ve faced recently, and quite frequently, are
issues around the product donor role and them not being particularly
available or empowered. That’s an issue that I can help the organization
resolve. Trying to ensure a team-centric approach for the organization,
rather that having this sort of spin up the project, dissolve the project
mentality is probably the challenge I’m trying to resolve the most right

Kane: And so what are some of the things that you’re doing to try and
address that? How do you talk to organizations about changing that sort of

Ilan: Well, I talk to benefits. And I really reinforce the power of self-
organizing teams. I also try and reinforce in organizations that require
estimations and forecasting, I explain the fact that changing teams up so
much can make forecasting extremely difficult. And these are the main ones.
The problems generally some in smaller organizations where resourcing gets
tight. But also in large organizations that keep restructuring.

So it can be very hard for those reasons, and I try and find case
studies, internal case studies, where a team has stayed together to show
those benefits. Both looking at the quantitative and qualitative benefits.
Looking at the morale of the team, the turnover, start turnover matrix.
These are things that I try to use to reinforce the power of keeping a team-
centric approach.

Kane: Cool. Let me see. Oh, yeah. Her’s another question for you. Where do
you see scrum in five years?

Ilan: Interesting question. I’m sure we all want to have that crystal ball.
In five years, who knows in five years? I think, if I was to have a guess,
and I’m looking at that sort of horizon, which, in our industry is
obviously quite long-term, I would be saying that scrum will certainly
cross the chasm out of the software and broader IT space into much broader
markets. I’m already seeing it being applied, and I’m doing some coaching
for organizations who are trying to apply a number of scrum elements, at
least, to strategic management.

I’m looking at, in the marketing space. I use scrum at home, for
example. So I’m seeing it absolutely cross the chasm into broader areas.
And that’s what I’m really excited about, in fact. I think, yes, scrum was
born out of the software industry. But, as we know, if you read the scrum
document or the scrum guide, there’s no mention of software or engineering.
It’s abstract and above that, and it can be applied in a number of
different spheres. So, I’m really seeing that as the major development in
the scrum space. Seeing it applied much more broadly speaking. And also
seeing it applied, and more to the point, adopted and accepted as broader
strategic way of operating.

Kane: Obviously scrum has, since Ken Schwaber, and Jeff Sutherland, defined
scrum as being primarily restricted to the software environment. Don’t you
see it as being constrained by that?

Ilan: No, I really don’t. There’s nothing in the core definition of scrum
that necessitates the need to confine it within that space. As I’ve said,
I’ve seen it being used outside of that space, and being used successfully.
I’m seeing culture changes that are being driven by the useage of scrum.
So, I don’t see any need to confine it. What do you think, do you think
there’s a reason why it should stay in that software space?

Kane: No, not at all. I tend to agree with you. I tend to feel that it can
used much more broadly than just in a software context. The difficulty
is always talking about an increment of potentially shippable product.

Ilan: Yes.

Kane: The question is, what does that mean outside of software? In a
marketing field or in a legal field, what does that actually mean? I’m not
really sure that I know the answer to that

Ilan: I agree, and I find the same problem working with software companies.
Especially so, in the gaming space. The concept of a shippable product is
very different in that space. So, what I tend to say is it is a validatable
[sic] slice of a product. Even if its service. Something that can be used
to validate.

I was doing some coaching to an organization that wanted to use scrum
to develop a research paper. What is a shippable increment at the end of a
sprint of a research paper? So looking that something that is complete. So,
looking at a section that has been formatted correctly and has been briefed
correctly. It is something that is consumable in a sense. And I think
that’s the key to it. This wording of potentially shippable product
increment, I think is causing issues in that space, and I think we can
abstract that away to be something that is complete. Something that is

Kane: I like that idea. I like the idea that you’re doing some kind of
validation in some context. Whatever that means. That’s an interesting
perspective on it.

Ilan: Yeah.

Kane: So, the final question for you. What are you up to now? What are some
of the things that you’re working on at the moment? Where are you heading
for the next year, year and a half?

Ilan: I’m staying very busy. I’m doing a few things at the moment. The
primary thing that I’m focusing on and looking to wrap up now is my first
book that is actually coming out on July 29th, is the date at the moment.

Kane: Congratulations, that’s fantastic.

Ilan: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. And yeah. That’s been one
hell of a ride. But it’s really nice to have that out. It’s called ‘Scrum
Shortcuts Without Cutting Corners.’ And it focuses on my real-world
experiences. And, again, it’s not something that is prescriptive. It’s a
collection of techniques and tactics and tips that have worked for me, and
hopefully they can act as at least a starting point for those who have been
in a similar boat. So, that’s taking up a lot of my time. The scrum
Australia conference, also really, yeah, that was a lot of effort.

Kane: I’m sure it was. Yes.

Ilan: That’s taken up a lot of time this year.

Kane: Well worth-while, I think though.

Ilan: Sorry?

Kane: Well worth while.

Ilan: It was well worth-while. It was very satisfying to see the community
embrace it. That was really cool. And I’m also doing a bunch of coaching to
a range of very interesting organizations. I think it’s very important to
stay connected with what’s happening within real-life scrum teams.

I continue to do that so I can observe the changes in the landscape
that are occurring with the increase in adoption of things like continuous
delivery and how that’s working with scrum. I’m seeing that trending quite
a lot. And, yes, I’m also running some training courses as well. And sorry,
and speaking.

I recently spoke at a PMI event, which is an area I’m quite
interested in doing. Trying to bridge the gap between the traditional way
of doing work and the new scrum and agile way that funny enough, the PMI
are quite receptive to. A few things to juggle with in the air there.

Kane: You’re a busy man, Ilan. Busy, busy, busy.

Ilan: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, that’s me.

Kane: Excellent. Thank you very much.

Ilan: Great. No problem, Ken. Thank you. It’s been great chatting to you.

Kane: Likewise.

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6 Responses to How a traditional project manager felt relief by doing Scrum

  1. @agiledevin June 3, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    rt: How a traditional project manager felt relief by doing Scrum.

  2. @SolutionsIQ June 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    [Video] How a traditional project manager felt relief by doing Scrum Interview with @ilagile

  3. @alanr100 June 2, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    {default} via @scrumology #agile #scrum

  4. @AgileCarnival June 1, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    How a traditional project manager felt relief by doing Scrum. #Scrum #Agile

  5. @DavidJCMorris May 31, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Exciting to see an #agile interviewer startup @scrumology: How a traditional project manager felt relief with #scrum

  6. @scrumology May 30, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    How a traditional project manger felt relief by doing Scrum. #Agile #Scrum

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