The Agile For Agilists Podcast

What the heck is going on at Capitol One? w/Former Capital One Agilist, Amanda Rae Arseneau

February 7, 2023
The album cover for season 1 episode 11 of the Agile for Agilists Podcast featuring a picture of guest speaker Amanda Rae Arseneau, former Capital One Agile Coach
Agile For Agilists
What the heck is going on at Capitol One? w/Former Capital One Agilist, Amanda Rae Arseneau
The agile community and industry are reeling from the news that Capitol One, has decided to eliminate their agile coaching teams. It’s definitely heartbreaking news but it doesn’t take a lot of inspection to realize that it’s less about agile being “bad” and more about a company that needed a way to show some short-term gains. In this episode, we’re speaking with Amanda Rae Arseneau who was a former Agilist at Capital One. She shares some really valuable insights on the current state of agile and what we should do in today’s upturned technology market. The game is far from over and there are still plenty of opportunities left on the table so don’t quit just yet! Where do you go from here? Join us and find out!


S01-E11 – Amanda, Brad, & Drew

Drew Podwal: [00:00:00] Right, so welcome to another episode of the Agile for Agile List podcast. My name is Drew Podwal. I’m here today, as always, with my co-host, Brad Nelson. Say hello, Brad

Brad Nelson: Hello, Brad. Hello everyone else.

Drew Podwal: Today is gonna be a great episode. We are here with Amanda Arsenal, who is a wonderful agile coach that I met a few months back now at this point, through Adam Weissbart’s Agile Mastery Working Group.

, it’s just a wonderful group. I brought it up many times. , Amanda is, just a wonderful coach. Wealth of experience has been in the software game for 10 years now. You said

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Officially 10

Drew Podwal: officially

Amanda Rae Arseneau: don’t count the early years of the internet,

Drew Podwal: Do you want to tell us a little bit about what the, these past 10 years have been like for you? Give us the highlights.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Yeah, I mean, I, I started out as a software developer as so many, so many of us do. , was lucky enough to be in a shop that, , really was small and, and didn’t have any type of processes. [00:01:00] Had a lovely engineering, lead join who said, Hey, , I think you should really considered checking out this, this thing called Scrum.

Got super excited, grabbed a whole bunch of books, went home over the Christmas holidays and happily returned first thing, January, whatever, to, to say, this is what we’re doing. Everyone’s stop. Let’s change, which should get Brad happy. it was, uh, it’s very interesting. , I maintained my both coding and Scrum Mastery Worlds, and then walked into managing as well as being a scrum master.

A huge anti pattern, but hey, I maintained it worked. , . I then went off to do a little bit of transformations, , a little bit deep dive on management, and then a real deep dive on coaching, where I learned a little bit more about other agile practices. and then of course I went back to coding cuz who doesn’t, took a little break over the pandemic and, , was lucky enough to join a company in last year.

It was just over a year ago now that, already had a bit of a practice established. So I inherited an [00:02:00] amazing group of coaches myself and, I’m working with that organization to really figure out what agile means to them and, from, , their core product team and engineering design, , hopefully soon enough all the way through to other departments as well.

So , it’s been a crazy wild ride of, just a little shy of a decade or over a decade now.

Drew Podwal: So, , tell me, what’s a recent aha moment you’ve had from, your agile journey? maybe a concept that, you’ve come across that you’re now looking at it a completely different way, or, , a tool that you’ve been using or, a principle or philosophy or something like.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I mean, weirdly, I feel like I’m getting less and less dogmatic, which I never considered myself to be. If anything, I think my aha moment was realizing how dogmatic I was in the beginning, and even through those first five, six years, the understanding of agile in the real world versus Twitter is drastically different.

and it’s really easy [00:03:00] to get lost in your little echo chamber, finding ways to get out of it, and even sometimes that echo chamber is within the company you’re in or within the community you’re in, , constantly finding ways to get out of it and pull yourself from listening to your story too much. I think that for me has been sort of that refocus for 2023. , it’s great to be objective, but I also wanna be continually questioning myself and my values and even the Scrum values, the scrum guide, and every other thing we throw at people and say, this is agile, yeah, I’m, it’s huge. It’s vague.

I’m definitely sitting with it, but that’s, that’s been sort of my like ding, for this.

Drew Podwal: I feel like that’s one of the things that the pandemic really, accelerated or. , brought to the surface. right, The community. There’s just been a wealth of great communities. And so one, one of the things that we talked about in a previous episode, and that I think we should, talk about even. In greater depth in a future episode [00:04:00] is the idea of finding your internal community of practice within your company and finding your external communities of practice elsewhere as, as support, like agile mastery is one of my communities of practice, , that I like to, uh, , spend time in and you know, I’m really realizing recently, like our scrum for me, Reddit’s, scrum community, I recently became a moderator of that and I kind of wish I had. And because now I’m seeing all the cracks and crevices and, , being the, the moderator that people escalate all of, the infighting and like the, that’s not scrum.

That’s not scrum, , arguments are coming to the surface and it’s kind of ruined that community for me. But, yeah, community is so important. I think that’s a good segue because what we want to talk about today is along those lines, like our greater global agile community.

And you know, one of the big events that happened last week was that, , capital One had announced that, they were laying off the entirety of all of their [00:05:00] agileists, all their coaches and their Scrum masters and their company, and that they were gonna shift to a model where they were going to, have their developers behave like Scrum Masters.

And, I’m torn about that as an idea because, on one hand, mature scrum teams should, they don’t need a scrum master, right? I’ve really yet to find that mature scrum team that doesn’t need a scrum master, but that’s the name of the game. That’s the goal that , we’re driving towards is to, facilitate the development of enough agile capabilities, and mindset that, that they can exist without us now.

I don’t think that what Capital One is saying and what they really mean are in alignment. So,

Brad Nelson: Hmm.

Drew Podwal: um, what are your guys’ thoughts about what’s happening right now?

Brad Nelson: so this is a topic that is pretty interesting, that comes up a lot. I feel like in client calls in the industry, managers always want to know, can I get away from [00:06:00] having a scrum master? Or how many teams can a scrum master have? And they don’t really see the value in the role as it is. And it’s even more complicated because when we look at big tech, they do not have Scrum masters.

And they don’t have PMs at a team level either. Like it’s really the, the tech leads and the product managers that really handle the brunt of what we would typically have a scrum master do. I think every situation is different though. And, and that’s something actually was talking with the other coach earlier today where we’re talking about how different companies are structured different ways.

I was just reading an article on, valves flat structure and there’s like no Boss at Valve and it’s like, that may work for some companies, but it’s like, lightning in a bottle. I’ve had it where at companies I have this amazing thing and it slowly degrades and falls apart, can only be sustained for, it seems like a small part of time. I, I think the problem is most of these companies that are asking these questions, do I need a scrum master? Aren’t doing it from a point of the [00:07:00] scrum master being like, Hey, this team is really mature. I’m not even spending any of my time with it anymore. , I’m looking out to the organization. so I, I question that.

Drew Podwal: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great point. I think that the reason why they’re like, I, I, I’m not there. Every company is different. I have no idea what’s really going on at Capital One, but my hypothesis is, that they’ve realized that the Scrum Master’s job is to, you know, surface and gather all the impediments, and nobody wants to hear about the impediments.

And so let’s get rid of the person who is telling us what we’re doing wrong, so what about you, Amanda? What are your thoughts?

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I mean, I find it funny. I weirdly, I, when I’ve been talking with people lately, the question is the inverse. They’re like, if I get a, if I get a scrum master, I for clarity, I don’t call that role Scrum masters anymore for various reasons. I, call my team, uh, either Scrum team coaches or agile team coaches.

But aside, uh, they’re always like, do I get a person who will be embedded and like be on my team? And, uh, the answer’s always, of course. I mean, I’ll try, [00:08:00] um, give me a budget, but, uh, I, I’ve never had that before. Uh, usually it is like, how long am I stuck with this person? or you know, if you’re bringing, if you’re gonna start our agile here, like how many people do I have to hire in for how long?

And like, how is that? How many teams, how many teams can be three, four, or five? That, that usually you get that in the beginning of they don’t know what agile is yet they don’t understand that the impact they can have, they’re seeing or hearing it from very far away. but they certainly haven’t experienced it because if they had, they wouldn’t question it.

And, still in this day of how many 20 plus years of agility, , not many people have experienced high performing teams. So to, to ever say, oh, well we’re gonna, we’re gonna take it in and we’re gonna bring it back to the end. Like, sure. I mean, good luck. I, I really hope that your culture has shifted enough in the past decade [00:09:00] of practicing agile.

I know Capital One has done multiple transformations. It used to be a joke that if you’re in the agile world and you hadn’t worked at Capital One, you know you hadn’t lived, um, or you just entered and you will next year. ,

Drew Podwal: heard that from a couple of people over the past, like couple of weeks.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: full caveat, I have worked at Capital One, if don’t bother looking at my LinkedIn

Drew Podwal: I had no idea. Wow.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Yeah. In

Drew Podwal: probably would’ve chosen another subject, but, um,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: No.

Drew Podwal: d direct hire or contract.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: No, no. Well, , full-time. We admittedly, so I worked in Canada. There’s a lovely Capital One office up here. , I did visit the States once, but at the time that I was with them, we were a little, we were a little island on our own. And, and most of our teams didn’t actually connect with the US teams. So,

Drew Podwal: So I, I want you to f you know, grab one of your dog toys if, if you have one handy. And, and use it as your and on cord. If we talk about anything on this call that makes you too [00:10:00] uncomfortable, then,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: clearly we don’t know each other well enough. It’s not gonna happen.

Drew Podwal: That’s amazing. Well, that, I think that makes the subject even better then. So. Okay. You know, the culture then inside and, and, uh, um, where do you like, see, where do you see this actually going? Like what do you see the relationship between IT and business units evolving into in the next like year, let’s say?

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I mean, to, to be completely fair, it’s, it’s been long enough that I, I wouldn’t even say I know the culture. Um, and I say that specifically because I, I do know that there is enough rotation within their upper management, and in particular, capital One Canada is quite quite small, like very small comparatively.

So the, the lines wouldn’t really make sense. I do know for a fact , that it did also include Canada. So the cuts happened across, , but[00:11:00] it already is always a stretch. We all know, like getting engineering and business on the same page, there’s meant to be tension there. sure it’s meant to be collaborative, but there, that’s a, a role that Scrum masters, we don’t sing enough.

Like our job is facilitation half the time, three quarters of the time, it’s usually between the functions that don’t wanna talk or aren’t listening. I don’t know a lot of engineering teams that would have more than one person who is willing to go and be like, all right, I’m gonna go with an inquisition of mind and like, lead with open and like do all the work that has to happen before, like a story mapping or I guess I just wouldn’t do story.

Like, I just, it’s so much.

Drew Podwal: Well, you know, the thing that stands out to me is that, you’re right, like the role of a scrum master is a joiner. they bring together those, you know, in early, early phase understanding of agile culture, in [00:12:00] Scrum, most of the companies I’ve ever worked for, it was always an us in them mentality.

There was the people on the business units and then there was it and the job of the scrum master. Coerce them to come together. But the other thing is they speak a different language natively, right? Engineers have a very specific way of talking about things, and business stakeholders have a very specific way of talking about things.

The other thing that stands out is it organizations are typically funded as cost centers and business units are funded as profit centers. And so it’s an uneven kind of playing field from a standpoint of authority at that point as well. And, the scrum master is a great lubricant that helps the people on the left learn how to care and understand.

what the people on the right are saying and vice versa, right? Helping engineers learn how to speak in a way that, business stakeholders can understand. And bring those [00:13:00] two groups together, either at the program level or, at the Scrum team level. My hypothesis is that within the next like year, without agile coaches and Scrum masters in the center, it’s gonna devolve back to that place unless they truly, truly, truly are bringing in some people to coach IT leadership on, how to do a better job of like lean systems thinking and, the theories of team dynamics and, all of that stuff, right?

Then we’re just kind of letting them go back to their own ways and pretending that we’re more profitable because we slashed, I, I think it was 1100, or was it 11,000? I can’t remember if it was, I think it was but Yeah.

Brad Nelson: remember too many thousands right now.

Drew Podwal: That’s a lot of chunk of change to show is sudden profitability.

 And , that’s what I think really what was going on behind the scenes was with everything that’s going on right now with, the [00:14:00] economy and the tech sector, capital One’s leadership, , the, at the steering committee and executive level, we’re trying to figure out how we can like show profitability or some semblance of profitability and somebody said, well, you know, scrum Masters, we really need them.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I mean, we know we’re the first to go, right? Like that’s. so sorry if I’m breaking any hearts out there, but if you are not, if you are in this job thinking you’re gonna be in a company for the rest of your life, like get ready. It’s, it’s not, we are, we are the first. They’re gonna cut always when we historically have been.

Drew Podwal: I always say that you only get, so many, uh, days, months, weeks, , maybe you’re lucky. You get a year, maybe you’re lucky. You make it past a year mark in that role. I find that Scrum Masters and coaches have to take the risk of finding the right balance of, providing value and being coaches to identify and help to facilitate the resolution of impediments [00:15:00] and. Applying a little bit of pressure to get people to pay attention to those things. And I feel like, every time you know, you go to task on that kind of thing, you’re, rolling the dice. Like, is this the time where I’m gonna bring up the impediment that is so taboo that nobody wants to deal with that?

You know, I’m gonna start to be looked at unfavorably and, a big part of my agile journey in the past two years is, is to try to figure out how to stay in that sweet spot of, of always providing value. But then if you stay in that sweet spot, then you’re not really providing value because you’re not challenging people enough to develop those agile capabilities.

And, the Scrum masters who are. They just become project managers. Again. They’ve got the title of scrum master, but you know, they don’t have the gumption or , the chutzpah, you know, um, to be able to, to, to stand up and say, no, no, no, no, I’m, I’m still a scrum master.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Well, I, okay. Sidebar though, I would argue a lot of Scrum [00:16:00] masters, particularly those that have been introduced and fire Flame me all you want, right? Uh, but those that have been introduced via safe. They don’t see their job much beyond being a project manager or, um, they’re in a culture that doesn’t treat them anything beyond a project manager.

So, if that was the case, and again, I did not, we, I did not work near enough to know, uh, but if that was the case, then yeah, I would’ve fired them too, right? Like there is no, cuz you’re right, there is no value or next to no value aside from having someone oversee delivery and making sure it was happening.

Like, great. Okay. Um, why do we need that?

Drew Podwal: We talked about this a little bit in our, our certifications episode. I forget what number it is offhand. It’s maybe seven. I’m gonna go with seven. We’ll look later and you guys will buy me a beer if, if I’m right. But, , cuz I declared that, but we talked about like the idea of the safe s s m certification.

[00:17:00] Right. And I like what you said, I think there’s a lot of truth to that, that many safe scrum masters behave like project managers. , but I don’t think that that’s carlan the, the rule of thumb. Right. I think that one, the safe scrum master certification, you know, I’ve taught it, it’s a great certification if you’re in an environment where there’s really strong agile coaching leadership that’s taking an investment in the growth of a scrum master because it doesn’t spend enough time remaining in Scrum.

It doesn’t spend enough time teaching you to just be a scrum master and then teaching you how to be a safe scrum master. I’ve seen that with just lots of scrum masters. Like scrum master, like to me, Brad and I were talking about, my perspective was the P S M,

because you don’t have to sit in the classroom because there’s nobody there, of crafting and observing the way that you’re understanding the agile values and principles, that it’s easy for somebody to,[00:18:00] know, study the scrum guide and all the material that’s out there for the PSM and pass the psm, but still interpret it through the lens of a project manager.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: For sure and to clarify. I’m not actually saying it is at any fault of the person. In most instances, it, and this is why it’s not even specific to safe, it’s the culture. Right? To your point, if there is no one there to actually guide and say, Hey, actually it’s more than this, it’s so easy to just fall into that trap of, well, this is what I keep getting asked about, so this is what I’m gonna deliver.

And you even forget that , the whole point of inspect and adapt also applies to you and your job. It’s that we just kind of keep shortening what Agile means to, you know, US justs delivery or , it’s just go faster. Everyone keeps saying the word fast, like as if we’re back in the nineties [00:19:00] and.

No, like I thought, I thought we pivoted to outcomes and value, or, I don’t know where we are now. But again, if, if you’re in that world, yeah, you probably, you probably don’t have a lot of space to be like, wait, th there are like system challenges here that need to be raised and as, where are the ceilings in places like that?

The ceilings are so low. Those, those scrum masters don’t get even a chance to nearly explore what coaching could do to an organization. Um, west Capital One, one of those places. I mean, maybe.

Drew Podwal: I like that you call your Scrum masters team coaches, I like, I do like that? Because what I always say to Scrum Masters, especially Scrum Masters and are like Drew, How do I become an agile coach? I’m like, you are an agile coach. You’re just an agile coach for, a smaller group of people known as a scrum team.

And I’m an agile coach that focuses on a larger group of people, and, you’re an agile coach, you know, so I love that, that you do that.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: [00:20:00] It’s where you practice.

Brad Nelson: Yeah. Uh, my company call ’em Aus. I, I like the call out of Coach as well. We, , change Theus just because there’s more to it than Scrum. and sometimes they’re not even using Scrum at all. And so then it, it seems kind of like an empty gesture and that’s what we don’t want. We don’t want these empty gestures.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: To be clear, the, and they’ll get me for this, uh, the Scrum team coaches that, that our scrum team coaches are, are with Scrum teams. Um, it, the expectation is if you’re not doing Scrum, you’re likely, uh, an Agile team coach. Um, and have some knowledge base under that. Uh, but al funny enough, uh, I did start calling them Agileists, um, because people call us Scrum, we’re the Scrum team, and I’m like, we’re not the, we’re not the Scrum team.

Drew Podwal: The word agileists. We’re the Agile for Agileists podcast every time. I, I, well, one, it’s, it’s hard for me to say I’ve got, I, the amount of editing that we do on my S’s, um, is, is phenomenal. Um, but agile [00:21:00] for Agileists. Um, and then when I type it right, like no dictionary really recognizes that as a word.

Brad Nelson: It will be a word. Just

Drew Podwal: it will be a word.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Yeah.

Drew Podwal: Um, sidebar. I invented a word once. I’m gonna derail this conversation for a second cuz I, I’m so proud of this. Um, there was a show, um, not necessarily the news. Do you guys remember?

Brad Nelson: No.

Drew Podwal: H B O, late eighties, early nineties. It was like a, , like a daily show type thing. , Kevin Neen was on it, John Levitz was on it as well, but there was a segment called Snz. And SNS are like, they’re pork man. Two words, right? Where you, you take two words and you put ’em together, and now you’ve got a new word.

 So I think it was just after I got of the Navy, I invented the word longevity. your longevity is the amount of time you can go without doing laundry, um, between doing lo loads of laundry. And so, you know, in your twenties you have a really high longevity. You’re willing to, wear t-shirts more often than not.

and uh, [00:22:00] then as you get older and more mature and you have, more sense of style. You wash your clothes more frequently and you have a lower longevity. You guys will use this word but we’re totally off topic. So let’s talk about the value of a scrum master and a coach to an organization.

Brad Nelson: Yeah. so I do wanna touch on too, I. You know, when we look at these organizations, it, it is about value. They’re still looking at,, Agile, not as to most of us now as common sense. They look at it as overhead and they’re like, well, if I didn’t have this impediment or this barrier here, I could operate faster, better, cheaper, whatever that is. But we have, 20 plus years of research to show that’s not the case.

Drew Podwal: Yeah, we are an essential part of it. We’re the vitamins, right? We’re the vitamins that enrich the overall system, and help keep things moving correctly. And so maybe

Brad Nelson: [00:23:00] Yeah.

Drew Podwal: may, , I’m not even gonna go there. , maybe not a vitamin

Brad Nelson: Uh, but I, I think this is something that we, we’ve noticed in my organization a lot is that part of the problem is we treat agile, like it’s a team level thing, commodity. And, and that’s where the struggle is. You know, if you don’t want scrum masters, you don’t want that overhead. If you wanna mature enough to the point where you don’t need them, you have to invest in maturing your leadership.

You have to change the way your organization thinks and operates, and that is the only way you get away from it. And so we need to stop imposing Agile on teams , and start, you know, if we’re the leader and we know address the answer, we have to take it on ourselves.

Drew Podwal: But it’s so hard to do that, right? Because , like I, what I said about profit centers and cost centers, now we’re imposing a cultural shift, ? A systematic shift on the people who were funded as the profit center, , and there’s this [00:24:00] mindset of, like, I was talking to, , a potential. yesterday, they’re small business. they were looking for us to develop an end-to-end pipeline for their crm and, then overall operational, work management , and things like that. And, the leader of the company is , this older sales guy like amazing maverick sales guy, has an amazing way of just, engaging with, customers and converting them to, to sales.

, but he shoots from the hip. And so I asked the, uh, the person on the call with me, Do you see if we build this perfect pipeline, right, that they will become that leader that you’re gonna need them to become, who now takes that innate shoot from the hip sales way of working, but then does it by pulling the levers of the platform because they already have Salesforce right now.

And I, I said to him, you know, I’d love to take your money and give you a new [00:25:00] c r m and a new and end solution, but. Why is it that us building something new for you is gonna cause everybody to change it the way that they’re working? And, and I think that that’s what we’re talking about here, right? Is that like we need business stakeholders and executives and, and leadership to still shoot from the hip in the way that they do in producing films or, creating portfolios or whatever the business that company is.

You still shoot from the hip, ? All we’re asking you to do though, is when you’re communicating, your strategy for, for shooting, do it in the form of an O K R that can be converted into an initiative that can be attached to an epic, that can be attached to a feature, that can be attached to a story, at all levels shoot from the hip in a way that you could write a initiative in an epic, , and that you could do some lean budgeting. but nobody wants to hear that

Brad Nelson: I don’t know if I agree with that. I think there’s a time and place for innovation, , for sure.[00:26:00] , but I do think that the problem is that we look at it as a cost center. However, like, let’s use the example of Capital One again. If they did not have technology, they would not have a product like part of their product.

Part of the feature set of their product is the technology. , I don’t know if any of our listeners are old enough or ever had a system go down where you have to fill out by paper, the carbon copy, slip your credit card information and then like there’s that metal thing. Yeah. Yeah. If you had to do that every single time you wanted to use a Capital One card because they didn’t take an electronic transaction, you would never use it. Right? Or, or how would you sign up if you had to sign up by, you know, hands still on a brochure and then mail it in to wait to see if you were potentially approved before you could use it? Most people don’t buy a credit card cuz they wanna use it at some or sign up because they want to use it at some point in the future, most people sign up because they want to use it now.

Drew Podwal: But the, the backend technology in many of these companies that, you [00:27:00] know, the back office systems that support the front end systems that enable somebody to tap a card on a piece of plastic box and pay for something, ? They’re still looked at as. A project, right? Like I, I still have these discussions with people where, where I’m like, it’s a product.

And they’re like, no, it’s, it’s not a product. We don’t sell it. And I’m like, no, no. It’s, a product. It solves a specific problem. And the people that it solves that problem for just happen to be internal business units that are, balancing budgets and our, managing regions or things like that,

and, again, it gets back to profit center and cost centers, like this idea of like, no, this technology, we don’t sell it. So it’s not a product, , it’s something we have to pay for out of a cost center so that the front end technology that, does get paid for, can make the money and it’s not looked at as a value stream.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I mean, first of all, I will say Capital One’s very good at the fact that everything, it’s a product, , probably better than some product companies that I have worked for, [00:28:00] which is always strange and weird. , , but I, I mean, they are, they are still bank . They are still, , way older than 20 years old.

Of course, it’s still, it’s still cost. Uh, it’s, and we are still overhead. Um, I would argue that’s probably the same even in a startup that was, , bar to life last year. Unless you are a SaaS product, I don’t, and again, most of them aren’t, aren’t clamoring for Agiles and, and hiring Scrum masters, they’re tech leads are doing that.

, it is the larger companies that are lo they say they need to change, they want to like look at things a whole different way. They don’t wanna do the work and they don’t want it to be at their level. They want it to be at the team level and just engineering. And could you just do it? Could you just make it happen?

And can you do it in a year? Can you give me a roadmap and then can you deliver on that roadmap? And please also show me every month how you’re delivering on it. , it’s like we dropped the word common sense earlier and it’s like common sense goes completely out [00:29:00] of the window because no one wants to actually sit in the fact that we’re talking about change and change doesn’t happen fast and it doesn’t happen, but from one person and it doesn’t happen from only top or only bottom or only one specific area of a company.

 it’s like buying the the, you know, oh well I’ll get that house cuz it’s a good fixer upper and I need a project. And then realizing how much work it is and you’re like, oh, can I get rid of it?

Drew Podwal: So you’re in a unique position. Brad and I have never been developers. You’re the rare gem coach that’s been a developer before which

Amanda Rae Arseneau: not a good one. Let’s just call that out.

Drew Podwal: Well, that’s fine. But you’ve, you know, you’ve done some trips around the sun, as a developer, and so you’ve been in that world like, like I can speak about architecture at the 30,000 foot view.

I can’t talk about it. The boots on the ground level really, so

Brad Nelson: so to clarify, I have done front end development on my own, not as a part of a team like freelance for a studio. I a lot of times say I don’t [00:30:00] have a background, but I have, I can write code, I can script. but yeah, but I’ve, I’ve never worked on a team and so, uh, I like to say I’m the worst developer when it comes to doing the right thing or having the best habits.

 So I can admit that and I can relate to not wanting to do those things as a developer.

Drew Podwal: I hesitate to call myself a front end developer, but I’ve written. , XHTML and css. I’ve never delved in a JavaScript, but that’s why I don’t ever call myself a developer

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Yeah, you’re not allowed to in this day and age,

Brad Nelson: well,

Drew Podwal: but you have, so what would you say to developers , who might be in a position where there’s no longer gonna be a scrum master, , where the Scrum masters are going away at the end of the month or something like that.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I mean, I would say the same thing I say to them even when I’m with them, which is, this is not my home. It’s your home. . We’re not here for anything but you. , if there was value here, what was that value? Let’s write it down together. How do you continue having that value? Who owns that value?

Could you rotate [00:31:00] that? How does that not become a burden to you?, but most importantly, where’s your improvement backlog? , if you don’t have one, dear God, let’s get one together. , but also it’s, hmm, it’s, it’s such an empower. It, it’s a, a beautiful chance for empowerment, but it’s also like a really, really big winding hill.

, even now, we’ll, we’ll meet devs who are like, I wanna be a i’ll, I’ll be the scrum master. Like, I, I just want, I want this change to happen now. And then, you know, you, you, you, you hand them some links to books on that they should probably read about change management and go with the flow and that sort of a thing, but, Honestly, depending where the team is, if they’re a mature team, then I would focus on improvement backlog.

If they’re not, I would actually probably go more on the technical slide and be, okay, where’s your, how are you guys gonna upskill over the next year? And kind of, instead of talking about practices or, or things that they’re not [00:32:00] quite, they are yet and they hate to touchy feely crap. Then let’s talk about what your dev skills over the next week are, or next week, sorry.

Um, where, where your, what’s your plan over the next year as a team to evolve your skills and communicate that out and, communicate to other teams and interact with other teams and what does that look like? And just get super nitty gritty with that. , I do like, I’m just thinking back to people that I know that are working at Capital One, and I do honestly wonder who, who the heck is gonna step into like, Really talk about, I guess, the pos timelines and like ensuring deliveries on track.

I think they’re probably gonna get a, a kind of big brunt of it. , but for the teams, uh, I would just, the, the smallest seed that a team could take on, I would just pray, , and then, and focus it on that improvement side. Cuz I think honestly, if it’s, it’s the easiest that you can do, it’s the one that might actually [00:33:00] stick.

It’s also the top of the year, so it’s kind of easier to get in, like New Year’s resolution,

Drew Podwal: I, I,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: changing.

Drew Podwal: I like the way you put that you know, what, what were the attributes of a scrum master, the, the scrum master that, that is here right now that you guys value and miss are gonna miss when they’re gone. , I think I would extend that also to really call out the, the value of the scrum master

Between the team and the business stakeholders. What are the things that, that scrum master did to help you guys to, to protect your space, to to further agility upstream that you know, we should be aware of so that we can at least document that it was once here.

If not, try to figure out ways of replicating it.

Brad Nelson: Yeah.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Ooh, that would be interesting if you actually like tasked, not tasked, but if anybody on the team was, was curious of actually trying to find ways of proving, that, the gap started existing and started getting wider or time [00:34:00] started getting sunk somewhere else. You know, if I was my old me, I’m sure I would create a ticket type in Atlassian and be like, go track your meetings.

Go track your business interactions. Go track your discard rate and change rate and go make a

Drew Podwal: Well, I got into an argument with somebody on Reddit and I need to stop doing that, but, um, they were talking about the idea of unplanned work as tax, and I love this approach. I thought it was amazing. I felt that unplanned work should be.

 Sized, they were like, no, unplanned work shouldn’t be sized because it’s not part of your velocity. And, we want to get true measure of velocity, but you know, I’ve created additional ticket types in Jira and, called it unplanned work. And then when you do your metrics, you could filter out the unplanned work to calculate your velocity and, and then you have a way of showing, like in the past quarter, the team has worked on these types of issue types and this is how much unplanned [00:35:00] tax has been imposed on the team. So I’m, I’m all for that kind of thing. , and then punting that upstream and saying, , if you don’t want to keep paying tax , then what are some ways that we can address this? And , , letting leadership. Figure out how to solve that, that problem. Because if it can’t be solved within the team, then it’s gotta be solved elsewhere.

Brad Nelson: Yeah, yeah, I would second that. I’m more of a no estimates kind of person, but, I do like counting the unplanned work. I do think that’s incredibly important so I give a presentation, I’m giving it in March, again, where I talk about metrics and I end up removing it because I don’t have the same level of research.

But I would say unplanned work is one of the best things you can track in any organization, any company, any team, regardless of your approach. Even

Drew Podwal: okay. I, I wanna unpack this no estimates thing, because I’d never really wrapped my head around it, but, but I know that it’s wonderful and my feeling, my hypothesis is that the no estimates movement. Overreaction to people [00:36:00] not using story points properly, right? Like not, not looking at story points from a standpoint of the level of risk within a story, the level of, of what you know and what you don’t know and the level of complexity and, and then, giving an arbitrary number that, can guide the team to see, all right, if our load in this sprint is 32 points, that means that we are taking on 32 points , of uncertainty, complexity and risk. And I feel like the no estimates movement is an overreaction to people who just look at a number and forget about the fact that it really reflects. Am I completely off target there?

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Like this is an entire other

Brad Nelson: what I’m

Amanda Rae Arseneau: A hundred percent. I can’t believe I didn’t actually put it up, but um, no, I would say no. Like I, but also like someone’s always looking at it as a number. I literally sat through a PI planning[00:37:00]

Drew Podwal: But that’s why I think it’s an

Amanda Rae Arseneau: no other version of that.

Drew Podwal: but that’s why I think it’s an overreaction, is that statement. Cuz somebody’s always looking at a number, somebody’s always going to interpret it in the wrong way, but the thing is, is that it’s useful for the people who need it the most, right?


Brad Nelson: I’m gonna second that. This should be another episode. I will say the

short answer

Drew Podwal: it. You’re gonna leave me

Brad Nelson: yeah, I’m gonna leave you hang. Short answer is that research has shown that you don’t need it, right? Like it doesn’t add enough. It does have benefits. I’m not like completely anti the process, but it’s the hardest thing for people to learn and adopt when moving to Agile.

And it’s really not necessary.

Drew Podwal: All right. I, I want to talk. Definitely we’ll have an episode about this, where this is another, conversation for Brad and I to talk, so I can wrap my head around,


Drew Podwal: this idea that like, the most recent episode that we released, Shu Ha Ri when I went into it, I thought that the idea of like shoe in contrast to what Jeff Sutherland has said about, [00:38:00] if you’re not doing X, Y, and Z, you’re not doing scrum.

Then, how can you ever shoe if you’re also trying. On Scrum. And, , it was a wonderful journey for me to come to the realization that shoe really represents , that stage where you’re at least committing to the rules. To trying the rules as they are. , I still think that there needs to be a pre shoe phase, right?

Like where you’re trying to see if the shoe fits, but, I have a feeling that , the no estimates episode is gonna be another one that’s really just, you guys talking to me so that I can learn something new. Well, maybe the audience

Amanda Rae Arseneau: mean, I, I have been known to, to be convinced of some things. I just think it’s funny cuz I really thought like Brad and I would be on opposite size of the spectrum. More and more I’m like, it might be Drew and I.

Drew Podwal: Uh oh,

Brad Nelson: Uh,

Drew Podwal: Oh no, you got me rethinking my whole paradigm.

Brad Nelson: , I’m gonna pull us back to the Scrum master topic though. I really love the advice that you had, Amanda, when it’s, how can we continue to improve, , [00:39:00] cause ultimately to me that’s what a agile , is it’s learning. How can we continue to improve and do things better? The one thing though that I, I think is a gotcha, or something that people and organizations aren’t going to know is they’re not gonna know the things that the scrum master was doing that weren’t immediately obvious to the team or the things they were doing outside the team to help them just cuz you do something.

I’m trying to think of a great example off the top of my head, , which I’m failing at that. But if you’re around someone, you see someone do something a bunch, but you’ve never done it yourself, and you may think like, oh, I’ve seen that done a hundred times. It’s no big deal. And you go to do it yourself, it’s a lot harder because you’ve never actually done it.

And there’s things that you didn’t know the person was doing because you didn’t have that insight.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: So I can give you a really good example, reflection. , like part of , the joys of being a scrum master is you’re not actually part of the team. Again, sorry if I’m breaking any hearts. I feel like I need to say that, and you’re, you’re not meant to be part of the team. You’re not meant to be so embedded that you cannot see the team [00:40:00] otherwise you are no longer able to act as a mirror. that’s why you have sports coaches and you record plays and you watch them over. I mean, hopefully y’all aren’t watching your, you know, sprint planning recordings. But for some of the teams, you probably should be, , this one plus of virtual world. Um, but like

Drew Podwal: a Twitch channel for, for Scrum masters, ? I would definitely subscribe to that. Right? Like, like,


Amanda Rae Arseneau: just start it

Drew Podwal: like being able to look over the shoulder of like world famous Scrum masters and watch them do a retrospective or something like that. And, ,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Oh my God. Yeah. Lyssa Atkins all day. I’m just, I’m just like, what?

Drew Podwal: Yeah.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: but yeah, like, retros are always such a sticking point for teams. They’re so hard, they’re hard for scrum masters like I used to put, and still to this day, we’ll put at least one hour if I’m in a rush. Sometimes I’ll spend a whole week figuring out how to like craft a good plan to get a team to sort of be a little bit more aware of what’s happening or what I might be [00:41:00] perceiving.

, let’s not kid ourselves. No one’s gonna go. No one is doing that. Um, maybe some scrum masters aren’t. PS maybe you should. That’s out the window. Right. Those good. I’m seeing this, this is a little bit weird. Who is going to have the time to step back and do.

Drew Podwal: I, like you brought up reflection. It’s a skill that you don’t learn. , in the CSM or the psm. It’s something that, requires a higher level of passion for understanding what it means to be a coach, like I’ve spent thousands of hours studying in, classrooms and, reading books , and watching webinars, learning the higher skills of how do I adjust my language, ?

And what are the different patterns , of language that I can use , to better influence people to be introspective so that they can inspect and adapt, or, the patterns of language that help bring people together and form a, a tighter bond as a team. And, , , these are things that [00:42:00] go out the door when you lose a scrum master and try to replace it with a project manager or a developer who’s more focused on delivery and, of course, they’re more focused on delivery than they are in inspection and adaption the way that you say, that the Scrum master’s not really part of the team.

What I always say is that as a scrum master, you could never stand under the scrum with everybody else, and that you could never be the person that is holding the rope, that’s supporting the weight of the Scrum above the team as they do their work. Because , if your hands are. Busy holding that rope, or you’re standing under the scrum when it comes crashing down, you’re not gonna be able to support your team in the way that they need.

Scrum masters , and coaches are, really therapists, we look at the patterns of communication. We look at the patterns of behavior, and we come up with the strategy for how we can get person X to talk to person Y about topic, , b, so that those two people can then have a collaborative conversation and maybe get [00:43:00] person Z to join in from elsewhere in the organization. Like, It’s more like espionage, right? We’re trying to create strategic political unrest, and that’s the wrong way of saying it, but, we’re trying to, , create long-term like actions to occur by starting with the small thing.

Because if we start with the big thing, then, , we’re fired. ,

Brad Nelson: I like the therapist example better cuz it, my job isn’t to tell you what you need to do, it’s to get you to understand what you need to do.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Or at least understand why I’m telling you what to do.

Drew Podwal: Yeah. It’s a fine line to walk between, coaching and training and telling and, you know, pleading and begging and.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: And crying and frustration that, um, every night, yeah, we’re here for you.

Drew Podwal: Yeah, well look, you know, the economy sucks right now. And, uh, tech sector is crazy. I fault a lot of it for [00:44:00] Elon, Elon Musk. I think that the whole Twitter thing, like it, it didn’t create this problem, but it definitely exacerbated the problem, , by him firing off so many people in technology, I feel like it created a, chain of events where everybody else was like, we need to do the same.

 I think the problem was already there as far as the over hiring. I think the people didn’t know how to manage or lead rather a better word, lead their employees and inspire them to work remotely. And as a result, now that like the pandemic’s kind of over, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that yet, or if it really is or it isn’t, but you know, it’s the pandemic’s not as front and center.

How about, That it’s just highlighting this problem of we’ve got too many people who aren’t being efficient with their time, and it’s not any fault to theirs. It’s, you know, leadership isn’t, isn’t stimulating things in the right way anymore. And , so it’s a shame. It’s a big shame.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Even. Even the way you said that was like, and so they need Agileists.

Drew Podwal: Yeah. No. And still they [00:45:00] need agile. Like, you know, I was like thinking about this in contrast to like, I got outta the Navy right before bubble burst and so I experienced that and I had a startup shortly afterwards, and, and it sucked. Like, trying to get like investment and funding and whatnot after that, like before, like you had a great idea.

Oh yeah, let’s, let’s, you know, how much money do you need? Here’s a check. But after it was you gotta show us not just all these numbers and metrics and justification, but the barrier was so high. And, and then, , it slowly declined again.

And things settle down . And, my point is, is we’ve been here before, it’s gonna suck for a period of time. , but. What are your takeaways? Like, last licks, what would you tell people who are out there, who are looking for a job, people who are thinking about getting into Agile, people who are, , senior Agileists like ourselves, who are, trying to get a job.

Like what’s your advice to them?

Amanda Rae Arseneau: God, those are, those are three very different buckets. , a I would say please don’t come out of school in wanting to be [00:46:00] a, a scrum master or an Agile coach. , you. You won’t be as good as if you experience the business from one of those hats previously. And that hat can be project management. I am not a discriminator.

It can be a ba, it can be anything. Um, but if you wanna work in tech as an sm, go work in tech and figure out a way to make that happen, go to a bootcamp. Uh, now is, now is the time. Um, there will be jobs for you eventually. Again, like no jokes, um, or Chad, g p t will take us all over, I don’t know. But, uh, go get experience in the world.

You will be a hundred times more valuable when you do come into the agile world. And likely that could be your Ian. , for those that are senior, I mean, you’ve probably been here before or have been fired. . If you, if you have been one of us, um, you already know the ranks. Uh, and [00:47:00] you probably saw this coming cuz.

It is what it is. Uh, , to those that are shocked, , I say again, this role is not a guarantee. Uh, use your time valuably and figure out what value is to you. Have a story. Have a, have at least a goal of what you want the end of your story to be. Track your impact same way you would if you were on a team.

, make sure you have a story so when you are ready to go to your next challenge, you understand what you did, um, where you’re capable and focus on that. Because coaches, we have our strengths. We definitely also have things that we delegate to other people, um, or delegate delegates, other rules. Uh, so know it and sell it.

, it’s not about the certifications. It is much more about your own self mastery in the end and how good you are at understanding and really telling that story of. What could be what you see [00:48:00] and what you’re capable of.

Drew Podwal: I love that. I love all that. Especially, the telling of the Agile story. Sorry, I’m not talking to my microphone. The, the telling of the Agile story. , that’s really big. I always talk about that. So I, really good advice all around. Brad, what do you, what do you want to add to that?

Brad Nelson: all that is great. I, the one thing that I’ve seen recently is that we’re still hiring a ton of people. There’s still a lot of jobs out there. So while big tech , is slashing companies, not in big tech, can’t get enough people. So I would say , open yourself up to different companies. It doesn’t have to be big tech.

You might find the next thing you love, something you’re passionate about. Uh, for me though, it’s really, I mean, everyone says it. It’s networking. It’s the reality. We’re a tribal species. Networking and building your brand are the best thing you can do for the longevity of your career. Air.

Drew Podwal: Yeah. And finding a community, right? Like the agile BA community or other communities as well. ,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: twitter. Twitter’s not a community. Just putting

Drew Podwal: Neither is our scrum. [00:49:00] It’s, it’s, really hurting my heart. But, the thing that I would add to that, one you. Build your agile capabilities backlog.

Right? What are the things that, you wanna learn more about, like as you said Amanda, go seek out training in there. I think a really good one is just seek out knowledge to learn what it means to be a coach, right? Forget about what it means to be an agile coach or a scrum coach, or whatever that is.

Just spend time learning what it means. Just be a coach, right? Agnostic to any of the things that we do at work, we have been here before. It’s easy to panic. It’s easy to, start building your bunker supply and whatnot. Um, but the other thing I wanna point out is like, Brad, you said there’s a lot of jobs out there.

There are a lot of jobs I get, I get offers to interview for the wrong role , half a dozen times a day. Um, but you know, the thing that I think about in that is that like, now is actually the biggest opportunity for us as coaches, right? Because [00:50:00] there’s a ton of, like, I interviewed for a company that, um, they wanted me as a team coach, and they, weren’t gonna have any scrum masters that set off a red flag.

And I thought to myself like, well, wait a minute, I could coach that, right? Like I could coach that. But then I found out , that there was no opportunity for me to coach outside and up right above the teams. And I was, all right, I’m not doing that. But, but the thing is, that would be a great opportunity.

For me to spend time there for as many, , trips around the sun or, lunar cycles or whatever, , as possible because it’s gonna be challenging. They’re not gonna be doing things in a great way. And, it’s an opportunity for me to brush up on my skills and learn about how to influence people who aren’t maybe running great agile organizations.

And at the backend of that, I’m gonna come away with a whole bunch of new skills and capabilities in influencing others under my [00:51:00] belt. And so, yeah, we all want to be handed the unicorn team, right? We all want to be handed the unicorn Agile transformation. It’s fun. I’ve done it once. I did it once and, and it was really fun.

It helped me to see how it could and should be. It was inspiring. , but, uh,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: that like

Drew Podwal: what’s that?

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I said, what’s that like?

Drew Podwal: maybe that’s for another podcast episode,

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Yeah.

Drew Podwal: But yeah, I think, if you look at it from that regard, , start to think about what you consider to be the wrong organization to work for from an agile perspective as a great way for you to practice learning about how to be a better agile coach.

 Sure it’s not gonna be your forever home that you’re gonna retire to and get a gold watch from. , but you’re gonna get so much more value out of that. That’s what I would say.

Brad Nelson: Yeah, I would, I would just say most companies don’t, I’m doing air quotes, have an opportunity to manage up. from my experience and, and what we’ve talked about earlier is a lot of managers don’t realize they’re the problem. They need to listen to some tayee, and, and maybe, um, some Gallup, [00:52:00] some Gallup reports to see that right bosses oftentimes are the problem.

Leadership oftentimes at organizations are the reason why, uh, I will even say you overhired in the first place.

Drew Podwal: Ed Edward Deming was kicked out of the United States for saying that. Just remember that.

Brad Nelson: oh, you’re Japan’s nice this time of year.

Drew Podwal: Yeah.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: true.

Drew Podwal: right guys, this was a wonderful conversation, super insightful. I’m excited to spend some more time talking with you guys again in the future about what I can learn from you about, no estimates. , I’m on the fence, but I’m hopeful and I know that I’m gonna learn something and a new perspective on it.

So, thank you guys. I appreciate this.

Brad Nelson: Definitely. Thank you, Amanda. This went very fast. Might have been the fastest hour for me, so it’s been a pleasure. Have greatly

enjoyed it.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Yeah.

Things again, you owe me a unicorn team story. One day, drew

Drew Podwal: I’ll definitely, we’ll do it. We’ll do it and uh, um, if it’s episode seven, remember you guys owe me a beer, so

Amanda Rae Arseneau: I’m, I’m checking right

Drew Podwal: Yeah, I bet you are right [00:53:00] guys. Enjoy.

Brad Nelson: Thanks everyone.

Amanda Rae Arseneau: Bye.


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