On UK Gov Camp 2020, Scrum Master training and working with agile teams.
About agile in Cornwall Council
We are starting to adopt more agile and open ways of working. We have been experimenting internally with weeknotes1 and, with a little time lag, we would like to see what publishing these might achieve.
On Saturday I attended UK Gov Camp2 along with a couple of hundred people passionate about digital3 public services. Whilst Gov Camp is a crazy idea which really should not work, previous attendees, like me, jump through all sorts of obstacles to go each year. It is a chance to connect with like minded people and receive an injection of energy and insight which keeps us going for the next year. The boost from previous years has got me off my backside to properly give back through volunteering, become an ally for under-represented groups in tech and is part of the motivating for moving from the commercial world to become a Council employee.
Two big topics captured my interest this year:
- sharing ideas, solutions and even services to address common problems faced by councils
- deepening the join up between social care and health.
These topics guided my choices about which sessions to attend. One sharing focused session was about working in the open. I asked about how to get started and several people recommended writing weeknotes1 - so here I am!
Switching to the end of the week, I spent a couple of days with colleagues going through Certified Scrum Master training. I’ve been working with agile for many years, hold some other agile qualifications and am responsible for coaching some of our teams so this may seem like a waste of time. I don’t think so, for several reasons:
- All professionals need to keep in good condition with training and practice. Scrum master training helps me stay intellectually “fit” as an Agile Coach.
- Our agile transformation relies on good team work and personal relationships which is strengthened by learning together.
- In many ways my role is about on-the-job training so it will help to see, first-hand, the class-room experience people have so I can link my on-the-job work to it.
Between Gov Camp and Scrum Master training I divided my time between two teams which are pushing the limits of agile working in the Council: fast-change and Customer Experience Platform. I haven’t sought permission from the teams to write about their work so, for now, I will focus on some personal observations and lessons.
- Play or pass? I can’t remember the last time I had a bit of independent work to do. Pretty much all of my job is about facilitating the work of other people, usually big teams. This means there are always far more potential actions you can take than is possible in the time. You need to decide when to play and when to pass. For both teams I had some big choices to make about what I took on and what I left for others. I guess I won’t know for some time how good my choices were this week.
- Getting the basics right Agile approaches rely on personal interaction rather than lots of rules and procedures but a few boundaries and written records help, especially with part time teams that do not spend all of their time together. This week involved a lot of work around budgets, roles, architecture, commercial arrangements and for both teams we have sometimes let the discussions go on a bit too long and it would have been easier to commit some things into writing, even if they are acknowledged as working assumptions or first drafts to iterate later.
- Uncertainty is hard I’ve spent most of my career in commercial organisations and always hated the uncertainty of the sales process - I could be busy for 2 years or out of work depending upon on a customer decision. I think I have become complacent with other types of uncertainty and not supportive enough when people are struggling e.g. our sprint backlog is not very clear or our product backlog doesn’t give us much clarity beyond a few sprints.