Joy and Chaos at the Hat Factory

Over the past two days I had the best teaching experience of my life.  By that I don’t mean I taught people better, or taught them more, or transcended new pedagogical heights.  I am looking at this purely from a selfish perspective — I just had a fantastic time.  The experience was new, edgy, chaotic and utterly joyful.  I believe the participants enjoyed it too — and they even learned some stuff about Scrum.

I have taught many CSM courses over the past four years, and always enjoy them.  Yet this CSM was different.  It transcended my expectations, it gave me an emotional connection to all the participants that I have never experienced before, and it reinforced my deep belief that Scrum is absolutely about good people and the interactions between them, and has almost nothing to do with method or process.

The WelfareCSM training at The Hat Factory in San Francisco was the first in a short series of CSM classes I am offering at low or no cost to those experiencing financial hardship.  A secondary goal of these trainings is to spread the word of Scrum beyond the IT industry into any place it can find a suitable home.  WelfareCSM is a laboratory that cultivates and releases various strains of the Scrum virus.

I deliberately chose to run these trainings in non-corporate venues.  I believe that the choice of this particular venue was an essential ingredient in the success of the course.  Corporate spaces always very neat and very clean and often very gray.  They tend to lack character, or they have a forced sense of “fun” painted on top of their inherent dullness.  The latter is almost worse.

The Hat Factory is a community workspace in the Dogpatch area of San Francisco.  It is a little run down, a little funky, but with an energy of creativity, and essentially living (yes, three people and two dogs live in the space too) that created a homely, comfortable feeling, like hanging out in someone’s home. From the first moments of arriving the whole essence of the course was utterly different to any training I have done, and most likely this was true for others too.  The space, and the “welfare” nature of the course set up some very different expectations.

The other thing I did differently to any previous trainings was to create an online group two weeks before the training.  All participants joined the group and wrote introductions.  Some posted photographs, and between them all they planned what we’d do for breaks and lunch, and various people organized ride shares.  A few people arranged to attend an BayAPLN event on the evening of day one.  By the time we got together there was already a sense that we were a community — a tribe, perhaps.  This imbued the course with a warmth from the first moments.

Each CSM course I facilitate is different to every other, and over time my style of facilitation has changed, emerged.  I do not use slides, so do not have the firm framework that this medium offers.  However, there is a framework to Scrum and there is a CSM outline that all trainers adhere to.  In Scrum terms the outline is the “What”.  The way the trainers execute on that is the “How”.  My How changes all the time.  This time I knew it would change quite considerably as I had around half the participants being from non IT industries.  I needed to accommodate them, include them.

My focus on the whole first day was almost exclusively on the Essence of Scrum [ref].  We explored the principles in physical, interactive ways through the use of games, improvisation and other activities.

On day two we went through the Scrum flow, roles and meetings, played with story writing and estimation and ended the day with a 2.5 hour Scrum simulation to pull it all together.  Two teams, each with PO and Scrum Master (and me as customer) created a performance piece to illustrate the principles of Scrum.  We almost videoed it, but the group decided instead to be utterly exclusive and have one internal performance only.  It was beautiful.

Well, you should’a been there 🙂

17 responses to “Joy and Chaos at the Hat Factory

  1. more, more! How did you approach the essence of Scrum?

    Response: Alan — sorry the post had an html bug that cut it off at the [ref] link. Fixed now.

  2. I was a participant in Tobias’ Hat Factory training, and it was indeed a wonderful experience for all involved. He writes above”…Scrum is absolutely about good people and the interactions between them, and has almost nothing to do with method or process.”

    I’m curious about the qualities of “good” from at least two perspectives:

    1) Assuming all people are “good”, what is it about existing work environments (and/or the educational environments that precede them) that suppresses that good or, at least, doesn’t fully leverage it?

    2) How would an internal position description describe “good”? How would the external-facing job posting let potential candidates understand their “good” qualities would be highly valued?

    Response: Peter — I love those questions… and I have no idea how to answer them! I hope other readers will have more to say 🙂

  3. Mostly our work environments are interested in the functional aspects of people (we need an accountant, a java developer etc) and we are better at evaluating function than we are at taking a holistic view of the richness (and goodness) of the person that we performs that function.

    Most work places are exactly that – places where we work. The connection between effort (work) and value has been lost for many organisations. This disconnection is what I believe has caused the fundamental suppression of the ‘good’. People are most like to collaborate and interact positively when they share a common goal. In most organisations, that goal is not established and bought into by the folks contributing the effort.

    How do you fix this?

    Well a good start is establishing valuable vision and persuade the others in the organisation to see the value in it (and no, paying them is not enough!). Some will and others won’t – maybe it is time to say goodbye to those that don’t. And the maybe start to make everyone equal partners in realising the value in that vision.

    The current ownership and business models are not built for this type of adjustment in thinking, so we must find new ones.

    See Semco SA , John Lewis partnership and Agilar for some examples of a different model.

    It can be done. Good ness can be reinstated.

  4. What might happen, I wonder, if we experienced a revolution in office space: if suddenly, the businesses started occupying theater spaces, abandoned cinemas, tents?

    Thanks, Toby. I’m learning more about scrum–what a name!

  5. You are a rock star, Tobias. I love stories like this- thank you for sharing. I’m so glad the class was a hit.

    One of my favorite classes was where a group performed a short play. It was a joy to watch and everyone has so much fun creating it. I wrote about it here:

    Can you post something similar? Even though it was an exclusive internal performance, maybe you could give us a review? You’ve left me (and others) wanting more!

    Response: Michele, that is a wonderful description of the Scrum Play. I’ll see if I can write something like that… but of course I’d prefer it if one of the participants took on that task 🙂 I’ll send out word to the group.

    Update: Le Hung has posted the script and directions for one of the performance pieces, “Empiricism”. You can view it a few comments down.

  6. First off, I am so totally enamored with this concept and having had the privilege of delivering a course with Tobias, I can really imagine how wonderful it must have been.

    Regarding reinstating goodness-
    I subscribe to Bob Sutton’s blog (no asshole rule) and recently found a link to this article, the one question to ask in an interview.

    Now, suppose organizational culture/community and having good people was your intent?

  7. Sounds amazing! You are always pushing the envelope Tobias 🙂

  8. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the tribe at the Hat Factory. The only regret I had was that it had to come to an end. I feel richer for having met all the great people there, and I learned something from each and every one.

    The course itself was informative, thought-provoking and challenging. I can’t imagine a better outcome.

    Thank you all.

  9. I was a participant of this past week WelfareCSM-001 tribe. Following the request for the script of the scrum plays, I tried my best to recreate below the performance sequence of the “Empiricism” play in which I took part.

    Starting with the story as assigned by Tobias: “As a scrum observer, I wants a performance piece that illustrates ‘Empiricism,’ so that I can see and understand the elements of this first principle of scrum.”

    Some constraints/boundary: Use only body movements, gestures, and dialogues (some props permitted). The performance is to clearly show phases of sprints (planning, executing, reflection), including estimation of tasks.

    It’s interesting to note that, the play describes the process of going through iterations of sprints; but the planning, rehearsal, performance… of the play are themselves sprints. Thus we have sprints within sprints…

    Below is the rendition of the Empiricism play based on the final performance. Neil Simon I ain’t, so I am sure this script is amateur at best. Also, although it depicts the narration of the play, it by no means captures the zaniness, creative energy and dynamic interactions among the “actors” involved. As Tobias says in his blog, you gotta be there!!

    Here goes…

    Customer: Patty
    Product Owner: August
    Scrum Master: Richard
    Scrum Team: Natasha, Pamela, Michelle, Andy, David, Hung
    Props: A bowl of oranges, including: several unpeeled ones; one completely peeled; one peeled and separated in individual wedges; a bunch of orange peel bits & pieces

    Act I

    Scene 1
    (At this point, the team is just another old fashion project team.)
    Patty walks toward August, hands August an orange.
    Patty: “I want to eat this fruit, can your team figure it out for me?”
    August: “Let me see what we can do.”
    Patty leaves.

    Scene 2
    August (turns to the team): “The customer want to eat this orange.”
    David took the orange and shows to the team.
    The team (quickly looks at the orange, shrugs, shrugs… with no apparent organized planning of any activity) talks over each other:
    “It looks fine, it’s edible… Nothing is wrong with it.”
    David hands the orange back to August.
    August: “Okay, let me talk to the customer.”

    Scene 3
    August (meets with Patty only): “Here’s the fruit, it’s not poisonous; it’s completely edible. You can try it.”
    Patty bites into the unpeeled orange; grimaces with disgust: “Yew!! It tastes terrible!! Can you do something about it??”
    August: “Let me bring it back to the team.”

    Act II

    Scene 1
    August (meeting with the team): “The customer says it tastes terrible; and wants a better product.”
    The team looks at each other with a puzzled expression…
    Incoming Richard (enthusiastic announcement): “I am a Scrum Master! I can help!!”
    The team: “Yeayy!!!”
    Richard: “Let’s start with Planning. What tasks should we take to make it taste better?”
    Natasha: “Why don’t we peel it?”
    Scrum team (nods, nods…): “Sounds good!”
    Richard: “We have to estimate the effort of peeling the orange… … One, two, three…”
    Scrum team members raise their hand with mostly “2” and one or two “3.”
    Richard: “Okay, the consensus is ‘2’… Let’s Execute.”
    Scrum team huddles in a circle, chanting “peel… peel… peel…” while throwing the orange peel pieces up in the air…
    After the huddle, scrum team hands a peeled orange back to August.
    August: “Okay. Let’s do a Product Review with the customer.”

    Scene 2
    Incoming Patty to meet August and the scrum team. August hands the peeled orange to Patty. Patty, while facing the entire scrum team, bites into the orange; then jumped back with orange juice squirting and running all over her hands and clothes.
    Patty (still with a dissatisfied look, hands the wet orange back to August): “Well, it tastes a lot better, but it’s so messy!! Can you fix that?”
    August: “Let me rework with the team.”
    Patty leaves the scene.

    Act III

    Scene 1
    August (turns to scrum team): “The product is still not up to the customer expectation.”
    Richard: “Okay scrum team, we need to have a Retrospective of our process… What went well?”
    Pamela: “The customer likes the taste.”
    Other team members: “Yeah.”… “Better taste”…
    Richard: “What did not go well?”
    Michelle: “It’s too messy!”
    Richard: “Then let’s plan new tasks to fix that.”
    Andy: “Maybe slicing it up to smaller pieces after peeling helps?!”
    Richard: “Should we vote on the effort of slicing the orange?…”
    Scrum team: nods, nods…
    Richard: “ Okay, one… two… three!…”
    Everyone raises their fingers indicating a value of “2” except Hung. Hung raises both hands showing all ten fingers.
    Richard: “Looks like we all voted ‘2’ except Hung. Hung, can you
    Hung: “I never used a knife before!!”
    Richard: “So what is your concern with that?”
    Hung: “I am afraid I’d lose my finger!”
    David: “But we had done similar procedure before: we peeled and sliced tangerines in the past. It shouldn’t be too hard to follow that…”
    Richard: “Hung, what do you think? Are you okay with that?”
    Hung (seems a bit less worried): “Hmm… Yeah I could try… I go with the team.”
    Richard: “Good, we get consensus. Let’s Execute, team!!”
    Scrum team forms a huddle again, chanting “slice… slice… slice…”
    After the huddle, Natasha hands August a handful of individual orange wedges.
    Natasha: “Here’s our new improved product.”
    August: “Great! Let’s review with customer again.”

    Scene 2
    Incoming Patty for the product review.
    August: “Here’s our new product. Our team has fixed the messy problem. Please try it.”
    Patty: “OK, let’s see.”
    Patty puts individual orange wedges in her mouth and eats.
    Patty (her face lit up with delight): “Wow! It’s tastes so good!
    And it doesn’t make a mess at all!! Can I have ten of these?”
    Scrum team (raises their arms, jumps up with joy): “Hooray!!!”

    The End – Fin – Finito

    Note: the second performance piece, “Self-Organization” was much more movement-oriented than vocal, so difficult to reproduce here in words.
    — Tobias

  10. Bravo! Bravo! I laughed, I giggled, I snorted a bit of water up my nose during the bite-into-the-whole-peeled-orange bit. That’s terrific improv theater, Tobias. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Response: The funniest part for me was the sheer volume of orange peel that was thrown in the air during the peeling scene. I think they had collected it from every rehearsal. It was as if a peeling machine had exploded or something. Crazy!

  11. Hung, that is a beautiful reconstruction of the script. The only thing I want to add is that the really important thing about this whole exercise was the process used, not the final product (you touch on this with your “sprints-within-sprints” comment).

    I think this journey-focus is why people were mostly indifferent to whether it was videoed or not. The value was on understanding the empirical process — and this was achieved by using the empirical process to illustrate the empirical process.

    Scrum itself is product-oriented, but the learning of Scrum must be process-oriented or we end up being more concerned with arriving, and receiving kudos (which is safe) and less concerned with exploring new pathways (which is courageous).

  12. The Agile Mindset

    Absolutely loved it, what a fantastic way to demonstrate scrum and it must have been brilliant to take part and observe.

    Showed a great understanding of scrum too, leaves me with many things to think about.

    Thanks for sharing:)

  13. The huddle-huddle-huddle bit reminded me of that brilliant scenes at the gypsy camp in Snatch, and when the orange peels went flying…brilliant!

    We even had the dag!

    Thanks for the great photos, Andy and Richard!

  14. Awesome. Loved reading the play. Sounds like a ton of fun!!

  15. This is what I count on Tobias and his students for – sheer exuberance that turns into learning (magically). Bravo! Bravo!

  16. Thanks to Tobias and my fellow classmates for a fantastic class! I’m impressed by the way the class came together as a collaborative group, and it’s going to be fun to watch where Tobias takes his idea of spreading Scrum beyond the IT industry — definitely a worthy pursuit.

    For those of you who would like to get a look inside the classroom, I’ve posted photos from last week’s WelfareCSM class at — i was taking photos to capture the “slides” from class, along with the suggested reading, but there are some shots of the class in action as well.

    Thanks to Hung for posting the script of our play!

  17. Looking forward to experiencing something similar myself. Thanks for sharing your ideas on wellfare csm.

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