How to Avoid Fatal Product Flaws with Agile and Scrum? Lessons from Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 Program

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How to Avoid Fatal Product Flaws with Agile and Scrum? Lessons from Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 Program

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After finishing systems installation, a Boeing 737 is prepared for wing installation at Boeing’s 737 assembly plant in Renton WA.

Why did Boeing’s development of the 737 MAX 8 effectively avoid Agile principles? Agile foundations are part of Boeing’s toolset. Boeing could have maintained a focus on quality and safety for the aircraft’s overall development program, and its key avionics systems, had they been followed.  

Employees of Boeing, and others with an understanding of avionics systems and the business of airplane manufacturing, suggest the recent 737 MAX 8 crashes are rooted in Boeing’s business priorities and design processes for the aircraft. Both have been aimed at avoiding re-certification, re-training costs, and delays for the Boeing 737 Max, an aircraft that differed markedly in aerodynamic and avionic terms from its predecessors.

Agile Foundations at Boeing

The loss of life from recent 737 MAX 8 crashes is incomprehensible.  Concerning and confounding is that the principles we now call Agile were foundational to the success of Boeing’s 777 development program.  From 1990-1995, across a complex international context of 10,000 engineers, Boeing engineering executives promoted such Agile-informed principles as:  

  • quality and/is schedule (quality is a critical ingredient);
  • panic early (fast fail);
  • plan for zero overtime (sustainable pace);
  • weekly design, build, test (DBT) reviews (weekly scrums);
  • make decisions faster (act and learn fast).

With Agile principles, and related quality assurance practices having been deployed with success at Boeing in the early nineties, why was an Agile-underscored focus on quality abandoned during the development of the 737 MAX 8?  In Agile terms, why were extrinsic quality (value in meeting the needs of end-user pilots for trust, transparency, and training) nor intrinsic quality (the myriad of internal aircraft design and manufacturing criteria) genuinely valued and pursued diligently?

Cultural and Engineering Failings:  Sales Before Safety?

In its flagship publication, IEEE Spectrum, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) offers an analysis that make a strong case that business considerations for the 737 MAX trumped values of quality and safety, resulting in a flawed aircraft design that cost hundreds of lives.  

In “How the Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks to a Software Developer:  Design shortcuts meant to make a new plane seem like an old, familiar one are to blame,” long-time pilot and software engineer Gregory Travis details, in aerodynamic and avionic terms, insights as to why this “737” is a very different aircraft than its predecessor. He summarizes that Boeing called the plane a 737 for reasons of cost, avoidance of regulatory scrutiny and avoidance of training that a new aircraft would require.

Underplaying the aerodynamic differences between the avionics systems of the 737 MAX 8 and its predecessors underscores the serious failures in the development of the 737 MAX 8’s software systems:  

  1. Developers with insufficient aviation domain experience;
  2. Poor oversight compared to that for hardware and overall aerodynamics;
  3. Lack of understanding or commitment to Agile as a framework for quality software systems development.

Some Thoughts on Culture at Boeing.

A few years ago I toured the Everett, WA plant where 787s are built, and my impression was that it was a huge factory, yet it was very quiet for mid-week, not the level of activity I would expect on a factory floor. A free workshop we facilitated showed it took 3 months to organize and complete a (in-situ) component test, however the actual time needed for testing was 1 to 4 hours. We had lots of advice on how to reduce that cycle time so testing could be completed faster. My impression was that the advice was ignored. Personally I was fascinated at the cultural differences between the plant producing the large aircraft in Everett, a northern suburb of Seattle, and the plant producing the small 737 aircraft in Renton, a southern suburb of Seattle. Like two different companies, the Renton plant seemed more fast paced, competitive and continuously improving, while the Everett plant was, well, quiet.

I know there are many great people at Boeing. They have some fantastic and safe products that I use almost every week, such as the previous generation of 737 planes. I use Boeing’s ability to produce the previous generation of 737s in Renton (a plane every 10 days per line, 42 per month) as an example of how dedicated Lean thinking can produce a fantastic manufacturing process and a great product. The people building the current 737s were not the people directing the development of the new aircraft with all the problems.

While social media has its negative points, one benefit is the transparency it can create, often illuminating problems organizations would prefer remain hidden. In this spirit of transparency, the last comments on culture I will leave to a blunt developer who worked for 1.5 years at Boeing.

“First, Boeing’s corporate culture is the worst I have ever experienced. All large corporations have a lot of internal issues and problems but nothing like the Lazy B. It was like working in a company designed by Kafka. I signed up at Boeing as a programmer. When I showed up at my first day of work, the first words out of my supervisor’s mouth were, “I don’t know why you are here, we have no need for programmers.” The Boeing interview process is done so that at no point, do you ever have contact or communication with the team you will be working with.”

Read his full comments are available on Reddit. His comments were regarding this Vox Video: The real reason Boeing’s new plane crashed twice.

Could Agile Foundations Have Prevented the Boeing 737 Max 8 Failures?

Absent Agile Foundation: Fail Early and Learn

The purpose of “fail early” is to discover successful outcomes in increments, steering to an ultimate completed product that works before full implementation. The core value is found in extensive testing and cutting losses quickly when something is not working. Had the 737 MAX 8’s larger, heavier and forward-mounted engines been mounted on a wing and floor tested, the discovery of the engine exhaust generating lift under the wing, causing it to “pitch up” with the application of power would have been known much sooner. If this result had been known and treated as unacceptable, then a different design, simply put, would have saved lives.

In the case of the 737 Max 8, the decision was to have software compensate for the extra lift generated by the engine exhaust. Boeing’s software, the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was an attempt to use software to fix a flaw in the plane’s aerodynamic design. MCAS was needed because:

  1. The plane’s “angle of attack” (pitch or tilt) changes caused by the larger, heavier, and forward-shifted engines would likely exceed regulatory criteria of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), thereby risking aircraft certification, and causing Boeing and customer Airlines to incur pilot re-training costs and delays;
  2. A revised engine placement, novel wing design, or other hardware-based changes to fix the problem aerodynamically would be very costly;

In addition, because MCAS was “fixing” a design flaw, Boeing was not forthcoming about the MCAS operation with stakeholders:

  1. The MCAS, its function, and overrides to its function were communicated transparently to pilots, perhaps given re-certification and re-training risks;
  2. Key MCAS warning lights having been disabled or solely provided as an upgrade;
  3. The two separate flight management systems for pilot and co-pilot each measure the angle of attack with different sensors on either side of the plane. Pilots check both systems and sensors to validate whether Angle of Attack is being measured correctly. However the MCAS only took input from one sensor on one side of the plane, something a Pilot would have recognized immediately as a flawed design. However Pilots were not informed on how MCAS worked.
  4. Boeing has “standard procedures” for design, development, testing, documentation, training, and certification. Yet with MCAS it seems these procedures were not followed.

Absent Agile Foundation: Including Users in the Product Development Process

A critical quality element to a successful Agile implementation is connecting the development team to the end-users — directly and early-on.  The development team responsible for MCAS did not spend time in the cockpit with pilots to understand how they used their flight control systems and when they chose to ignore those systems. If the team had spent time with the Pilots, they would have understood how their users, the Pilots, do their work. That knowledge would have caused them to make different design decisions, more realistic tests, better documentation, and training informed by the pilot’s current practices.

A Culture of Profits Over People

Boeing’s cultural problems of prioritizing production and profits over quality don’t stop with the 737-Max. The New York Times recently published an expose on the production quality problems plaguing the 787 Dreamliner. The problems detailed in the article from many interviews and leaked documents indicate chronic problems, leading Qatar Airlines to refuse delivery on any 787s built in Charleston. The article paints a picture of management prioritizing production over quality and a desire to hide quality issues because they will slow down production.

Agile Adoption Now to Ensure Safety in the Future

So, how might service providers, IT organizations, and engineering firms introduce and sustain commitments to Agile so as not to fail their clients on quality and safety? Beyond Boeing, how might commitments to Agile by executives and managers, and alongside related quality paradigms, help align business priorities and development approaches to quality and safety? With software required to control an ever-increasing field of mission critical functions, it is time executives and organizations commit to Agile in the same way manufacturing companies increasingly commit to frameworks like the Toyota Production System or Lean.

Aligning to Customers Aligns with Success

Like Lean, Agile requires organizational change. Executives will need to step outside their comfort zone and work with collaborators to re-invent their organizations based on a deep commitment to their customers. By orienting to the customer, not the shareholder or the C-Suite, organizations align to value streams that are focused on improving their customers lives. In orienting to the customer, we quickly realize that the teams doing that work are essential to our success, and the better the teams the better the results. The closer the teams are to customers, the better they can meet their needs. Some of the world’s most valuable companies got there by being customer oriented and Agile. This reorientation is happening in many companies today, and yet many people in organizations today don’t see a reason to change. They don’t see their own personal interests reflected in this new paradigm.

Failures Beyond Boeing

The Boeing 737 Max 8 should be a warning to those who would put their personal interests ahead of their customer’s interests. So should the Volkswagen emissions scandal and The Wells Fargo account fraud scandal. These three are massive failures that have brought huge losses to shareholders, customers and employees. They have occurred because the organization is not oriented to the customer, it is oriented to shareholders and the C-Suite. According to the world’s best investor, that is exactly backwards:

“If a business does well, the stock eventually follows.” ~ Warren Buffet

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Certified Scrum Master or Certified Scrum Product Owner: which Scrum training course is for you?

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If you are keen to advance your professional skills in Agile leadership with Scrum training, but you are unclear which course to take, you aren’t alone. The choice primarily has to do with your career plans and goals. There are two choices available to you: Certified Scrum Master® (CSM) or Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO).

The intention of Scrum training is to create efficiencies in organizations, removing barriers and creating value for customers. The traditional role you play in your organization may not determine what certification is best suited to you.

Take a review of these statements to determine which Scrum training course is best for you.

Certified Scrum Master® is for you if:

  • You have some Scrum experience and are seeking a certification to simply validate what you already know and can do.
  • You are seeking an entry into a Scrum team or a Scrum Master role.
  • Your manager or team is looking for you to formalize your knowledge of Scrum to contribute better to the team.
  • You want to understand the value of using the Scrum framework over other approaches.
  • You want to understand the fundamentals of the Scrum framework.
  • You want to understand in-depth how a Scrum team works and the roles within Scrum.
  • You want to discover a new way to remove barriers to innovation in your organization.

Innovel’s CSM® course provides you with the most complete knowledge base of the Scrum framework, the Scrum team and industry-insights into how world-class organizations are using Scrum. It prepares you to adopt Scrum principles immediately following the course and add value to your Scrum team.

Certified Scrum Product Owner® is for you if:

  • You operate closer to the business side of an organization and represent the views of the stakeholders in your team.
  • You already represent the business side of the organization in the Scrum team and are seeking formal training to better understand your role.
  • You see yourself as a guide in realizing business outcomes. You are able to rally support, gain resources, and champion the needs of a team.
  • You understand the pains of hierarchies and traditional processes and are charged with improving the learning curve and pace of innovation.  
  • You are a Certified Scrum Master and you are seeking enhanced education in the Scrum framework and roles.

It is possible both Scrum training certifications will be of interest to you. Both CSM and CSPO may be of value to your career or role within an organization. It is common for individuals to take both a CSM and a CSPO certification (sometimes back to back – in which case offer a discount for our customers taking both so please contact us). However, if you are unsure we recommend the CSM training as the best place to get started.


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Certified Scrum training versus Professional Scrum training

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You have choice when determining what kind of professional training you are going to receive – Certified Scrum or Professional Scrum. Within the Scrum community you also have choice in the style of training and certification you choose to receive, and from whom you choose to receive it.

Scrum is an Agile methodology with increasing value in innovating organizations. And your options for training allow you to choose a variety of roles within the Scrum team, most notably Scrum Master, Product Owner, Team Member (Product Developer). As the Scrum framework increases in popularity, the desire for knowledgeable professionals who understand the intricacies of Scrum, not just the framework but also the roadblocks and challenges, are essential to the organization.

Take Scrum training from a knowledgeable expert, who has experience transitioning organizations from traditional project management mindset to Agile methodology. This is because learning Scrum roles and framework is only half the challenge! Implementing Scrum in the real world requires insights from a Scrum trainer who has been through the real ropes of transition before.

Scrum training options:

There are two organizations that offer Scrum training and within these organizations, professionals are certified to be trainers who deliver Scrum training to you. The organizations are Scrum Alliance, offering Certified Scrum courses, and Scrum.org, offering Professional Scrum courses.

Innovel offers Certified Scrum Product Owner® and Certified Scrum Master® courses through private in-house training options and public courses.

Choosing your Scrum training course:

  • Trainer selection. Do your research and determine the right trainer for you based on references, testimonials and word of mouth. As stated above, you are looking for someone who has bench strength in implementing Scrum in the real world, not just teaching credentials. The Scrum Alliance has a rigorous process for trainers to receive credentials to teach their Certified Scrum courses. These trainers are called Certified Scrum Trainers® (CSTs). There are only 200 in the world as it is a highly specialized and skilled group of Scrum leaders. Robin Dymond is the lead trainer at Innovel and is a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) with Scrum Alliance Robin has been a CST since 2008, and has lead Agile transitions in the US, EU and Canada. He incorporates stories from these experiences into every training class.
  • Class size. It is very important you ask what size the classes will be that you are considering attending. Scrum framework comprehension is largely achieved by the practice of exercises, teamwork and interaction with the Scrum trainer. This is best achieved when a class size allows for discussion and group work. A class that is too small does not allow sufficient discussion and peer-learning. A class that is too large does not allow sufficient opportunity to ask the trainer questions about your unique situation. Innovel recommends class sizes minimum of 10 students and maximum 30 students. Our training sweet spot is 12-24 students. All classes are optimized for this ideal learning environment.
  • Certification or accreditation. Certified Scrum Master® (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) are the designations most widely recognized worldwide. These designations are most sought after by innovating organizations. These are provided by Certified Scrum Trainers® through the Scrum Alliance. Both designations require 2-day in depth training. Certification for CSPO is achieved when the trainer alerts Scrum Alliance that you have fully attended and actively participated in the rigorous 2-day training. Certification for CSM also requires full attendance and participation in the course, as determined by the trainer, but also requires completion of an online exam after the course is finished. The CSM exam and a 2 year membership with the Scrum Alliance are included with the cost of your training course. There are no additional fees.

    Professional Scrum Master and Professional Scrum Product Owner designations are offered via Scrum.org. Designation as a PSM does not require a hands-on training course with a qualified instructor, but rather tests your knowledge based on your experience. PSM training courses are available, however gaining an accreditation is done via exam, typically with an additional fee.

    Both courses are based on the official Scrum Guide. Innovel provides Certified Scrum training via the Scrum Alliance. We believe that Innovel Certified Scrum Master and Innovel Certified Scrum Product Owner training is the preferred choice of training and certification for discerning professionals, seeking both a valuable accreditation and world-class leadership in Scrum.

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Does Your Team Need Agile Coaching?

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If you or your team have invested any amount of time into understanding Agile or Scrum, you may have realized that learning what to do and actually doing it are far from the same thing. You certainly will have experienced roadblocks if you have attempted adopting Agile or Scrum in an environment burdened with hierarchy, legacy systems that don’t comply with innovative methods, or people problems. (Read: Complex Project Failures: How Labels, Hierarchy & Ego Create Disasters in Management)

There are significant barriers an organization faces in becoming truly Agile… and this is normal. Some organizations, the most innovative, are sometimes able to overcome these barriers on their own. But usually, they cannot.

Value of Agile Coaching

Consider the following questions:

  • How many high performance athletes have Coaches? Why?
  • Should organizations with high performance goals have Coaches?
  • Does your organization have high performance goals? Do you?
  • Do you have a business Coach or sports Coach? Does it make a difference? How?
  • Are the similarities between high performance at work and sports enough to value coaching in the workplace?

Make the leap of faith that it is equally valuable to have a Coach to bring out the best in a high performing athlete and a high performing team. An Agile Coach can be the high performance Coach your organization is missing to bridge you from where you’re at to what you want to achieve.

What Does Agile Coaching Do For Team?

Let’s start with a goal. A goal of Scrum is effective product delivery by the team, so let’s base our goal on that metric.

Goal: The team is able to execute 80 to 100 per cent of what they planned every Sprint, in a stable and reliable manner. Furthermore, the team has the confidence and belief in their capacity to reliably deliver, and can show how their progress impacts target release dates.

There are important subtexts in this goal statement: Stable, Reliable, and Confident.

Stability and reliability show that the team understands three things very well:

  • the nature of the work
  • the availability and capacity of team members to do the work
  • their ability to deliver together within the Scrum Framework in the context of the organization

Confidence is an indicator of strength of belief in the stability and reliability of the system. The stable and reliable system provides psychological safety. Confidence means people feel they have the ability to speak up to challenge or support decisions that impact them.

How Much Coaching Does Your Team Need?

When introducing Scrum and Agile to a new organization, the coaching is focused on helping the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Scrum Team learn their roles. It teaches them how to use the Scrum Framework.

When coaching a new team that is co-located in a single location, we want enough coaching to really understand the people and the business context.  However, our goal is for the team to become stable, reliable, and confident. So, we want the teams to also work on their own so they learn to be self-reliant.

Depending on the business context, we will coach two to three days per week. Many software teams we’ve worked with often achieve the stated goal (example above) in 4 months.

Ideal Environment Versus Reality

The complexity of the environment; the state (maturity) of Agile adoption in the organization; and the size of the organization are all factors that conspire to increase the time it takes for teams to reach the goal.

Our experience has been that non-software teams can take much longer. A key factor is how dependent the team is on other parts of the organization to deliver their product.

Dedicated team members learn Scrum faster; learn how to work with other teams faster, and waste less time switching between tasks. Dedicated team members improve stability and reliability.

If we are coaching more than one team, the goal is the same. There can be some synergy and time-savings if the teams are working on the same product since their Sprint planning, reviews, and retrospectives may overlap.

Can You Skimp on Coaching and Still Succeed?

A common request we hear from some new clients is “What about just having the Agile Coach come for Sprint Planning, Sprint Review and Retrospective? Isn’t that enough?”

As with all iterative and incremental approaches, the speed that value is accrued from Agile Coaching is related to the cadence of a feedback loop. With coaching interaction, 1 day per sprint on a sprint boundary (review, retro, and planning) the team will be able to receive feedback and coaching around those sprint boundary events. This is valuable in terms of the team’s understanding of those events and how they interact with each other and the goals for the product. However, the context will be limited to those events as the coach has not been privy to information and circumstances as they arise during the Sprint. This means information and situations that could be used to help the team improve are not used, so improvements will likely take longer and be slower.

For example, Product Backlog refinement is an important facet of iterative/incremental development as it sets the stage for successful Sprint planning. Backlog grooming discussions happen throughout the Sprint, not at the Sprint boundary. The effectiveness of the Sprint planning is usually directly proportional to the effectiveness of the backlog grooming/refining conversations. Without an Agile Coach present, Product Backlog refinement does not receive Coaching. (Read: Lessons from a 10-Year Long Product Backlog)

Similarly, the discussions, actions, and escalations for impediments and retrospective actions occur all throughout the sprints so the Coach cannot advocate and support the needed changes to make teams more effective during Sprint execution.

So, in short, skimping on Agile Coaching does not, in the end, help you succeed.

Maximize Your Chances to Hit the Goal and Maximize Value of Your Agile Coaching Investment

Have you ever had Physiotherapy treatment, hired a Personal Trainer to exercise with, or taken tutoring or lessons? In these situations we quickly recognize that the success of the relationship depends on both parties. A Personal Trainer or Physiotherapist can’t make their client do their exercises when they are not around. However, these Professionals can accelerate outcomes by working more intensively with motivated clients to help them understand what they need to do, to offer feedback on how to get better and to share different exercises and expertise when certain treatments are not working as expected.

Maximizing the benefits from an Agile Coach is similar, in that working together more intensively to remove impediments, to improve the team’s situation, has a faster payoff. If Scrum team members, the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the supporting stakeholders take Scrum seriously and leverage the knowledge of the Agile Coach to maximize their effectiveness in supporting the implementation, then this will also accelerate the value they receive from the Agile Coach.

Gaining Agile Coaching can significantly accelerate your Agile adoption by:

  1. helping your teams get better faster
  2. showing stakeholders the behaviors that best support Scrum
  3. sharing practices, techniques and ideas that have worked in other clients
  4. advising against techniques that don’t work or cause problems

Once the Scrum team has hit the goal and is able to execute 80 to 100 per cent of what they plan every Sprint, in a stable and reliable manner, we will applaud their success as they have achieved the first step. From here, they can begin to learn more advanced topics beyond basic Scrum.

Learning and improvement is not a destination, it is a journey.


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Is getting my Certified Scrum Master (CSM®) worth it?

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This is the key question most people need to answer before deciding to take a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course.

What everyone wants to know is “will this really benefit my career?”

In short, yes, it will. 

But even though you may feel the course will benefit you, there are still some common objections that may be roadblocks to committing to the CSM course. Some of these are:

  • It is comparably expensive (when looking at less rigorous Scrum training programs).
  • It is inconvenient to leave work for 2 full days (or more, if traveling to the training).
  • It cannot be completed online.

And when looking at the value of this training and certification there are a handful of common questions:

  • Isn’t Scrum simple enough? Why do I even need this course?
  • Why take a Scrum Alliance certified course when there are cheaper, quicker options?
  • I am already a PMP, why do I need this certification too?

Anyone considering taking their Certified Scrum Master course with Innovel will need to answer these questions. Read on, we’ve made the homework easy for you. And if you still are wondering, just drop us a note and we’ll be happy to address anything else you need to know.

Why does the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course cost more than some other courses?

The Certified Scrum Master® (CSM), by Scrum Alliance, is the most widely recognized certification in Agile and Scrum. The Certified Scrum Trainers® (CST) in the Scrum Alliance include the inventor of Scrum and many thought leaders who pioneered Agile principles and practices.

One of the reasons for its success is that the Scrum Alliance sets a very high bar to become a CST. Setting a high bar for the trainers the Scrum Alliance ensures participants have an excellent learning experience. Trainers must have substantial real world experience implementing Scrum in multiple organizations, and share stories from these experiences in the training. They must be excellent at both doing and teaching.

Why is the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) 2 full days in person and not online?

There are key reasons why this training will never be offered online. Learning a new way of working involves questioning, discussing, trying out ideas and learning from experiences with other participants. Participants learn the principles of Scrum by working in teams, and gain confidence by solving problems together. Participants can bring up questions that relate to their current work situation and have them answered and receive advice by someone who likely has dealt with that same issue in the past. While people will not retain everything covered in the course, they retain the memory of the experience, the framework, and the confidence to try it.

Isn’t Scrum simple enough? Why do I need this course?

There are many ways to learn, there are many books and videos on Scrum, there is the Scrum Guide available for free online, and there are meetups on Scrum and Agile in many cities. We recommend using all these resources. Do you need the CSM to do Scrum? No, just as you don’t need a music teacher to learn to play music. Students who know Scrum and have been doing it for a while and attend my Certified Scrum Master course still find it beneficial. They often find new ideas and different perspectives on implementing Scrum. They gain clarity on previously unclear ideas and contribute to the class by sharing their experiences. They learn new techniques and ideas they can try in their organization.

I am already a PMP. Why should I get my CSM?

As a project manager you have learned a certain way to fulfill your role. Implementing Scrum to run projects is fundamentally different then the ideas presented in the PMBOK. By taking your CSM you will learn a very different and far simpler and more practical framework to manage projects. By getting your CSM you are demonstrating to potential employers that you are flexible and have more then just one way to help them organize and deliver projects and products. Demand for the PMP in IT and software development is in decline, since most organizations are moving towards Agile and Scrum to manage the work. A CSM can help you make the transition.

So, will taking the Certified Scrum Master course really benefit my career?

There are distinct trends affecting most industries today that lead all answers to YES.

We’d love to hear your feedback or answer any other questions you may have. Just drop us a note at info@innovel.net. Or, if you are ready to sign up for any public Certified Scrum course visit our Public Courses information page.

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Canada’s 150 Celebration Sale!

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Kickstart innovation with Innovel’s Certified Scrum and Agile training this year!

If Canada’s first 150 years were built on hard work and resources, we think Canada’s future relies on creating products and services that customers far beyond our borders need and want.
Canada’s future relies on the innovation of its people. Innovel’s Scrum and Agile training will give you the tools you need to lead fast moving and innovative projects and product development.

To help do this, we’re celebrating:

Canada 150 Sale
Save $150 on every Innovel Certified Scrum training course for the rest of 2017.
This Canada 150 Sale discount can be applied to any posted rate including early bird rates (but cannot be combined with other discounts like group offers). 
We have many CSM and CSPO classes in locations across Canada for you or your team to attend. Visit our information pages for more details and to register soon:

Our sale is limited to the first 8 participants in each course, so we encouraging those looking for Certified Scrum Master® or Certified Scrum Product Owner® courses this Fall, to secure this price quickly.



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Lessons from a 10-Year Long Product Backlog

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Product Backlog Management Tools: When & Why?

I am often asked, “What tool should we use for Scrum?” or “What tool would you recommend for managing a large Product Backlog?”

Recently the Product Backlog question came up regarding a tool called CaseComplete, so I’d like to share my experience with managing Product Backlogs in complex product development.

The 10-Year Product Backlog Story

 In 2009, I was coaching an Agile transition with a large European software client who had 400 developers across 5 locations. We were using Excel to manage the Product Backlog (PBL) with 12+ Product Owners and it was very painful. The Product Backlog had 1200 items in it and represented 4 years of future work by the whole development organization.

Product Owners would edit their own copies and then have to merge their changes manually in multi-day meetings. We started looking at Requirements Management tools like DOORs, RequisitePro, Rally, and others. Since the company had a license for IBM RequisitePro, we attempted to use it. However, RequisitePro was very difficult and inflexible. In many ways, it was worse then Excel. So, after some real world user testing, we abandoned it.

The Product Owners continued to add Product Backlog items and last I heard, in 2012, the PBL contained over 3000 items and was virtually impossible to manage. It also represented a massive 10 year inventory of work.

How Agile is a 10-year Product Backlog? Of course, it’s not Agile at all. On average, any new item entering this queue will take 10 years to complete.

Saying “No” Decreases Inventory and Increases Agility

If your Product Backlog is so big and complex that you think you need a tool (beyond cards or Excel) then most likely the problem is your Product Backlog itself.

If the Product Backlog is too big and too complex then the solution in not a tool, the solution is to simplify your Product Backlog.

Agile Manifesto’s first value is individuals and interactions over processes and tools, and this is the key value to make product development successful.

If there are hundreds of software developers building one product, maybe a tool will be valuable. However, my experience is that these tools actually reduce the amount of collaboration and shared understanding between the people defining what is needed and the teams doing the work.

The Three-Month Product Backlog

When I am coaching product management staff (POs, BAs, Directors, etc.) these days, my advice is to keep your Product Backlog to at most three months of work. Yes, only three months (queue catcalls and shouts of “that’s impossible here!!”).

Beyond three months, I coach POs to tell stakeholders that they will come back and consider new items next sprint, but for now they cannot put it into the Product Backlog unless they are going to remove something else.

This shortens conversations with stakeholders greatly, and makes the Product Backlog much easier to manage since it is only three months long. It also has the nice effect of keeping stakeholders engaged when they need to be. If stakeholders can’t get their item in the next three months they may look for alternatives, and that is a good thing.

Saying “no” to stakeholders increases their agility since they can consider alternatives (for example, they may buy a solution) instead of waiting years and becoming very frustrated as they did in the company with the 10-year Product Backlog.

A three-month Product Backlog works very well because it provides product Agility and gets rid of the need for useless complicated tools for huge and hard to manage Product Backlogs.

I am not saying tools cannot provide some value. They can. However, tools often enable bad behaviors that reduce communication and Agility.

Remember, individuals and interactions over processes and tools.



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Complex Project Failures: How Labels, Hierarchy & Ego Create Disasters in Management

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I recently read an article and Facebook post that got under my skin.

Frankly, as an electrical engineer with 27 years experience in software and product development, a former member of APEGA, and owner of one of those “iron rings”, I disagree with almost everything in The Atlantic’s Programmers: Stop Calling Yourselves Engineers.

The article is clearly written from a place of ignorance about software development.

One of my missions as an Agile trainer, coach and industry leader is to debunk the myth that ego and hierarchy leads to success, and to demonstrate that collaboration is critical in our software-driven society.

A Case Study in Truth: Volkswagen Fail vs Toyota Success

The Atlantic article uses an example regarding Volkswagen citing “The Volkswagen diesel-emissions exploit was caused by a software failing, even if it seems to have been engineered, as it were, deliberately.”

This shows the author has little or no understanding of what happened at Volkswagen and failed to do the necessary research to find out. If he did, he would have discovered that managers told the engineers that 230 euro for the “add blue” emissions subsystem was too costly, and ordered them to find another way, without a budget.

Toyota is out-innovating and bringing higher quality than their competitors. Their management philosophy is “go and see.” Quite the opposite of Volkswagen’s management philosophy of “make it so.”


In my certified Scrum courses, this is what I refer to as “belief in magic”. Most of the dysfunction described by the author in this article is not because of the lack of detailed planning or intricate documents but rather bad management decisions that employees, engineering ring or not, are forced to comply with.

Look at it this way… with $100+ billions in failures in software development and IT over the last 40 years, will four years of studying math and an engineering certificate fix these problems?

No, it won’t. It’s not the job title or credentials that causes failure. It is the organization that leads failure.

Scrum, Agile, Computer Science, Engineering, and Reducing Risk

Scrum and Agile are becoming increasingly popular, as noted by LinkedIn’s top 10 careers for 2017. The reason is because Scrum and Agile are the most effective risk mitigation strategies we know for software development.

The complexity of large software products dwarfs the complexity of traditional engineering projects like bridges and buildings.

Now, a bridge and all the engineering complexity required to keep it safe is serious and safety is critical. In fact, a Quebec bridge disaster inspired the Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer (written by Rudyard Kipling) and the iron ring. But, in terms of design and engineering, software is far more complex.

Complex engineering infrastructure like transportation systems, the power grid or pipeline networks would be unmanageable without the far more complex software used to manage these systems. (Image: Shanghai Nanpu Bridge)


I have worked with brilliant people with advanced degrees in engineering and computer science. I have also worked with brilliant people who came to the world of software development from the fields of music and psychology. I have admired the huge talents of developers whose only education was through learning on their own. In one company I managed the senior product designer had a high school degree. His colleagues thought he was brilliant and so did I.

Bill Gates failed to complete his first year at Harvard. Does that make him any less of a person?

The Fail of Engineering & Software Without Organizational Change

The ideas in the original article were tried over and over for decades and they failed.

Companies like Google, Apple, Uber and Tesla are moving faster as they continually create tomorrow’s products today, while sleepy manufacturers take 4 years to release a new car that is the same as the old car.

I know this because these companies call me. They want to know how to work like Google and Facebook so they can innovate faster AND build quality in. Why should a farmer sit in a combine all day just to point it down a row of grain when it is possible to automate the machine’s navigation?

Smart People Seek to Make an Impact

A friend quit mechanical engineering after he learned that effectively all of the engineering calculations he had to do to design most components at his employer had been done in the 1940s and were published in tables. He went into IT because the work was more interesting to him since it was new and the problems weren’t solved.

One of my clients makes pacemakers and they use Scrum to build the software that resides in the pacemaker. They use Scrum and automated testing to demonstrate to the FDA that with every iteration (1 to 4 weeks) the working system has no bugs or defects.

Most of the failures cited in this article were failure of management to:

  1. understand technology
  2. empathize with the challenges of building and maintaining complex systems
  3. give staff the time to build quality in

Instead we see management treat IT and software development as purely a cost center without a clear connection to return on investment (ROI). This creates a “cheaper is better” mentality that causes huge dysfunction and waste (see my video on the $8 billion spent on the botched healthcare.gov rollout, a website saved by using Agile techniques and engineers from Google).

There are many problems you can’t engineer or code your way out of.

Organizational Change or Bust

Systems thinking and organizational design are potential solutions to fix the issues mentioned in the article. Many of these problems are rooted in managers making decisions about how the work should be done when they themselves are disconnected from how the work gets done. Would you appreciate having a hospital administrator instruct the surgeon on how to perform surgery on you? Probably only if the administrator is also an expert on your procedure.

Peter Senge wrote about systems thinking and organizational design years ago in the Fifth Discipline. There is no excuse to waste months and years and blame entire job functions when talented engineers, software developers, business managers, and others can create and deliver consumable, useful products as a team, every single week under a different organizational approach.

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Agile Hits the Top 10 on LinkedIn

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LinkedIn just released an article on the top career positions based on LinkedIn job posting data in the United States. Leadership roles with Agile and Scrum were in 4 of the top 10 roles. How do you think this relates globally or to the Canadian situation, specifically? If you are a Canadian Agile Leader, pop over to our LinkedIn Group to discuss.

Below are the top Agile roles according to LinkedIn:

5. Product Manager
Median Base Salary: $97,500
Job Openings (YoY Growth): 3,000+ (11%)
Career Advancement Score (out of 10): 8.0
Top Skills: Product Development, Competitive Analysis, Product Launch, Cross-Functional Team Leadership, Marketing Strategy

7. Technical Program Manager
Median Base Salary: $129,000
Job Openings (YoY Growth): 500+ (49%)
Career Advancement Score (out of 10): 8.0
Top Skills: Agile Methodologies, Software Project Management, Software Development Life Cycle, Scrum, Cloud Computing

8. Program Manager
Median Base Salary: $97,400
Job Openings (YoY Growth): 2,300+ (17%)
Career Advancement Score (out of 10): 7.0
Top Skills: Project Management, Project Portfolio Management, Project Delivery, Vendor Management, Business Process Improvement

10. Scrum Master
Median Base Salary: $100,000
Job Openings (YoY Growth): 400+ (104%)
Career Advancement Score (out of 10): 8.0
Top Skills: Agile Methodologies, Software Project Management, Scrum, Requirements Analysis, SQL

Job rankings were based on a weighted score across five areas: salary, career advancement, number of job openings in the U.S., year-over-year growth in job openings, and widespread regional availability. We looked at data from member profiles, job openings and salaries to rank the best jobs for career opportunity. If the scores were tied, we ranked the title with the most open job listings higher.

You’ll find the full LinkedIn report here:

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Innovel Announces New Certified Scrum Training Courses in Canada

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I am really excited to be back Canada with public Scrum certification courses, after years honing our private and public Scrum training in international markets.

Early bird rates are available and registration is now open in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Montreal:

More fun, More value, More Retention

We offer more than the basics of Scrum in our CSM® courses. While we will teach you about the Scrum framework, the roles, and the techniques to plan and implement Scrum in your projects, we also make this very interactive and enjoyable 2-day workshop style class useful with discussion exercises and group-oriented simulations. 

And, our new Certified Scrum Master Plus™ is CSM® with a 3rd day add-on to help with scaling (multi-team development) questions, Scrum Master coaching and facilitation skills, and creating an implementation plan for your first Scrum. Our students often say that the CSM should be a 3-day course to allow more time to absorb and understand the ideas. They asked, we created this highly beneficial third day, exclusively available with Innovel.

Certified Scrum Product Owner® Training by Innovel will show you how to effectively work with a Scrum team to take a product from idea to implementation. While we cover Scrum basics, this course focuses on Agile Product Management, Lean Startup, working with stakeholders, prioritization, reducing risk and maximizing business value.

Contact rdymond@innovel.net if you would like more information about our private or public training courses or to request a group discount code (10% off for groups of 3 more).

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