On 14th April 2018 we, Pascal, Jens and Anton got our “Welcome to the CST community” from the Scrum Alliance Trainer Approval Community (TAC). For each of us this was our first time in front of the TAC and it is a huge milestone on a very long journey. There are about 20 CSTs in the German speaking Region of Europe. For several years now, there has been a tradition of German candidates preparing together and being supported by existing CSTs getting great results and approvals.
We heard that in other communities CST get way less local support from the local community. We hope by outlining our path and the way we cooperated, we can ease the way for other candidates in global communities and create more transparency.
How we found each other
At the Dublin Scrum Gathering two candidates (Anna and Sascha) collected a list of emails of CST candidates from Germany. However, not all of us were on the list. Sabine and Ralf, two of the CSTs we prepared with, pointed us to the list and at the beginning of March we all met for the first time in Darmstadt near Frankfurt.
Understanding the challenge in front of us
Basically in the TAC interview, after a short personal interview we needed to deliver a well-rounded, interactive training experience of 20 minutes on a topic that the TAC chose from a list of more than a dozen topics they provided a few weeks in advance - or any other topic related to Scrum. Afterwards we were asked to provide self-reflection for 5 minutes.
Anton’s story: In the Darmstadt meeting I for the first time found out the details of the TAC interview. The simulation of one round of TAC with me as a candidate, I’ve experienced many difficulties that occur when I find myself in an exam situation being a trainer with a class with partly dysfunctional behaviour. Once experienced I knew I wasn’t ready for this, not yet.
Jens’ Story: I had visited a first TAC simulation a year before, invited by Sascha. In this meeting I had learned that I had tremendously underrated the challenge and the amount of preparation needed for the TAC interview. Returning from this first meeting I was aware that after completing my material I would have to invest significant effort into preparation each of the more than fifteen topics the TAC draws from. Not to learn them by heart but to get used to stand-up-designing a professional 20-minute learning experience. Getting my first attempts deconstructed by CSTs Malte and Jürgen was an as painful as necessary experience.
Pascal’s Story: The more I found out about the details of the interview session, the more fundamentally challenged I felt. Foreign language, exact time-box, “students” that might create challenging situations on purpose, what is the essential thing to tell, having the concepts ready in my head, how to engage with students. And all the while sustaining the stance of a professional trainer.
Ways we collaborated
After the first initial day Jens and Pascal decided to dedicate a full week to preparation. Anton was able to join them for 3 days in Munich. The general idea was that each of us prepared a session on all topics the TAC provided upfront, including detailed understanding of the Scrum Guide and the CSM Learning Objectives, a visual layout and the interactions planned. We would then deliver them to each other, train self-reflection and provide each other feedback.
Starting we immediately found the next challenges: Of course we hadn’t finished our preparations, we had interpreted certain parts of the Scrum Guide differently and five minutes are a pretty long time for self-reflecting on a 20 min minute performance. None of our preparations survived the first few sessions (ever heard about something called “Agile”?), but the discussions we had, the ideas and approaches we exchanged provided an additional level of immersion into both Scrum and training techniques we wouldn’t have had without this approach.
One important aspect was training classroom management: How to setup the room, how to interact with the “students” without losing control of the timing were vital skills we trained. When our energy level had sunken below the point on which training made sense, we did an extensive brainstorming session on possible problems with interactions and options on how to react respectfully on more or less destructive behavior.
How it helped
There are so many levels this preparation helped me. I learned a lot from Pascal’s and Jens’ ability to visualize the training content on a flipchart. Contentwise I felt like I co-trained in depth with two other great trainers. I learned several new metaphors and ways to connect participants to content. I learned a lot of little things with large impact:
- how my ability to facilitate is sometimes misplaced and teaching is more appropriate
- tactics to keep my time-box
- easy ways to engage students and increase energy
- formulating clearer invitations
I was also able to see how my style is different and be appreciated for this by my colleagues, which increased my confidence. As we developed as a team over time, the amount of personal safety increased. This is important, as we were able to give and take more critical feedback from each other. And a simple fact, it was much easier to concentrate on preparation with others. I would have never been so focused.
Just working towards a common goal together was incredibly helpful. By gradually raising the bar we created a learning atmosphere that propelled me forward as a trainer. I picked up a tremendous amount of points to take away far beyond the TAC sessions like:
- Valuable insights and new points of view on essential elements of Scrum itself. A lot of the seemingly dry sentences found in the Scrum Guide got suddenly filled with life.
- a lot about myself and my quirks, and how to make the best of it.
- I will probably never reach Anton’s listening and appreciation skills, especially for challenging student input. But even the few things I was able to pick up during our time together substantially improved my sessions.
- Jens taught me to get across difficult concepts with simple words in a calm, unagitated manner.
- We practiced to self-reflect and use the great Tripod 7Cs framework. I took this away for me personally to reflect on my future trainings.
- I picked up a ton of great ideas, approaches and stories from two other great trainers, it was like co-training on steroids.
- As a nice side-effect I now have an extensible toolbox of Scrum knowledge nuggets that will help me not only in my trainings but also in my coaching engagements.
While we jelled as a team, our always respectful feedback to each other grew in value, and a wonderful level of trust developed. And of course we did all this in an Agile way, creating a backlog, ordering and re-ordering it, and of course retrospecting on our progress. It just felt great to go through complex challenges with two other experiences agilists, continuously inspecting and adapting to accelerate learning.
The discussions we had provided both focus, new insights and a tremendous set of ideas to draw from. Over time the feedback became more and more detailed, which provided a lot of security as compared to the initial general remarks I received. A very tangible result were clusters of similar topics that could be trained in similar schemes, which reduced the amount of things I had to remember significantly. After these sessions I had 17 flipchart layouts with connection and conclusion exercises and started to train sketching them as you train new vocabulary when learning a language. When arriving in Minneapolis I had made more than hundred sketches on random topics until I was satisfied with my performance.
I tried to mimic Anton’s cool way of interacting with the students - of course without reaching his skills - and tried to copy Pascal’s excellent way of creating on-the-stop visualizations - of course with even less success. But even my limited success added to my own performance. Most of what I’ve learned, holds far beyond the TAC interview into my trainings.
And last but not least the intense work jelled us personally and as a team. It was great not being alone when the moment of truth was approaching and having friends to celebrate together after we all three had made it.
After having been through TAC we all feel like: None of us would have made it without the collaboration we had.
“Aren’t you supporting your own future competition?” you may ask. We think, this is a valid, but short-sighted view. We are all out to increase the adoption of Agile, to grow the cake. Like most of the German CSTs, we are convinced that by raising the quality of our trainings we generate way more future business options for all of us than if we compete. The USP of Scrum Alliance trainings is the high level of quality its trainers consistently provide, allowing us to live in a market of highest standards. We strongly believe that collaborating before and after the process of becoming a CST contributes tremendously to these standards. There may be times when we bid against each others, but we do this as friends.
This article is a co-production of Pascal Gugenberger (it-economics), Jens Coldewey (improuv) and Anton Skornyakov (agile.coach) and was also published here: Antons Blog Agile.Coach