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 and Product Owner of Scrum.org — Age-of-Product.com

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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 140 characters:

    “Gosh, I don’t know. 140 characters seem… I am the Product Owner and CEO of Scrum.org. There we go. That’s less than 140 characters, I think.”

  2. What brought you to ‘agile?’

    “Oh, okay. So that’s actually a lot more complicated. The most important thing was really a moment of realization. So I was the RUP product manager, the Rational Unified Process , and I worked for Dean Leffingwell and Kurt Bittner and all these guys. I believe that our mission was moral, it wasn’t just about building a company; it was actually trying to change the nature of software delivery and the like. Anyway, so I was a RUP product manager, and interestingly, I met Ken on this journey, and he told me I was an idiot, which turns out he was right, I was wrong. Fair enough.

    But anyway, so I was a RUP product manager, and 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 a lady 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 kind of disappointed me, greatly in fact. Because of that, I kind of got an indifferent job inside the organization.

    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 well.

    Then I was like, well, 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 is […] what was the important stuff. It was the fundamentals of Scrum. Empiricism, this idea of continuous learning, this idea that you make things transparent and you inspect and adapt. The House of Scrum, as Gunther [Verheyen], says. Fundamental, that sort of desire.

    That’s what we did with the projects we were working on after RUP. We made things very transparent. We continuously broke that down into small, we called them iterations, but they became Sprints in time where we were very much focused on trying to get a little bit of work out that was valuable.

    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. But it was just interesting. Then I went to work with [Dean], I really wanted to bring Scrum and some of the good ideas of architecture together. He didn’t. It turns out now, [Dean] is working in the SAFe world, which is interesting because that’s similar to what they’ve kind of done to some extent.

    Then I went to Forrester Research, where I covered Agile. So I met hundreds of organizations doing agility, and I interviewed them. So that’s what brought me to the Agile world, which is quite interesting. So I have a software engineer working on RUP from that space all the way now to running Scrum.org.”

  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 by teams. I believe the only way those teams can work in this complex world is for agility.”

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

    “That’s questionable. I mean, not a question of whether we can help them to be successful. I mean, how do we help? I mean, Scrum.org helps by providing consistent training assessment and a fantastic community of trainers who can actually make that work. Of course, continuing to develop the body of knowledge around Scrum and the environment Scrum lives, whether it’s EBM or Nexus , etc., etc. So that’s how we at Scrum.org are contributing.

    Me, as an individual, what I’m trying to do, probably more so than anything, is 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 take what they’ve already got and build on that 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 the ‘Dave West toolbox?’

    “Kindness, humor. I think 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. I find that a little bit … I’m a little bit of a cocky chap at times, but I definitely, 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.

    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 it, but deliver more value to their customers, create an environment where that workforce has more fun, and enjoy it, 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. Not that anybody should climb Mount Everest. It’s a ridiculous idea and destroying the environment, and it’s horrible. But yeah, anyway, that’s just my idea.”

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

    “Oh gosh. I was going to instantly say, because you have to say that, surviving, having children, and persuading my wife that I am really cool. Professionally, I think building a great team and having some great people work together.

    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, meeting new people that I haven’t met yet, 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 guess. 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. […] One failed marriage and broken hearts, and I should have spent more time with my gran. No, failure. It’s interesting. That’s a really powerful question and a very painful question to answer honestly, without destroying lots of confidence, etc. 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 could have done a better job taking that to the world and be more 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.

    I also recently, I don’t want to say which company or which organization, […] I think I’ve down people I’ve worked with by not being as good as I could have been. Not particularly at Scrum.org, but in other situations, 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, Stefan? 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; [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 that we were working with at that time. 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. [I] Bet you didn’t expect that answer.”

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

    “That’s a hard one because of more credit? Like for instance, I love ‘Intent-Based Management’ by David Marquet. I don’t know whether they’re popular or not popular, so it’s hard. I love ‘Mind The Product ’ and the work that they’re doing. I think that’s super interesting. I love ‘Sense & Respond ’ with Jeff and Josh, the work that they’ve been doing, and I’ve bought this book series. I don’t know if they’re gathering enough followers or whatever they deserve. I love actually, even though I don’t agree 100 %, I love the work the McKinsey’s doing and the stories that they’re bringing out. Like they did something on the British army recently, which was super interesting. I didn’t agree with everything it said, but that’s okay. This is a challenging thing in this Twitter-, Facebook-age. But I will read things I don’t agree with. I know that’s sort of against modern policy, and then try to learn from that and go why? Let’s assume the best intentions. Why did they do that, that way? Some of it is just the realities of economic business models, and some of it’s because of history […]. At least to think about that even if I still don’t agree with it, but that’s okay. Without trying to get angry, that’s the other thing. Try to stop, as it were.

    Yeah. It’s tricky to say, are these people being followed enough? I don’t know. But they’re super, super interesting and in fact, Medium.com recently I’ve found has got some really interesting things. Though I am always struck by [Medium’s] business model. People write for free and then you pay. I’m like, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if the authors got a bit?’ But there are some of the examples. Particularly the Sense & Respond work that Jeff and Josh are doing, the Lean UX guys. That’s really interesting, interesting stuff.”

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

    “Oh, it depends. 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 recommendation. Obviously, the Nexus book you should buy anyway because all the proceeds go to a charity, and it’s a great book by myself and Trish and Kurt Bittner. I don’t know; I think the best Scrum book, so let’s focus on that, is ‘Scrum — A Pocket Guide ’ by Gunther [Verheyen]. That is the best Scrum book. But I hate to pick just one book.”

  10. Whom should we interview next, Dave West?

    “That’s tricky. The people that I really, really like, Jeff Patton, he’s, he’s a brilliant guy. 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.”

  11. 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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