Who the Hell Does This Guy Think He Is?

Who the Hell Does This Guy Think He Is?

I wanted to tackle this matter early in my ‘Agile in Education’ journey.

I’ve been a trainer earlier in my career, both in the business world and in adult education and many members of my immediate and extended family are or were teachers. However, I am not and have never been a school teacher.

So what gives me the right to waltz into schools, colleges and the world of education demanding that everyone change the way things are done?

Nothing gives me that right. But either way, it isn’t what I’m trying to do – in any sense.

I have genuine respect for teachers and those working to help educate our young people. It’s a vitally important, immensely challenging and often exhausting, thankless role to play. I would never wish to tell anyone in education how they should do their job. There are many people far wiser and with far better credentials for orchestrating reform than I.

However, I do believe that the system does not properly prepare young people for a rapidly changing world which bears no resemblance to the one that existed when the system was first established. This belief is based on my experience as a parent, on discussions with people who are involved in education and on observing articles, reports and debate in media around the world.

Even if you don’t agree with this point of view, it would be hard to convince me that we should not look for ways to improve the system whenever we can – however effective we think it is.

So what am I trying to achieve by creating the Agile in Education community and this blog?

During the last couple of decades there has been a revolution in the way that many businesses operate – set to the backdrop of a planet that is changing at an ever-increasing rate. That on its own should demand a fresh look at the way we prepare young people to contribute to this exciting, challenging world as adults.

While there are many examples of businesses struggling to implement agile thinking (it is not an easy, quick fix and it requires a fundamental shift in mind-set that if absent, will invariably result in failure) there is at the very least, the potential that some of the concepts could have significant benefits in the classroom as well as in the office. In support of this theory, there is a growing collection of cases where scrum based frameworks and other progressive ideas are being adopted in schools around the world.

My personal aim is to explore this potential; to help others become aware that there are important, exciting things happening (within businesses but increasingly within education) and to encourage debate. I believe the time is right to give these new ideas serious consideration – especially on the back of CV19 and the experiences of global lockdown.

During my personal Agile in Education journey, I hope to learn a great many things and expect to have my views challenged – but if I can help open others eyes to new possibilities along the way then I will consider my mission a success.

Whether you are curious, excited, sceptical or horrified about the idea of agile thinking in education please get in touch. I’d love to hear your story.

Agile In Education Meet-up Group

Agile Education: Extraordinary Video Footage Uncovered!

Publication: The Daily Scrum
Date: 13th July 2035

15 years ago this week, at 19:00 on the evening of Monday 13th July 2020, a group of 16 progressive thinkers and educators met in cyberspace. Their mission was to consider how they could revolutionise the education systems of the UK and the world from the ground up, by exploring and promoting the adoption of agile thinking and practices within schools and colleges.

This is a well known tale, but what really happened on that famous night, when the community that was to become so influential was born?

Legend has it that self-confessed geek and agile fanatic, Andy Bleach, hogged the microphone, refusing to allow anyone else to talk – but was that true?

What was the real story behind the creation of the now famous Pressure Parsnip Theory of Education that some claim was first revealed at this meeting?

What was said that was so profound it spurred the creation of a community and a movement that slowly but steadily spread the progressive mind-set into the educational establishments of the UK and the world?

Well we here at The Daily Scrum are now able to reveal, exclusively, exactly what took place. After many months of dedicated investigation, we have uncovered the long-lost video recording of the entire event.

The session began with a short introduction from Andy about why he decided to start the community, followed by an exercise that allowed the members of the group to get to know one another a little.

Then, it is clear that Andy did indeed hog the microphone for half an hour, in which he revealed, in detail, his view of education and how he believed agile thinking could make a big difference to the education of young people.

Here are the key points from his talk:

Education

Observations on the current education system
  • the roots of the education system lie in the time of the industrial revolution
  • the world is a radically different place now and yet education remains unchanged
  • are the current methods the most effective ways of preparing our young people for the modern world? For example:
    • formal classroom layout supporting teacher led learning
    • knowledge transfer from expert to pupil
    • subject based; segregated subjects
    • school years organised by ‘Manufactured Date’ (ref: Sir Ken Robinson)
    • intelligence measured solely by academic success
    • remedial action to ‘repair’ children who are ‘broken academically’
    • focus on exams – major source of stress
    • when was the last time you used something you learned to pass an exam?
    • when did you last have to take an exam?
  • the UK, and other countries have a fear of failure
  • but failure is good – it is how we learn and become better people; modern, successful, agile businesses recognise this
  • the current system generates pressure on young people, sometimes with fatal consequences
  • the system creates two types of person – academically competent and ‘the rest’
  • are either group prepared effectively for functioning in the modern world?
  • the problem is with the system rather than the teachers
  • but that should not stop us all from questioning every aspect of education to see if there is a better way

Agile

The origins of the Agile 'movement'
  • in the 1970s and beyond, most software products were built using the waterfall method – this has many inherent weaknesses including:
    • identification of bugs and design issues are primarily identified during the test phase requiring rewind of the process
    • value is only delivered at the end of the project – often months or years after the start
    • there are many unknowns that make planning inherently inaccurate and unreliable
    • the approach generates numerous pressure points, great stress and often results in overrun, overspend or even cancellation
  • something had to be done – in 2001, 17 IT professionals gathered to create an agile manifesto
  • from many inputs and ideas, Scrum has emerged as the dominant framework
  • much of agile thinking is based on empiricism – the theory that knowledge comes only from sensory experience
  • frameworks such as Scrum replace the waterfall approach with a combination of evolutionary delivery and continuous improvement using small, self-organising, multi-disciplined teams to deliver increments of useable product in short 1-4 week ‘Sprint’ cycles

Progressive Mind-set

A selection of progressive thinking frameworks, techniques and concepts
  • there are many ‘progressive’ techniques and approaches that could have far reaching benefits in education, including:
    • Scrum/eduScrum
    • Kanban
    • Lean
    • Visual Thinking
    • Design Thinking
    • Liberating Structures
  • we also need to consider nurturing of the appropriate mind-set and values to ensure success
  • these are not easy, tick-box solutions – progress will be challenging

Opportunities

A vision of what we might achieve through agile, progressive thinking in education
  • if introduction of agile, progressive thinking is successful, the benefits are far reaching – young people will potentially become:
    • engaged and motivated to learn
    • natural collaborators
    • less stressed
    • able to reach their full potential
    • courageous enough to give and receive feedback
    • in possession of a healthy attitude to failure
    • comfortable with change
    • creative thinkers
    • happy
  • teachers will be able to focus on supporting their pupils to unlock their full potential, through mentoring, coaching, facilitating
  • families will be less stressed and happier
  • schools will have the flexibility and mind-set to fail fast – becoming better equipped to serve their students, businesses and their local communities in a rapidly changing world
  • businesses will be served by a pool of young people who have the skills and confidence to contribute effectively from the start, already comfortable with agile approaches

An International Challenge – Already Underway

A sample of the spread of agile thinking in education around the world
  • Scrum is a generic framework which has been applied in many situations other than software development
  • eduScrum is an education friendly version of Scrum developed in the Netherlands by Science Teacher, Willy Wijnands
  • interest in eduScrum is exploding, having reached 30 countries to date, including China, India and the USA
  • almost 1000 teachers have been trained to use eduScrum in Russia
  • another Agile approach has been introduced into 200 schools in Australia
  • there are one or two agile based initiatives in the UK

Then Andy finished with the now famous statement that summarises the ethos of the community so well:

I believe:
  • we need to update our education system to make it suitable for the modern world
  • we should explore the potential of embracing an agile or progressive mind-set within education
  • we don’t need to wait for a directive from above
  • we can take small steps ourselves… and see what happens…

The final part if the session gave attendees a brief chance to discuss what they thought the community could achieve over the coming months. The discussions were promising and it was agreed that the debate would continue in subsequent meetings, the first of which was held on Monday 17th August 2020 (reference: https://www.meetup.com/agile-in-education-uk/events/271923929)

If you wish to re-live the experience in its entirety – and discover the origins of the Pressure Parsnip Theory of Education – the video recording of the entire event can be viewed here:
https://tinyurl.com/agileined001-recording

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 3 – Mind-set and Values

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 3 – Mind-set and Values

In the final part of my introduction to Scrum, I look at the mind-set and values that are central to making Scrum work.

‘What?’ not ‘How?’

The Scrum Guide specifies the necessary elements of the framework but does not dictate how they should be implemented.  This is left up to the Scrum Team to decide for themselves and the implementation often emerges and evolves through the cycles of continuous improvement.

For example, the Scrum Guide talks about the PO role and his or her responsibility for maintaining the Product Backlog. The guide does not, however, stipulate what method or criteria the PO should use to generate and order the backlog or how and where the list should be represented and stored. (Should you use an online system or paper? It doesn’t matter.) This allows for flexibility so that local and organisational context can be taken into account in the implementation.

Mind-set

This flexibility is one of the reasons that makes Scrum so powerful but the simplicity and lack of specific implementation directives makes it challenging to master and is perhaps one reason why there are many examples of Scrum implementations failing.

The ingredient that is so often missed is one of mind-set. It is not sufficient to implement Scrum as a series of tick-box exercises. It takes time and perseverance for a team and an organisation to discover how best to implement Scrum in their specific circumstances.

Values

The Guide addresses this mind-set through 5 values that it identifies as critical to its success. Promoting, encouraging and embeding these within a team can help to ensure the appropriate mind-set is adopted.

Commitment – each team member personally commits to achieving the goals of each sprint

Courage – each team member has the courage to do what is needed and to tackle tough problems

Focus – everyone in the team focuses on the work and goals of the sprint

Openness – everyone agrees to by open about their work and any challenges that they face

Respect – the team members respect one another as “capable, independent people”

To underline their significance, it is worth quoting directly from the guide:

“When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum events, roles and artifacts.”
https://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#values

In many ways, the 5 values are the most important elements of Scrum. Without them, the framework is unlikely to succeed. With them, it can become a powerful force that has the potential to revolutionise the way goals and desired outcomes are achieved.

References:

A look at agile values: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/values-agiles-toughest-challenge-andy-bleach/
scrum.org: https://www.scrum.org/
Scrum Guide: https://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 2 – Core Elements

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 2 – Core Elements

In this second post of three looking at the basics of Scrum, I introduce the core elements as described in the official Scrum Guide.

The Scrum Guide: The Key Elements of Scrum

The Scrum framework is described fully and eloquently in a relatively short document called the Scrum Guide. It outlines a number of elements:

3 Pillars:

  • Transparency – information is shared openly using a common language
  • Inspection – the scrum team frequently inspect their progress to identify areas for improvement
  • Adaptation – the process is routinely adjusted to optimise performance

3 Roles:

  • Product Owner – responsible for maximizing the value of the product via the product backlog artefact (see below)
  • Scrum Master – promotes and supports Scrum, helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values
  • Development Team – the team of professionals who do the work of delivering the ‘potentially releasable product increment’

5 Events:

  • The Sprint – a time box of 1 month or less during which a useable, ‘potentially releasable product increment’ is created
  • Sprint Planning – a time boxed session for the whole sprint team to agree on what will be delivered during the sprint
  • Daily Scrum – a time-boxed event for the development team, held at the same time every day, in which they update one another on the status of the sprint
  • Sprint Review – a review by the Scrum Team and other stakeholders of what has been done during the sprint; the Product Backlog (see below) is then amended where appropriate
  • Sprint Retrospective – an opportunity for the scrum team to inspect itself and plan improvements to the next sprint

3 Artifacts:

  • Product Backlog – an ordered list and single source of everything that is known to be needed in the product. Maintained entirely by the Product Owner
  • Sprint Backlog – subset of product backlog items selected for the sprint
  • Increment – the value delivered from all previous sprints plus the product backlog items completed during the current sprint

All of these need to be present if Scrum is to be implemented correctly (without all of these, it is technically not Scrum).  But Scrum is an intriguing, multi-faceted beast. It is designed quite intentionally as a light-weight framework which is in essence very simple to understand, however, the guide states clearly that it “…is not a process, technique, or definitive method.”

In my next post I look at the extra ingredients that are necessary to make Scrum work effectively.

References:

The Scrum Guide: https://www.scrumguides.org/

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 1 – The Origins of Scrum

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 1 – The Origins of Scrum

In this first post of three looking at the basics of Scrum, I introduce the Scrum Framework and where it came from.

Origins

Scrum, according to the official guide, is “…a framework for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex products.”

It was created specifically for software development teams as an alternative to the more traditional waterfall development methodology but it is increasingly being used within the wider business world and beyond – including in education.

Scrum was developed by Jeff Sutherland and formalised, with Ken Schwaber, in 1995.  It was built upon a wide range of ideas and influences, not least of all on a paper written in 1986 by two Japanese academics, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, while they were Visiting Professors at Harvard Business School. They inspired the choice of name for the framework when they likened recent trends in development practices in Japan and the US to the game of rugby and the scrum formation in particular.

Empiricism

The core philosophy behind Scrum is the theory of empiricism – that is, making decisions based upon what is known.  To explain this a little further, let’s take a look at one of the key issues with the old way of doing things.

At the start of a large and complex project there are many unknowns, for example:

  • What is the real-world capacity of the teams involved in delivering the product?
  • How will that vary over time as team members get used to working with one another?
  • How will it be impacted when individuals join and leave?
  • What will be the impact of unforeseen technical challenges, which inevitably occur in any complex project?
  • How will delays and issues in one area of the project impact other areas?
  • How well does the customer understand what they need from the product during the initial planning stage?
  • In what ways will the world and consequently the customer’s requirements change during the life of the project?
  • What overheads are required to manage the many different parts of the project?
  • What is the most efficient way to communicate between the different areas of the project?

In the old-fashioned waterfall approach, the project planners either ignore the potential issues or they attempt to estimate their impact. Because every project is different, these estimations are effectively guesses, leading to a plan that fails to predict anything useful. Consequently, projects, if they are delivered at all, are frequently delivered late and over budget – often failing to provide anywhere near the value that was promised at the start.

Rather than trying to understand the entire mountain up-front, Scrum minimises the impact of the unknowns by taking on the challenge in small chunks (called ‘sprints’ – lasting between 1 and 4 weeks). After every sprint, the team, the customer and other stakeholders learn something new about the product, the environment and the performance of the team, allowing for corrective adjustments to be made. This leads to a cycle of continuous improvement.

Realisation of Value

Another big advantage with Scrum is that it’s capable of delivering a working, useable product to the customer almost immediately or soon after the start, whereas waterfall projects typically only deliver something at the end, which can be many months – even years after the project begins. During these long projects, investment becomes tied up and only turned into value for the business when everything has been completed. Scrum allows the business and its customers to realise the value of their investments much sooner.

Also, if a ‘wrong turn’ is taken during a Scrum sprint, the impact is small (typically no bigger than the sprint size) and the resolution quick to apply. In waterfall, errors can go unnoticed for long periods of time and their correction can have significant negative impact on the plan and the budget.  

In the next blog I look at the main elements of the framework as defined in The Scrum Guide.

References:

Origins: https://www.scruminc.com/origins-of-scrum/
scrum.org: https://www.scrum.org/
Comparison to Rugby: https://medium.com/serious-scrum/scrum-s-connection-to-rugby-597405fed5ec
Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka’s Harvard article: https://hbr.org/1986/01/the-new-new-product-development-game