Alex Kudinov Welcome to another episode of Tandem Coaching Academy’s Keeping Agile Non-Denominational podcast. We are your hosts today, Cherie Silas and I, Alex Kudinov, and today Melissa Boggs joins us. Melissa is known as the Chief Scrum Master at Scrum Alliance recently. Melissa, what else do our listeners need to know to know who Melissa is?
Melissa Boggs What a kind question! Thank you for having me, first of all, Cherie and Alex. It is a pleasure to be here. So in addition to having served as the Chief Scrum Master of Scrum Alliance, I am also a Certified Enterprise Coach with Scrum Alliance, a Certified Team Coach and have spent the last twelve years of my career just being an Agilist.
Alex Kudinov As we talk about your career and career progression, what led you to Scrum Alliance? What led you to that, being at the top of the organization?
Melissa Boggs You know, it’s funny, whenever people ask me this question, it’s such a winding road and I think it’s so true of so many agilists. There’s very few people that I know who came out of high school saying, “I want to be an Agile Coach.” Every one of us has this amazing, unique, colorful, creative journey. I started my…we’ll call it my IT career in Q.A. — which is very interesting because when we get to present day, I have found myself now blending those two loves together in my current role — but I started in Q.A.; I started at a very culture rich organization called the Scooter Store that is, unfortunately, no longer around but while they were, I have never worked in a more human-centric, amazing company. It was at that company that I not only learned about Scrum but just learned about the importance of self organization, the importance of people, period, in the work that we do. From there, that’s where I became a Scrum Master and have worked in more industries than I can count at this point, just doing Agile work. That led to my CEC journey and becoming a part of the Scrum Alliance community and a part of the bigger Agile community. So when the time came that Scrum Alliance was looking for a seasoned coach that could help the organization really become — what we used to say was — the shining beacon on the hill; an example organization for Agile and Scrum. I jumped at interviewing and was fortunate enough to be selected. So it was the most joyful and challenging two years of my career to date. I’m sure there will be more joy and more challenges but certainly, both of those things in a two year span.
Alex Kudinov Yep. I’m sure there will be challenges, I’m sure there will be joy. It’s never endless; the never ending journey. So you mentioned that you were CTC and CEC prior to your gig with Scrum Alliance, I’m wondering, we know that those roads are hard and the night is full of terrors, and these are competency based certifications, having all those coaching skills, how did it help you to be a Chief Scrum Master?
Melissa Boggs Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I don’t know if I would have even tried without having gone through the journey of becoming a CEC and a CTC because frankly, it just made me a better leader. Not not only the prerequisites and the things that you need just to pass the bar, if you will, but also the journey itself. I haven’t talked about this in quite some time but the journey to becoming a CEC was an eighteen month journey for me, from when I first applied until I received the designation. I worked really closely with some mentor coaches and learned a ton about myself so that when I was in that role, and I was leading an organization, and helping that organization become a community of analysts themselves, I had a better understanding of myself. I had a better understanding of what they were going through and then also what I might bring to them and how I might help them navigate that. I think that sometimes we forget, because we as Agilists have become so accustomed to it, we forget what a soul-changing experience this can be — at the risk of sounding religious; I don’t mean to — and so I think it helped me think differently about what I was asking of the people in the organization. Also, all the normal things that we talked about, right? Systems thinking, thinking about change and how to approach it; all of those things came into play.
Cherie Silas As I’ve watched you over the last few years and more before you were with Scrum Alliance, I’ve come to admire you more and more the more I see your work. Some of the things I really admired over the last couple of years are the really courageous things that you did at Scrum Alliance — things like the hiring, the way you did hiring; amazing — Would you talk a little bit about that?
Melissa Boggs About the hiring?
Cherie Silas Yeah, like the whole different take that you brought that people could really learn a lot from.
Melissa Boggs So hiring was one of my favorite things that we did at Scrum Alliance and while I may have sort of pieced together the pieces, there are a number of Scrum allies that I would completely shout out to for just helping me make it real. So I’ll tell you, it started with the book Joy Inc. by Richard Sheridan, who has become a dear friend; so shout out to Rich. They do what they call extreme interviewing and we kind of took that idea, I’m not gonna explain all of it, definitely read his book but we took some of his concepts, and then some of the things that we wanted out of an interview process, and what ultimately we came up with was a one day event, where we brought in all of the top candidates for a particular role, and we quite literally played games with them, and spoke with them like human beings; like people. One of the biggest principles was to level the playing field and to recognize that we had an obligation to show ourselves to them in all of our own authenticity. I started every hiring event with saying, “We’re weird and our goal today is to show you how weird we are and make sure that that is something that resonates with you.” So we use The Empathy Toy as a tool for engaging in play with them and then also having an opportunity to see how they communicate and for them to see how we communicate. We did Speed Chat, which is like you would imagine, it’s like speed dating but talking about your career. We did Lean Coffee with the Co-Op. At Scrum Alliance, a Co-Op is similar to maybe a chapter or a guild in other organizations; so the people across teams who do the same type of work. So we would have the Co-Op actually do Lean Coffee with the candidates and the interesting thing with having them all come in at the same time. I will never forget — I’m going to shout out to a specific person — Stacy Summers at Scrum Alliance, who has been in the HR space of Scrum Alliance for some time now, thought I was crazy when I said, “Stacy, I want to bring them all in at the same time and I want to play games with them” and bless her heart, she not only followed me down the road but then became the queen of hiring events; she can do a hiring event in her sleep. So that was pretty amazing to see too because I know she thought I was nuts and I love her for it. So one of the byproducts, that frankly we didn’t even really plan on, was you’ve brought several people into the office who are really excellent at the same type of work. So let’s use the Scrum Masters for example — I think the very first one we did was Product Owner and then the same week we did a scrum master event — but bringing Scrum Masters in, say four or five of them at the same time, and I set the stage by saying, “Listen, we’re all going to be a community when this hiring process is over. We’re all here in Denver,” at the time. “We’re all here in Denver, we’re all going to the same meetups,” sometimes the people already knew each other from meetups and user groups, “and my goal here is to see if there’s a fit between your needs and our needs but also to continue to create that community so that when we see you again at a gathering or at a meetup, that” — pre-COVID — “we hug each other, we high fived each other and, you know, we have created some community. What that ended up doing is I literally heard one guest, on their way out, telling another guest, “Hey, if this doesn’t work out, I know that this role at this other company that wasn’t right for me but it might be right for you based on what you said at Lean Coffee.” They were helping each other on the way out the door. So that was insanely cool and we didn’t even plan for it. Then we had one who actually told us — I asked them for feedback at the end of the interview every time because we always wanted it to feel fair, to feel like they had a chance to show their best selves — so I’d asked for feedback and one of them stood up and said, “I have to be honest. Normally, you know, you go to an interview, you go home, and if someone else gets the job, you’re a little bit bitter. In this case, honestly, if any one of us,” there were four of them, “got the job, I would totally understand it because these people are amazing.” Ironically, he was the person who got the job but not because of what he said. So yeah, I mean it felt like the purest expression that we could possibly have of our culture and of Agility in a hiring event. I also have to shout out to Zack Bonaker and Jason Kearney, who sat with me at Agile 2019 as I was sort of spilling these ideas out and gave me even more ideas. So it takes a village.
Cherie Silas Awesome. Pretty amazing. Pretty radical. So how are you going to bring that forward for you and the work you’re doing with your clients? If you are.
Melissa Boggs So I actually took another full time job. I am the Vice President of Business Agility for a company called Sauce Labs and what is so amazing about it is that they provide testing automation in the cloud; which is things that Agile teams need all the time. It’s such a fun Venn diagram of my Agile community and then this new community that I’m still meeting. I’m in my fourth week at Sauce Labs. One of the things I really appreciate about Sauce is a lot of the culture work has already been done. Just to give you one example, their values are like, “Transparency” and “Ideas over hierarchy” so I don’t have to do that work. I get to really dig into what Business Agility can really mean in the organization. Certainly, the things that I learned through that role at Scrum Alliance are already making a difference now, probably the biggest one just being leadership. Period. How to be an authentic leader and to be courageous to do really radical and rebellious things, which is like my favorite thing to do.
Cherie Silas Of course,
Alex Kudinov Radical and rebellious and sounds like a lot of radical and rebellious things already have been done at that company which is great, which is great a foundation to come to and start building upon. So before we go any further into the future, I would like to — maybe not dwell but — to ask you a little bit about the foundation that you’ve got from Scrum Alliance work. As we talk about Scrum Alliance, we probably would be kind of amiss not talking about Scrum. In Scrum, we all know the Scrum Master provides service for the teams, for the Product Owner, and for the organization. While, we know what the team is, we know what the Product Owner or services are, the organization still is kind of that pink elephant that everybody hear about and services to it but no o– well, a lot of people just don’t know how either to get there or what services to provide to the organization. You will be in a very unique position. You were a Scrum Master for the whole organization. What have you learned from that experience?
Melissa Boggs So I do think it’s important to differentiate that my role was both executive and Scrum Master. The only reason I want to differentiate that is that there are some amazing Scrum Masters that work at Scrum Alliance, so I was not the only one. They worked with their teams day in and day out and are some of the best Scrum Masters that I’ve ever worked with, frankly. From my vantage point in the organization, though, I had the ability to see the system and I had the ability to hear the stories. I’ll tell you, I think this was the most important thing that we did; I will take it to every new org or client that I ever go to. One of the most important things you can do is identify the stories and identify a channel for people to tell their stories. It is very easy as the Scrum Master of a single team to feel like, ‘How can I possibly influence a company of 1000 people?’ When you have the opportunity to tell stories and elicit stories from other people, that is what starts a snowball that will become much bigger than you. So at Scrum Alliance, we literally had a Slack channel called Storytelling. When one of the Scrum Masters would come to me and say, “Hey, we had this amazing retro and this and this and this came out of the retro” and without, fail like a broken record, my response was always, “Would you feel comfortable telling that on the storytelling channel?” until finally, every time they would come to me, they would say, “Yes, I will tell it on the storytelling channel.” It’s important because we talk so much about Agile leadership, and Agile leadership is incredibly important, however, there’s only so much that the leader can say without also the validation and the connection of other people who are doing the things that you are doing. It’s easy to point at the leader and say, “Oh, they’re in their ivory tower. They’re imposing Agile on us.” but when you hear other teams say, “Hey, we just had a Sprint Review and the actual customers in the Sprint Review saved us from putting out something that no one will ever use.” That’s when actually the real influence starts. Not only are other teams learning from that team but those other teams have now been given permission to tell their stories too, whatever the story is. So I think that the most impactful thing that a Scrum Master can do to impact the organization is create and find ways to tell their stories and to encourage other people to tell theirs as well. Otherwise, every team is working in their own silo. Even if you’re sharing like what work you’re doing, “…okay” but when they actually tell their stories, then there’s this momentum that begins and we saw that happen at Scrum Alliance.
Alex Kudinov Probably not only storytelling itself but something to say for transparency. Transparency within the organization, within your Co-Ops, and within the groups. I wanted to pull a little bit more on that. I’m curious about juxtaposition of Scrum Master, who is a servant leader, and the title; a title of a Co-CEO. What was the interplay between these two, “I’m a Scrum Master and I have power to do whatever I want to do.” How did that play out?
Melissa Boggs That was a constant internal conflict for me at any given time because here you are, you have certain ideas about how you would like things to go, like any leader would, and you also have the ability to make those things happen but at the same time, any other Scrum Master, any other coach, the last thing that I wanted was false change; false empowerment. The idea that people are doing things just because I said so. My work is about helping people be their best selves. My work is about helping people find their voice. To me, that is what the Agile movement is all about. So if I was just to kind of throw around my title and tell people to do things because I said so, it would be a direct violation of my own values. So at the end of the day,leadership should be servant leadership, period. The best leaders that I know are leaders who listen, who are courageous on behalf of their people not courageous in their people’s faces. I think you’d have to ask the Scrum allies if I succeeded at that but I’d like to think that I did. When it came to making some hard choices and things that we absolutely had to do, I just did my best to explain the ‘Why’ and then, whenever I had the ability to create choice or elicit creativity out of them to find a solution to something, I would. So there’s definitely a balance, but honestly, I think we as — I’m going to say something very controversial but I like to be radical and rebellious — I think in years past, we as a community have had a position or an attitude about titles and hierarchy. I understand where it came from and I subscribed to our attitude about it but every organization has context. I think, also, that we have grown the Agile movement to this place of Business Agility and if we’re wanting organizations to prioritize Business Agility, and the way that they need to do that is by a title that will give access, that will elevate the ideas — not necessarily the person, it’s not about the person but elevate the ideas — in order to make it a priority for the organization, then I think we need to recognize it in their context. That’s important. I say that, knowing full well that I now have a title of VP of Business Agility but in the context of that organization, that’s them making it important. That’s them saying, ‘Customer centricity and employee centricity is important to us. Therefore, we need this person to have access and to be in the conversation and have a seat at the table.’ I’m still, frankly, sort of evaluating and reflecting on my own feelings about hierarchy and title but mostly, I just think that maybe we need to check our moral superiority from time to time and just recognize that every organization has context. Again, I was very guilty of this before, so I’m owning it 100%.
Cherie Silas Yeah, so every organization is on a journey, right? They need to do what’s best for them. Part of our work as coaches is to help people to uncover what’s right for us, in our context, at this moment in time. There’s a vision out in front of us but we have to live right now. So for you as a coach, how do you blend these skills that you learned? You likely have some professional coaching skills and competencies if you’re a CEC but how do you take that in and use them in your current role?
Melissa Boggs A couple of different ways. In my current positioning — I don’t mean my title, which is where I’m positioned in my organization — I have this like, beautiful opportunity to both elevate the Scrum Masters of the organization, there are seven Scrum Masters, but also I have the ear of the leaders because they’re my peers. So being able to kind of bridge that gap is one of my favorite things. Often there is this sort of ‘haves and have nots’, or there can be this middle gap between “leadership” and “frontline workers.” Which those of you- you can’t see me but I’m doing air quotes. So being able to help bridge that gap through coaching, through coaching leaders to leverage their own position for good, and helping Scrum Masters, our Product Owners, and our teams to use their voices in a powerful and constructive way is one of the best things to me.
Cherie Silas You’ve got this unique experience of being in executive roles and being an enterprise coach. We’ve got a lot of Agile coaches out in the Agile space, what do you want to say to them as far as advice or wisdom that you would like to see the world of Agile coaching adopt?
Melissa Boggs So two things came up for me when you asked that. One is, this is one of my favorite phrases to the point that I’m literally going to get a tattoo that says ‘The Audacity of Hope’. It’s a phrase that I’ve lifted from former President Obama. A lot of times in my career because of the type of person that I am, which is a sort of endlessly hopeful person, unwilling to hide that and be that; I’m going to be that person. I have been, and let me just say I think a lot of coaches are that way, that’s why we do the work that we do, right? Sometimes we can be told, “Oh, don’t be naive.” or, “Those are soft skills.” How many times have you guys been told that those are soft skills when really, they can be some of the hardest skills that there are? So my – I don’t even know if I could call it advice but if I was sitting around a table with a bunch of coaches at a gathering — I would just say, “Don’t give up” because we are making progress. I’ve been in this work for around twelve years now. Yes, there are times when it’s frustrating because the Agile that we sometimes see in the world is not the Agile that we know but at the same time, there are organizations like SauceLabs that are making it such a priority and they know exactly what it is. They know exactly what they’re getting and they want it. So we are making a difference. We are making change in the world of work. It just takes time. So that would be my first thing. My second thing is, I had a major shift of my perspective when I moved into my Chief Scrum Master Co-CEO role. I was very guilty of having a very shallow level of empathy for leaders. We have a tendency in this community to talk about leaders like they’re not human. How do we get a leader on board? How do we reach leaders? The fact is, leaders are human beings who have an immense amount of pressure on them and we have no idea what those things are. So the other thing that I would encourage us to do is not just have surface level empathy in the form of manipulation but actually sit down with them and understand what they’re trying to accomplish not because understanding that can help us get to our own means, because we have all done that, but actually try to understand. In the end I think everyone wants successful organizations, everyone wants happy, joyful people, and just trying to manipulate leaders into our way of doing it…it might work but that doesn’t make it right.
Alex Kudinov As you’re talking about that the word that keeps coming to mind, that you mentioned several times, is the culture. The awesome culture at Scooter Store, the culture at Sauce Labs, I’m wondering your learnings, your experience as a Chief Scrum Master at Scrum Alliance and your prior work, what are you taking from that and bringing to blend with existing culture and maybe build on that?
Melissa Boggs At the risk of sounding like I’m humble bragging, the first thing that came to mind when you asked that was when I had to say goodbye to the Scrum allies, literally on my last day, they shared this thing called Kudoboard where they can like put different messages to you. I think out of the 40, or 50, some-odd messages on there, seven or eight of them said something along the lines of, “Thank you for helping me find my voice and for hearing it.” What that tells me is there are tens of hundreds of people in their organizations who feel like they don’t have a voice. So when I looked back after seeing that and reflecting on it a little bit, when I look back, a lot of the things that I did, and that the Scrum Masters did, and really everyone in Scrum Alliance did, had to do with making room for those voices. Even the hiring event that we were talking about earlier, how do you make room for the voices that are coming into your organization? How do you make room for the voices that are already there? The storytelling channel, even just simple Scrum things like Sprint Planning, and Sprint Reviews, and Retros are all about people having an opportunity to lift their voice, whether it is in support of something, or in protest of something, or with some new idea. I’ve always defined culture — I don’t even remember where I found this, I actually didn’t make it up but I couldn’t give credit because I don’t remember but — I always defined culture as the traditions, habits and behaviors of an organization. For me, each one of those has to do with voice.
Alex Kudinov Also, you mentioned in the passing that at Sauce Labs, in your position as a VP of Business Agility, you are in position to give voice and to elevate Scrum Masters. So I’m curious then, Scrum Master is kind of like our job is to work ourselves out of our position and kind of to disappear. If we don’t say anything, probably the teams are great, and they are solving their problems, they are removing their impediments, and we don’t have to facilitate anything, and whatnot. What in your mind does it give to the organization to give that additional voice to Scrum Masters to elevate them?
Melissa Boggs I agree with your premise that that’s the job but I have never been in an organization where it stopped there. So yes, I have been in organizations where the teams did become highly performative and the Scrum Masters were able to shift their focus to different things. Maybe it goes back to your earlier question. That’s when it becomes about the organization. You can have two really, really high performing teams but if you don’t have alignment — you could have fifteen really high performing teams — but if you don’t have alignment with Sales and Marketing, you’re going to hit a brick wall. The work doesn’t stop when Scrum teams are having really productive Sprint Planning and you know, really enriching Retrospectives, that’s not where the work stops. I think that’s why The Scrum Guide says that and I think, really, it just opens the door for more work. So that’s when you kind of level up a bit.
Alex Kudinov So I was hoping you were going that direction and you did, thank you. So, that’s the next question. In your specific context, in your organization, what are you trying to achieve at the organizational level by giving voice to your Scrum Masters?
Melissa Boggs I don’t know yet. I don’t know yet. I am in my fourth week and really just beginning to see the system. It’s a much bigger company than Scrum Alliance. There are 350 people probably will be at 400 this year and philosophically speaking, I know that I need champions, that the organization needs champions, I know these Scrum Masters are hella smart and are experienced Scrum Masters, which is awesome, but I don’t know yet what Business Agility in the future looks like at Sauce Labs; I just know that the scrum masters are a huge part of it.
Cherie Silas So we’ve talked a lot about the companies you’ve worked for and that’s great but I’m really interested in knowing what’s the future of Melissa not tied just to a job.
Melissa Boggs I don’t know that either. I am full of “I don’t know’ today. I have had an exceptional couple of years in almost every way. There are definitely a couple of topics that I have become more and more passionate about. So I know that my future looks like becoming a voice for those topics. I know that my future continues in the Agile space; these are my people because when I found this space, I felt at home for the first time. Radical and rebellious work is accepted here and so I know that I will continue to be a part of this community and to give back to this community in as big a way as I possibly can. I don’t know what it looks like beyond sort of that philosophical belief.
Cherie Silas So I’m going to call on that ‘radical and rebellious’; it’s not the first time I have heard you described that way. I’m wondering, all the Scrum Masters, all the Agile coaches out there in the Agile community, if they want to be radical and rebellious and effective and keep their jobs. How would you ask them to go abou that?
Melissa Boggs Know your context for sure. Sometimes radical and rebellious is not all in one day. Sometimes it is built over time. I think the number one thing that I learned through some of the work I’ve done in the last couple of years is none of it is going to ruin you. I know that sounds super dramatic but I can remember the night before the first hiring event. The night before the first product owner hiring event everything was set up. We knew the people were coming. Literally the room at the office was set up and ready and I was sick. I was sick to my stomach. I was like, “What have I done? Is this the craziest thing ever?” You know? I literally was afraid there might be HR things I was – like laws – that I was breaking even though I had checked and there were no laws that I was breaking but it was terrifying. I really hate to make a reference to a really inappropriate movie but in The Hangover, there’s a gentleman who says, “But did you die?” 24 hours later, I was like, “That was amazing. That was everything that we hoped it would be! We found an awesome person” but I was terrified. I can point at time after time in my career that I have been scared to death and the thing is, we don’t talk about that. Right? Like, I could easily have just been like, “Yeah, I did these amazing hiring events and I had all the confidence in the world” and it’s dumb for us to not talk about that. So, I would say two things. Just go for it; knowing your context, go for it. Then when it’s all over, tell your story so that the people who are coming up after you know that you did it anyway, that you were scared to death, and you did it anyway. Whether it works out well or not, and I was fortunate that it did in that case but certainly there have been times where things I plan did not turn out well, tell that story too. That’s how we actually change things around here, here being the globe, is by telling the real deal so that other people will feel safe trying it too. I cannot believe I just referenced The Hangover in a podcast.
Cherie Silas Well, you showed up with just what you’re talking about authenticity, transparency, and courageousness. So thank you.
Alex Kudinov I would like to add that we do talk about it all day long in coaching sessions and it’s even worse. So I completely admire you just stepping into that situation and be sick to your stomach but be there. A lot of people just don’t get there. A lot of people are just like, “I can’t. I wont. I shouldn’t” right? and then what’s the worst that can happen? You probably will not die. So that’s the whole kind of sleuth of coaching work that we do day in and day out. So great run, great run before Scrum Alliance. Great two years at Scrum Alliance. New job, four weeks; you got promoted on your third week. Great job. Let’s let’s look forward to the next three weeks. So what is Melissa looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Melissa Boggs Oh my gosh, are we gonna see human beings this year that are not on Zoom because that is what I’m looking for.
Cherie Silas Real flesh *laughs*
Melissa Boggs Real people! I’ve been fortunate to still get to do things like this; get to still join people on podcasts and do talks, even virtually, which is pretty amazing. I do miss human beings but I have to say, I got to do a meet up in India at one point and one in China. I would not have had the opportunity to travel to China, that was not in my role. So I am grateful for that; I’ve gotten to meet people that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So yeah, I mean, I have some of those coming up; different opportunities to just have these kinds of conversations, which are super fun, and also figuring out what is next for me besides doing some very fun work at Sauce Labs.
Alex Kudinov Fantastic. So, it sounds like it’s been a fascinating book that you’re writing. Several chapters are done and they are pretty amazing. The new chapter seems to be shaping quite well for you. So Melissa, thank you so much for joining us today. We wish you all the luck and success in your new role and looking forward to hear a lot of stories about things that you’re doing at Sauce Labs and for the Agile community. This has been Tandem Coaching Academy’s Keeping Agile Non-Denominational podcast. We are your hosts, Cherie Silas and Alex Kudinov. Bye now.