My Evolution

Using scrum as a framework for development work at ARCA has fundamentally changed the way I view team interaction and work in general. My experiences at West Point and in my service as an officer in the Army exposed me to a myriad of complex organizations and projects with many teams. The foundation of any plan in the Army is a basic understanding that “the enemy always has a vote” and that “no plan survives first contact.” This necessitates that soldiers and their leaders remain flexible and adaptive to changing an every changing situation. I was always fascinated during my service as an infantry officer in the way teams would organize to solve particular military problem (a mission). Many teams in the military are designed to be cross-functional, yet as problems would arise team members would self-organize to assign the appropriate person with the appropriate skill set to the task. This was my first exposure to a complex adaptive system in the form of a team of people and allowed me to observe a truly agile approach to work.

I was able to lead teams on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a primary staff member on a dedicated team at the battalion level. We conducted operations planning and production using the military decision-making process (MDMP), which is nearly identical to the scrum framework. As a staff-member (developer), I specialized in a particular function for the unit (logistics), yet I had to work with my peers to solve complex problems and rely on other skill sets outside of my natural function. This framework for producing mission orders for subordinate units parallels the scrum framework and uses agile principles. The constant inspection and adaption, and use of after action reviews (AARs) allowed us to produce orders quickly and improve on the process during each iteration.

After only a few years as an officer, I was selected to command a Parachute Infantry Company at the U.S. Army Airborne School. There I started graduate studies and professional development focusing on formal project management in preparation for a transition out of military service and into the business world. I studied for and earned the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, but was troubled during my studies with the thought of “Is this really how projects are managed in the corporate world?” There was such an emphasis on processes and tools, and excessive documentation. That was not the way the Army approached training, combat, or even project management.

In parallel to PMP training, I also began to learn about agile project management in business and the scrum framework. Here I found concepts that seemed much more realistic and aligned with methods I had used in the past. Harnessing agile principles, I embarked on a comprehensive process improvement initiative with my company at Airborne School. We did our work in three week “sprints” (classes), with an AAR after each to discuss ways to improve and to develop a plan of action for the next iteration. Our daily “standup” (huddle) allowed us to synchronize and conduct a small planning session for the day’s work to ensure al 400+ students received the training they needed to advance in the course.

I was then fortunate to attend the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course where I received even more formal training in MDMP, and was able to become an even better team member and servant leader on a highly functioning, cross-functional and self-organized team. At this course I was able to draw on my professional development around agile and scrum to help our team produce even more valuable orders faster.

My final assignment to East Carolina University as an ROTC instructor was where I was really able to make the transition from military agile practices to the business world. I completed my MBA there, and another masters degree in higher education administration. Several of the courses in higher education focused on organizational behavior, adult learning, and coaching. This coursework and engagement with my peers would be fundamental to my future success as a scrum master and servant leader to teams.

During my transition from the Army, I had the great opportunity to learn even more about scrum as an agile framework. I focused more on studying scrum through professional reading and independent learning. I was able to shadow a few scrum masters at their companies to see how they implemented scrum for development work in software and I was fascinated. I was completely enamored with the sense of purpose and drive that the developers had. Their pride in team work, self-organization, and sustained and predictable pace of work was remarkable. I saw teams with the kind of autonomy, transcendence, and cross-fertilization described in The New New Product Development Game. It was there that I decided I want to pursue a career where I could use scrum. While the Army has its own style of project management, it is, at its core, a very agile process. These experiences combined with my formal education and professional development in agile project management using scrum set the stage for a transition from the military to private business and a new path as a scrum professional. I think of my evolution in scrum as a professional in the terms of the shu, ha, ri concept from Japanese martial arts. For years in the Army I was in the shu state, learning as much as I could about agile and scrum and trying to implement those concepts on the teams that I worked with in a variety of very different settings. I believe that now I am in the ha state, where I feel fully immersed in scrum values, principles, and use the framework so much that it is a part of my life. I hope to one day achieve the ri state. I am so fortunate that I am able to coach and mentor agile teams every day at ARCA. As the director of the R&D Agile PMO, I am able to coach and develop a scrum framework at scale, and to mentor scrum masters across dozens of teams. I am excited to continue my agile journey and scale the scrum framework to other parts of the company.

 

Until the next iteration . . .

Jason

share your thoughts?