Saturday, November 28, 2015

Empowerment Retro

This week I had the pleasure if sitting in to observe a CSM (Certified ScrumMaster®) class put on by Mishkin Berteig and David Sabine from Berteig Consulting Inc. in Toronto. 

I was there primarily to provide some input on a specific topic for David. During the first day, I was asked if I'd be willing to come up with a talk for the second day on a topic that kept coming up during conversations... Fears around empowerment of self-organizing teams.

I remembered, there is no better way to share ideas than to let them come from the audience themselves. I decided.... Rather than a talk, let's get the class (all aspiring CSMs) to provide the learning for themselves.

I spent that evening and the following morning on the train coming up with a session for this discussion. I call it the Empowerment Retro.

Several people took pictures and mentioned that for them it would be a game changer.  I am happy with initial results.  Next time, I will experiment with a better way of explaining what I am looking for as an improvement.

There are some people who might make arguments about teams being self-empowered vs. empowered. I acknowledge and accept that as an interesting topic, but I'll stay focused on the assumption that organizations empower for now to facilitate this discussion.

This will be the first publish of the "Empowerment Retro".

In general, a Scrum Master will inevitably find themselves in a conversation about Empowerment.  As many of the people in the class were soon going to find themselves in the Scrum Master role, I felt it was a good idea to give them some knowledge and ability to handle this discussion when it comes up. They also had the benefit of more than 30 other smart minds in the class they could learn from.

Here we go....

The amount of empowerment will be different based in every company and culture. 

There are two commonalities in discussions about Empowerment (and some of the fears associated with the topic).


The team(s) receiving a 
Level of Empowerment from the Organization.


The team(s) provides certain things to the Organization
as a result of this empowerment.

It is a symbiotic relationship
 (one that benefits both parties)

I gave a short story showing an example of each from previous real-life situations from coaching engagements.

I discussed the idea that a healthy environment likely has some embodiment of both sides of the TO / FROM equation.

The class was asked to think of something that needs to be there in the TO as well as something that needs to be there in the FROM for a healthy approach to team based work. 

Each person brought up and put their stickies on the chart.

Then, a person from the class volunteered to facilitate a discussion about the results. 

It was awesome to see a full set of ideas for both sides of the discussion. 

For me, it was very exciting to see a future Scrum Master practice facilitation in front of the class (something they would be doing often in their new role).

The resulting chart gave some interesting ideas for the attendees.  Here are some insights that were shared with me privately during a future break....

  • (after taking a picture).. "This for me is the money shot to show my boss.  Although these were very different people from different companies and cultures, they had very similar ideas about a large number of topics (a way to create common understanding between each other) and it was quick and easy to do.  It will help me prove to my boss that different people collaborating together can create great ideas and insight"  (paraphrased). 

  •  "I never realized that empowerment is not just one way or that we should maybe talk about this openly once in a while". (paraphrased) 

  • "I'm glad I have some ideas of where first steps can come from for this discussion to move forward in my company"(paraphrased)."

Here is the photo from the class... 

Empowerment Retro 
Mike Caspar is licensed  under a

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons Licence

I appreciate that you can't see the specific ideas in this picture. That's fine by me.  

The idea is for your team or company to come up with their own :->

Please feel free to share your results with me when you try this. I would be curious to hear back reports of success or failure with the tool.

Mishkin. Thanks for the reminder to share this idea with others in the community as quickly as possible :->

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile


Berteig Consulting Inc. -

CSM (Certified Scrum Master-

Friday, November 20, 2015

A quick thought about culture and Onboarding.

Here's a thought ...

Onboarding may explain the official culture.
Actual culture is experienced at the first visit to the water cooler or a team meeting.

Water dispenser by Kal Hendry

If you have some thoughts

What might you do differently during a organizational change assessment?


Onboarding -

Monday, November 16, 2015

Agile and Scrum from the perspective of a Guidance Counselor at a High School

As part of my volunteer coaching for the leadership at Blueprint Education, I had the pleasure last week of being invited to a three day retreat in the woods in Flagstaff, Arizona as a guest facilitator with the High School students of Hope High School.

Hope High School Student Leadership
(c)Copyright Blueprint Education, 2015

It was an amazing experience.

It was a welcome reminder since my Flight Instructing days that young people will act responsibly if given respect and the ability to self-organize and that Scrum can be a great enabler for expanding learning boundaries and the ability to collaborate.

I present to you this report from the Guidance Counselor at Hope High School so you can hear about the event from this unique perspective.

I put some links after the letter so you can reach out or learn more if you wish.

Engaging employees in the change process can help assure successful implementation and sustainability of the change initiative. What is the best way for leaders to engage employees or other stakeholders in the change process in an organization? Why?

Hello Class!

This topic is very close to me, as my own organization is run by a group of servant leaders committed to collaboration, transparency, and transformation.  This last week a group of 20 Hope High School students, the principal, a teacher, myself, our organization’s CEO, a member of our Board of Directors, and a scrum leader volunteer left for a three day leadership retreat in the woods with the mission of developing our students to be compassionate, to collaborate with one another, to learn their own and each others’ strengths and how to leverage them, and to work as Agile teams.  It was an incredible success for the students, who exceeded all expectations, as well as for the leaders who went with them.  This is an example of how our organization engages employees and key stakeholders, from the top down and bottom up.  

There are a number of ways that leaders may engage employees and stakeholders in the change process, but we do it through transformational and servant leadership, utilizing an Agile change process called scrum that we are learning and embracing. Agile is an umbrella of methodologies originally developed for the software industry but has been branching out to other industries including education with the benefits of being customer need focused and adaptable to change, and supporting of transparent, iterative processes (Balrow, Keith, Wilson, Schuetsler, Lowry, Vance, & Giboney, 2011).  Our organization was on the brink of failure just a year ago, and the transformational processes of leaders and staff to impact culture, process, and management and engage staff, students, and leaders  have brought us to a significantly better state.  As Grand Canyon University (2012) suggests, “Although it is important to engage the stakeholder in any change that affects them, transformational change requires a major focus on and planning for a systemic engagement of the stakeholders to ensure its success” (par. 4). This is just the kind of change that is making our organization rise from the ashes today. 


Marina O'Connell, MAEd
Hope High School Guidance Counselor


Barlow, J. j., Keith, M. J., Wilson, D. W., Schuetzler, R. M., Lowry, P. B., Vance, A., & Giboney, J. S. (2011). Overview and Guidance on Agile Development in 

Large Organizations. Communications Of The Association For Information Systems, 2925-44. Retrieved from

Grand Canyon University. (2012). LDR-825 lecture 2: Preparing people for change (HTML document). Retrieved from

To learn more about Hope High School or see pictures of their event with the students, check out their Facebook page at

If you would like to get involved in helping your school to learn more about agile in the classroom, reach out to John Miller at or checkout his site at

To learn more about Blueprint Education and their approach to education, reach out at

To learn more about Scrum, click here.

To learn more about the values and principals of Agile, click here.

Mike Caspar

Passionate About Agile

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A major shift in decision making at a School System using Scrum

As regular readers know, you are aware that I have been volunteering to help out the folks at Blueprint Education and Hope High School to extend the support for agility in the classroom.

An exciting thing happened this week showing that Agile Values and Principles are starting to be absorbed into the culture

Through the beauty of Inspect and Adapt loops created by using Scrum (their chosen agile framework), the teachers and leadership realized a big change needed to take place with the curriculum.  

The folks at Blueprint let me know that traditionally the Principals and Leadership would decide what to do and pass that information down to the teachers.

A brave CEO told me in a call, "Mike, I said to them.. We keep talking about letting the people that are closest to the situation make decisions as being part of an agile mindset.  We need to do this stuff. Teachers all over the US complain about not being able to make decisions about how they educate their students. We believe the teachers know the students best. " (paraphrased)

Marmy Kodras, the COO (the leadership team Scrum Master), arranged a teacher Professional Development Day and the teachers were introduced to the problem and given facilitation to provide their own solutions.

The leadership would support the teachers's solutions instead if one dictated to them... A major shift from traditional thinking...

The teachers deciding on their own approach to changing the plan.
Image (c) Copyright Blueprint Education, 2015

I heard back later from the CEO late in the evening after this event.  His response... (with some private content removed).

"Marmy did a great job leading the group of teachers through exercises designed to discover the next phase of academic development. She then helped them prioritize their backlog and refine the top priority story. They even wrote it in proper story format.
 I say it was a great day."

The students are working to learn through the Agile Classrooms approach. Read more about Agile Classrooms here.  

The teachers, principals and executives are using Scrum as their framework of choice. The students are being introduced to agility through the Agile Classrooms approach. The two frameworks are very similar in nature.  

If you want to learn more about Blueprint Education and their sponsorship by Scrum Alliance, here's a link.

If you'd like to see a few more stories about the goings on at Blueprint and Hope, here is one more post you might be interested in...


Agile Classrooms -
Blueprint Education Agility -
Scrum -
Scrum Alliance -

Friday, November 6, 2015

The word "Because" as an impediment to change

Someone tried to start a conversation with me about this over at another social network well known for business communication and discussion.  For some reason, I can't leave him a reasonable response.

Therefore, I have decided to just repost the conversation here instead of fighting whatever changes took place.

Here's my post...

An interesting discussion today where the damage caused by the word "Because" became brutally evident as an impediment to change. Wow. Cool insight.
Followed by a question from Paul J. Heidema....
Mike - this is interesting. Can you tell us more about how this word caused damage?

I tried send an appropriate response via the social network and gave up.. So, for those of you that are interested, here's the response.. 


Thanks for asking.

I was asked to help out where teams were told at the beginning of a transformation to be challenging and come up with new ideas for existing problems.

After several visits and observation, I found every team deciding during retrospectives that their ideas were no good "Because'... and a current rule would be provided.

At the beginning of the transformation, little attention was given to leadership communication. Early on, team members would come up with ideas, and they would instantly be told "We can't do this Because of.."

The new prevailing culture is one where smart people are killing their ideas almost instantly before they see the light of day for fear of just being shot down for non-compliance to current rules.

In essence, the desire to attempt to make changes had been removed, rendering the change frozen in the current space in time.

We are working to change the conversation to.. "We can't currently do this, but if we change something here, we can make progress toward leadership's vision". 

There has already been some positive feedback in only a few days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A personal reflection about coaching from Paul J. Heidema

Are interested in getting a little insight into the mindset of a coach?

A very friendly, objective reflection from Paul J.Heidema about coaching...

A quote from the article...
"Coaching is a profound experience and a wonderful journey"

Wow. I completely agree!

Thank you Paul for the friendly post.

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Have a problem with an Elephant in the room?

There is a vast amount of material on the internet about the importance of Leadership participation in support of Scrum Teams.

Every once in a while I am reminded ...

"Bert and Ernie: Let me tell you a secret"
by See-Ming-Lee

It's not all about leadership stepping up to the plate. 

Team members have responsibilities as well.

Have an elephant in the room (a secret no one is willing to talk about) ....

Consider the Scrum Values ... Here's a link...

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile


Photo courtesy of See-Ming-Lee via a Creative Commons attribution license.