TL; DR: The Agile Movers & Shakers Interview with Dave West of Scrum.org

Welcome to the Agile Movers & Shakers interview series. Today’s guest is Dave West.

Dave West is the Product Owner and CEO at Scrum.org. He is a frequent keynote speaker and is a widely published author of articles, along with his acclaimed book: Head First Object-Oriented Analysis and Design. He led the development of the Rational Unified Process (RUP) and then worked with Ivar Jacobson running the North American business for IJI. Then Dave managed the software delivery practice at Forrester research where he was VP and research director. Prior to joining Scrum.org, Dave West was Chief Product Officer at Tasktop where he was responsible for product management, engineering, and architecture.

Agile Movers & Shakers (4): Dave West, CEO of Scrum.org

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Agile Movers & Shakers: Dave West’s Interview

Please note in contrast to other interviews in the Agile Movers & Shakers series, the interview with Dave West was conducted by phone:

  1. Please describe what you do in 280 characters

    “I am the CEO of Scrum.org.”

  2. What brought you to ‘agile?’

    “So it’s actually been a lot more complicated a journey than I would have expected. The most important thing was really a moment of realization. I was the RUP product manager, the Rational Unified Process, and I worked for Dean Leffingwell and Kurt Bittner and others. I believe that our mission was a good one, it wasn’t just about building a company; it was actually trying to change the nature of software delivery. This was my first exposure to a mission-based company that was full of passionate, smart people. It was also the first time I worked with Americans! 

    When I was a RUP product manager I went to a large insurance company in the middle of the country. This large insurance company was a big fan of RUP. They had really bought into it. Huge transformation, huge everything. I met someone whose job title was a use case realizer. I was like, what? No, no, no, no, no. These are roles, not job titles. It became very apparent that RUP was not helping that person to be successful. That disappointed me greatly in fact. Because of that, I got a different job inside the Rational.

    Interestingly, when we were developing, I was working in a solutions group, building software, IP integrated solutions for real-time embedded, or all these things. When we worked in that way, we worked in a very Agile/Scrum type way. It was a sort of XP meets Scrum without enough understanding to know how to do it well.

    I said hang on a minute. Why aren’t we using RUP? And it all just sort of came to a head, as it were. Ultimately, what I realized during this process was that there were some really important things. After the fact, I look back and say that these are the same fundamentals that define Scrum, and at the time I did not really know Scrum or call them agile. The fundamentals of Scrum are Empiricism, Self Organizing Teams, and the idea of continuous improvement. 

    That’s what we did with the projects we were working on after RUP. We made things very transparent so everyone could learn what was happening and fix the things that were wrong. We continuously broke work down into small manageable chunks, we called them iterations, but they became Sprints. Ultimately we focused on getting small chunks of value into the world and learning from their development and introduction. 

    Now, we were very fortunate that we could do that because we were building these capabilities that we then took to our channel. So many of the constraints that organizations historically had had up to that point weren’t there. For instance, we did not have to review with the enterprise architects or get compliance involved. We had full control over our delivery and were accountable for our own success. A very liberating experience and I learned a lot. In hindsight,l we could have done much more with Scrum.

    Next, I went to Forrester Research, where I covered Agile. At Forrester, I interviewed hundreds of organizations doing ‘agile’. That is where I learned a more formal approach to agile and spent more time with the thought leaders in the industry. This gave me a real passion for the ideas and their use. After Forrester, I felt the need to work at Tasktop, a startup who were not only building a new product but also delivering that product into customers doing Scrum and agile. This gave me the final part of my education, the experience of building a delivery organization using Scrum. And trying to sell a product that supported Scrum. Throughout that time I had Ken Schwaber as an informal mentor. That ongoing relationship and experience brought me to Scrum.org and my current role. I guess if I was going to chart my course to agility, I would say programmer who got objects who then worked on a process, failed, tried something different, liked it, got some formal understanding, tried it again with a startup, then liked it so much I joined the company that is driving Scrum and Agile. I have been blessed to be in the right places, at the right times with a smile!” 

  3. Why do you believe that being passionate about ‘agile’ is worth your time?

    “The world is full of complex problems. I believe the only way to solve those problems is with teams. I believe the only way those teams can work in this complex world is in an agile way. I do not believe we have all the answers yet of how you organize those teams or what those teams need to learn. We are just starting. But the foundations are there and every day we are learning a little bit more.”

  4. How would you characterize your way of contributing to an organization’s success in becoming agile?

    “Scrum.org helps by providing consistent training, assessments and a fantastic community of trainers who can actually make that work. Of course, also continuing to develop the body of knowledge around Scrum and the environment Scrum lives, whether it’s EBM or Nexus, etc.

    Me, as an individual, what I’m trying to do, probably more so than anything, is to help people not to get in their own way when talking about change and talking about agility. I do that by being kind and funny – hopefully, building bridges, not walls, and encouraging people to take what they’ve already got, not insulting people for how they’ve been working, but to build on what they already have and add an agile frame of reference. I try to do that by creating enthusiasm and fun and smiling. That’s what I personally do. Now the two are connected because that allows me then to take what we’re doing at Scrum.org out in this manner, build those bridges, create that enthusiasm and motivate accordingly.”

  5. What is in ‘Dave West toolbox?’

    “Kindness, humor. That’s what I use. I think those two things are super, super important. There’s a country singer in the US who has a song called ‘Humble and Kind.’ I don’t know how humble I am but I’m trying so hard to be humble and kind. I’m trying to listen. I’m trying to build relationships and bridges across the communities. I am trying to learn and share those ideas back with the community. One of my biggest challenges is listening. I hope I can listen better and then use my skills to share those ideas back with the community. 

    What’s very clear is that the majority of people in this industry actually do care very deeply about the changes that they’re trying to make. The majority of organizations where we engage want to change in some way. Well, not change to be agile for the sake of being agile, but deliver more value to their customers, create an environment where that workforce has more fun, and they are more engaged, where people want to come to work every day. Everybody wants that. In my opinion, we can build on that motivation, generally. Even though we may have differences of opinion, the great thing about Scrum is you don’t have to believe me; you just have to try a little bit for a small period and see what happens. That’s kind of what I use and talk a lot about. You can’t climb Mount Everest in a day, but you can do a little bit and see if it’s moving you towards Mount Everest.”

  6. What has been your greatest success so far, and how did you manage to realize it?

    I was going to instantly say, because you have to say that, surviving, having children, and persuading my wife that I am really cool, which is still a work in progress. Professionally, I think, building a great team and having some great people work with me more than once.

    I’m very fortunate at Scrum.org. But actually, I’ve been fortunate a few times. I have people that I love, and that’s the only way to describe it, that I get the opportunity to work with every day and do amazing things with. I get the opportunity to go around the world, meet new people that I don’t know, and get to know them and learn about what they’re doing. I’d say that’s probably my biggest success is my ability to bring those people together and do that. I really, really enjoy that. I think that’s ultimately what we all can do.”

  7. What has been your worst failure so far, how did you contribute to it, and what did you learn from it?

    “Failure is a really interesting question because I’ve done many things wrong at work and in life. But looking back, do I regret those mistakes? Yes, I could have handled them better, but ultimately those challenges define who I am today. Asking about failure is really powerful. I think I could have been better with RUP and done a better job of being a product manager, in terms of really trying to take all that great stuff around architecture and the like and use cases and many of the great ideas and try to better equip the world to use those ideas in the context of an empirical lifecycle, or empirical framework like Scrum. I should have done a better job there. I should have concentrated on enablement and listened better. I should have looked towards the future rather than just today.

    I could have done a better job taking RUP to the world instead of just giving up, which is what I ultimately did and moving to Boston from Vancouver, I could have done a better job staying with RUP and helping them navigate into this modern world. I don’t know if I would have succeeded, and ultimately, if ifs and buts are fruit and nuts, you’d have a jolly feast, right? But I could have done a better job there. Imagine if we had added Scrum to RUP, focused on mindset. Imagine if we had helped our 1000s of RUP customers to understand the power of agility. But I gave up and tried something else. I do not regret it because the move proved to be amazing finding a wife and a best friend, but I could have not given up on RUP.

    I also recently, I could have been better at providing direction. I could have had more time for others and less time for myself. It’s always the balance, right? Of trying to balance being an individual contributor, being passionate about the things that you’re doing or spending time helping others be great contributors and take your passion and amplify it. There’s definitely a large amount of ego in me, for lots of very deep, sort of psychiatrist’s couch kind of reasons, but ultimately I think my biggest failure is when I spend too much time doing things about me and not enough time doing things about others. That’s happened numerous times.

    So a very practical failure example; I could have spent more time with RUP. Could have helped, I think, build some of those bridges to the Agile community and, and really tried to look at the future of RUP up a very different way, instead of just taking orders, which is what I was doing from sales and from the community. Then personally, I think my ability to invest time in others and help them get better instead of always, not always, but spending so much time on myself.”

  8. Which newsletters, blogs, podcasts, or Youtube channels do you follow that deserve more credit than they receive now? Any recommendations?

    “I must admit to suffering from the effect of what I have read recently. I love ‘Intent-Based Management’ by David Marquet. I love ‘Mind The Product’ and the work that they’re doing. I think that’s super interesting. I love ‘Sense & Respond’ with Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, the work that they’ve been doing, and I’ve bought this book series. I love the work the McKinsey’s doing and the stories that they’re sharing. Recently they did something on the British army, which was super interesting. This is a challenging thing in this Twitter, Facebook age. But I will sometimes read things I don’t necessarily agree with and then follow the author. I try and read outside of my domain and my world view. And when doing it I always try and take the view that assumes best intentions. This helps me think ‘why do they say that?’, ‘What is their experience that influences this view?’. Recently I have read some articles on the death of agility or why Product Ownership in Scrum sucks. I don’t agree with their view, but I like to understand their reasons and context. And with luck, I can learn something.

    As a channel, I have started spending more time on Medium.com. A bit hit and miss, but I like the variety and the form.”

  9. If you could recommend only one book on ‘agile,’ which book would that be?

    “This is so tricky because there’s so many good [books]; ‘Software in 30 Days’ is really, really good, but I don’t think that would be my only recommendation. Obviously, the Nexus book and with that one all the proceeds go to a charity, and it’s written by myself, Patricia Kong and Kurt Bittner. I think one of the best Scrum books is ‘Scrum — A Pocket Guide’ by Gunther [Verheyen]. But I hate to pick just one book.”

  10. Whom should we interview next, Dave West?

    “Jeff Patton is a brilliant guy and would be interesting to interview. I think Jeff and Josh if you can get those guys, that’d be really, really cool. I think they’re really, really interesting people to hear from. They’re the people that I would probably talk to next. I’m just super interested in their whole product lifecycle work and this idea of learning and hypothesis, etc.”

To learn more about Dave West, go to Scrum.org or Dave’s LinkedIn profile.

Note: If you like to suggest a peer for an interview, please let us know by leaving a comment below. Thank you!

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