Monday, December 21, 2015

An awesome message about Blueprint Education to end the year.

As some of you know, I have been helping out the amazing folks at Blueprint Education in Arizona.  They have been making some changes to their culture as a follow-on to a previous introduction to new ideas introduced by John Miller from Agile Classrooms.

I'm getting ready to relax until the end of the year and saw this message in my FB feed this morning and thought..... It would be really cool to share this to inspire others to perhaps try something new in 2016!  

The follow dialogue has some questions about Blueprint Education and then the following statement from Mark...
"Blueprint education is a non profit. Our mission is to inspire students to make better choices and be champions of their own learning. I'm the CEO. We apply the principles of Agile to elementary and high school education."

Mark French FB Feed
(c) Blueprint Education. 2015

For me at least, this is one of the best messages I could have read all year.

If what you read in some of the following posts inspires you, reach out to John Miller or Mark French. I know that either of them would be more than pleased to share what they have been up to or help you learn more about bringing Agile Values and Principles to your education system.

There are some exciting things happening next year at Blueprint and I can't wait to start sharing those! Stay tuned.

For now.. Here is a selection of previous posts to get you up to speed.....


Agile Classrooms

Blueprint Education

John Miller

Mark French

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Empowerment Retro

This post is being moved to

 Please update any bookmarks or links appropriately.


This week I had the pleasure if sitting in to observe a CSM (Certified ScrumMaster®) class put on by Mishkin Berteig and David Sabine from Berteig Consulting Inc. in Toronto. 

I was there primarily to provide some input on a specific topic for David. During the first day, I was asked if I'd be willing to come up with a talk for the second day on a topic that kept coming up during conversations... Fears around empowerment of self-organizing teams.

I remembered, there is no better way to share ideas than to let them come from the audience themselves. I decided.... Rather than a talk, let's get the class (all aspiring CSMs) to provide the learning for themselves.

I spent that evening and the following morning on the train coming up with a session for this discussion. I call it the Empowerment Retro.

Several people took pictures and mentioned that for them it would be a game changer.  I am happy with initial results.  Next time, I will experiment with a better way of explaining what I am looking for as an improvement.

There are some people who might make arguments about teams being self-empowered vs. empowered. I acknowledge and accept that as an interesting topic, but I'll stay focused on the assumption that organizations empower for now to facilitate this discussion.

This will be the first publish of the "Empowerment Retro".

In general, a Scrum Master will inevitably find themselves in a conversation about Empowerment.  As many of the people in the class were soon going to find themselves in the Scrum Master role, I felt it was a good idea to give them some knowledge and ability to handle this discussion when it comes up. They also had the benefit of more than 30 other smart minds in the class they could learn from.

Here we go....

The amount of empowerment will be different based in every company and culture. 

There are two commonalities in discussions about Empowerment (and some of the fears associated with the topic).


The team(s) receiving a 
Level of Empowerment from the Organization.


The team(s) provides certain things to the Organization
as a result of this empowerment.

It is a symbiotic relationship
 (one that benefits both parties)

I gave a short story showing an example of each from previous real-life situations from coaching engagements.

I discussed the idea that a healthy environment likely has some embodiment of both sides of the TO / FROM equation.

The class was asked to think of something that needs to be there in the TO as well as something that needs to be there in the FROM for a healthy approach to team based work. 

Each person brought up and put their stickies on the chart.

Then, a person from the class volunteered to facilitate a discussion about the results. 

It was awesome to see a full set of ideas for both sides of the discussion. 

For me, it was very exciting to see a future Scrum Master practice facilitation in front of the class (something they would be doing often in their new role).

The resulting chart gave some interesting ideas for the attendees.  Here are some insights that were shared with me privately during a future break....

  • (after taking a picture).. "This for me is the money shot to show my boss.  Although these were very different people from different companies and cultures, they had very similar ideas about a large number of topics (a way to create common understanding between each other) and it was quick and easy to do.  It will help me prove to my boss that different people collaborating together can create great ideas and insight"  (paraphrased). 

  •  "I never realized that empowerment is not just one way or that we should maybe talk about this openly once in a while". (paraphrased) 

  • "I'm glad I have some ideas of where first steps can come from for this discussion to move forward in my company"(paraphrased)."

Here is the photo from the class... 

Empowerment Retro 
Mike Caspar is licensed  under a

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons Licence

I appreciate that you can't see the specific ideas in this picture. That's fine by me.  

The idea is for your team or company to come up with their own :->

Please feel free to share your results with me when you try this. I would be curious to hear back reports of success or failure with the tool.

Mishkin. Thanks for the reminder to share this idea with others in the community as quickly as possible :->

Mike Caspar
Passionate About agile


Berteig Consulting Inc. - Berteig Consulting

CSM (Certified Scrum Master-

Monday, November 16, 2015

Agile and Scrum from the perspective of a Guidance Counselor at a High School

As part of my volunteer coaching for the leadership at Blueprint Education, I had the pleasure last week of being invited to a three day retreat in the woods in Flagstaff, Arizona as a guest facilitator with the High School students of Hope High School.

Hope High School Student Leadership
(c)Copyright Blueprint Education, 2015

It was an amazing experience.

It was a welcome reminder since my Flight Instructing days that young people will act responsibly if given respect and the ability to self-organize and that Scrum can be a great enabler for expanding learning boundaries and the ability to collaborate.

I present to you this report from the Guidance Counselor at Hope High School so you can hear about the event from this unique perspective.

I put some links after the letter so you can reach out or learn more if you wish.

Engaging employees in the change process can help assure successful implementation and sustainability of the change initiative. What is the best way for leaders to engage employees or other stakeholders in the change process in an organization? Why?

Hello Class!

This topic is very close to me, as my own organization is run by a group of servant leaders committed to collaboration, transparency, and transformation.  This last week a group of 20 Hope High School students, the principal, a teacher, myself, our organization’s CEO, a member of our Board of Directors, and a scrum leader volunteer left for a three day leadership retreat in the woods with the mission of developing our students to be compassionate, to collaborate with one another, to learn their own and each others’ strengths and how to leverage them, and to work as Agile teams.  It was an incredible success for the students, who exceeded all expectations, as well as for the leaders who went with them.  This is an example of how our organization engages employees and key stakeholders, from the top down and bottom up.  

There are a number of ways that leaders may engage employees and stakeholders in the change process, but we do it through transformational and servant leadership, utilizing an Agile change process called scrum that we are learning and embracing. Agile is an umbrella of methodologies originally developed for the software industry but has been branching out to other industries including education with the benefits of being customer need focused and adaptable to change, and supporting of transparent, iterative processes (Balrow, Keith, Wilson, Schuetsler, Lowry, Vance, & Giboney, 2011).  Our organization was on the brink of failure just a year ago, and the transformational processes of leaders and staff to impact culture, process, and management and engage staff, students, and leaders  have brought us to a significantly better state.  As Grand Canyon University (2012) suggests, “Although it is important to engage the stakeholder in any change that affects them, transformational change requires a major focus on and planning for a systemic engagement of the stakeholders to ensure its success” (par. 4). This is just the kind of change that is making our organization rise from the ashes today. 


Marina O'Connell, MAEd
Hope High School Guidance Counselor


Barlow, J. j., Keith, M. J., Wilson, D. W., Schuetzler, R. M., Lowry, P. B., Vance, A., & Giboney, J. S. (2011). Overview and Guidance on Agile Development in 

Large Organizations. Communications Of The Association For Information Systems, 2925-44. Retrieved from

Grand Canyon University. (2012). LDR-825 lecture 2: Preparing people for change (HTML document). Retrieved from

To learn more about Hope High School or see pictures of their event with the students, check out their Facebook page at

If you would like to get involved in helping your school to learn more about agile in the classroom, reach out to John Miller at or checkout his site at

To learn more about Blueprint Education and their approach to education, reach out at

To learn more about Scrum, click here.

To learn more about the values and principals of Agile, click here.

Mike Caspar

Passionate About Agile

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A major shift in decision making at a School System using Scrum

As regular readers know, you are aware that I have been volunteering to help out the folks at Blueprint Education and Hope High School to extend the support for agility in the classroom.

An exciting thing happened this week showing that Agile Values and Principles are starting to be absorbed into the culture

Through the beauty of Inspect and Adapt loops created by using Scrum (their chosen agile framework), the teachers and leadership realized a big change needed to take place with the curriculum.  

The folks at Blueprint let me know that traditionally the Principals and Leadership would decide what to do and pass that information down to the teachers.

A brave CEO told me in a call, "Mike, I said to them.. We keep talking about letting the people that are closest to the situation make decisions as being part of an agile mindset.  We need to do this stuff. Teachers all over the US complain about not being able to make decisions about how they educate their students. We believe the teachers know the students best. " (paraphrased)

Marmy Kodras, the COO (the leadership team Scrum Master), arranged a teacher Professional Development Day and the teachers were introduced to the problem and given facilitation to provide their own solutions.

The leadership would support the teachers's solutions instead if one dictated to them... A major shift from traditional thinking...

The teachers deciding on their own approach to changing the plan.
Image (c) Copyright Blueprint Education, 2015

I heard back later from the CEO late in the evening after this event.  His response... (with some private content removed).

"Marmy did a great job leading the group of teachers through exercises designed to discover the next phase of academic development. She then helped them prioritize their backlog and refine the top priority story. They even wrote it in proper story format.
 I say it was a great day."

The students are working to learn through the Agile Classrooms approach. Read more about Agile Classrooms here.  

The teachers, principals and executives are using Scrum as their framework of choice. The students are being introduced to agility through the Agile Classrooms approach. The two frameworks are very similar in nature.  

If you want to learn more about Blueprint Education and their sponsorship by Scrum Alliance, here's a link.

If you'd like to see a few more stories about the goings on at Blueprint and Hope, here is one more post you might be interested in...


Agile Classrooms -
Blueprint Education Agility -
Scrum -
Scrum Alliance -

Friday, October 9, 2015

This message made my weekend.

I received this today from the Principal at Hope High School where I've been volunteering as a coach.

Here is the message from the Principal. (the Scrum Product Owner ;->)....
Today is our retro, Edwin is so excited about trying a new way that he found. He was busy last night in his classroom drawing diagrams and pics with his new fat markers. When I walked in and saw him preparing I said "well well Mr. Caspar, what do we have here?" He is really doing a fine job!

Edwin is a High School Teacher who organically became the Scrum Master for the team of Teachers at the high school. A post about Edwin at the start of his journey a few weeks ago can be found HERE.

Hope High School is part of Blueprint Education where they are working to bring Agile values and principals into the classroom to allow students to learn 21st century skills. This journey started for them through the introduction of Agile Classrooms.

They are also proud to be sponsored by the Scrum Alliance.

I am so happy to hear such positive news from the school and that things are taking off there for them in more than just the classroom.

Generating Insights
... from Edwin's Retrospective.
(c) Copyright Blueprint Education, 2015
Used with permission.

I understand the students started their own team to help the community. I'm so happy that students have the space to try something so awesome for themselves.

Now.... off to enjoy my weekend :->

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile


Hope High School (facebook page)
Scrum Alliance and Blueprint
Agile Classrooms

Are you looking for more info for your own school, district or classroom, contact John Miller at .. or of course, feel free to reach out to me.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Scrum Master Service to the Organization

Many people know that the Scrum Master role involves removing impediments, coaching teams and being the team's voice for Scrum.

From the Scrum Guide.....
Scrum Master Service to the Product Owner 
The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including: 
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and, 
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.
Scrum Master Service to the Development Team
The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:
  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

An often overlooked part of the importance
of a Scrum Master is ....
Scrum Master Service to the Organization
The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including: 
  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

Considering Service to the Organization, ask yourself....
  • Does my organization know this as a part of the Scrum Master's suggested skill-set?
  • What exists in my organization to help existing Scrum Masters get better at organizational coaching?
  • Does my organization allow the room for Scrum Masters to work with other Scrum Masters?
  • What would it take for all the Scrum Masters in my organization to provide this necessary part of the role within my organization?

Failure to recognize Service to the Organization as part of the Scrum Master role can significantly diminish the effectiveness of a Scrum Master in your organization.

A thought....

What will you do to help grow this role to it's full potential where you work?

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile


The Scrum Guide and the three duplicated sections are ©2014 Scrum.Org and ScrumInc. Offered for license under the Attribution Share-Alike license of Creative Commons, accessible at and also described in summary form at

Monday, September 21, 2015

Similarities between Agile Coaching and Flight Instruction

I love this video. Someone I know sent it to me last week. I have seen it before.  It's not my student but is a great representation of why I love to coach. 

The first solo is a big deal (first time without an instructor in the plane).

Some moments I noticed....

1 – When she puts the microphone away to catch her breath when she is airborne (realizing she's made it safely).

2 – When she looks over to see her instructor only to discover what’s happening is REAL.

3 – The HUGE smile after that.

4 – Holding her breath when she starts her descent.

5 – The HUGE smile when she realizes she landed it safely.

The first solo is a big deal...

To me, coaching is about building confidence. It's about finding ways to help people overcome their personal (or business) hurdles and then enjoying that amazing feeling they get when they've made it to their next level. 

Ultimately, when someone has overcome their fears and has the confidence to move forward, the only way to have it really stick for them is to take the leap themselves. They can't be pushed. 

You can "nudge in an encouraging way" or help them overcome fears. However, ultimately they have to take the final step themselves. 

You simply cannot force a first solo to happen. 

Agile Coaching isn't about creating change yourself. It needs to be about helping others to find the courage to make their own changes with your help and support.

I took this while working with a 747  Captain
 getting ready for their first solo water landing.
Getting someone to overcome their fears to achieve their first solo is no different than working with an executive to fundamentally change their organization or a group of people to learn to work as a team.

It takes courage, trust and self-awareness. The job of the coach isn't to be their friend, but to help them reach their goals and objectives.  

Most importantly.... It takes a coach who's joy is watching someone else feel this excited about themselves or their company.

Wow… Very emotional video for me!

Isn't coaching amazing :->

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Student Skills Matrix

A post about using the OpenAgile Skills matrix to help teachers and students in the classroom at Agile Schools.

Read more at ...


Openagile -
Agile Classrooms -

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Courageous Leadership to help their students using Scrum

I recently had the opportunity to get together with a great group of people at Blueprint Education as a volunteer to help out their leadership team.

They are passionate about helping students to achieve their full potential through self-empowerment and self-responsibility and have been working with John Miller from Agile Classrooms to introduce a Scrum approach to education in their classrooms.

The focus is on a feedback driven approach to learning goals. The roots of this approach come from Scrum and are based on the Agile Manifesto (modified for education of course).

To learn more about this approach, start here...

As part of this type of change at the school, or in this case, many schools, understanding and knowledge of what the students are going through was important to the leadership at Blueprint.

The leadership team appreciated that to truly help their students work in an agile way, they will benefit greatly by experiencing and living the values of the agile manifesto and using Scrum themselves.

The best way for the leadership team (Principals, CEO, COO) to help the students work in an agile way is to experience Scrum with Agile Values and Principles themselves.

As sessions proceeded, I made a point of always asking … “What can we learn from this? How does this affect students?’, how can we apply this to our situation?

What is the learning we could share with others?
Early on, this drawing appeared on the wall of the leadership team room…. The leaders realized that for them to embrace this approach of working, they would need to change a primary focus as educators.

They would have to become great at coaching with less focus on teaching.  This, as you might imagine could be problematic for the traditional educator.   

What would this realization mean to them?

A workshop facilitated by the Principals for themselves revealed that the Retrospective (part of the Scrum Framework) would require them to reflect on their own leadership style on an ongoing basis.

This supports the Agile Principle …

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly..


More details about this specific session can be found here..

Scrum’s simple approach of limiting work in process through the application of a timebox and creating focus is impressive. By embracing the timebox with cross-functional teams, people  learn to re-organize and collaborate to deliver potentially deliverable value in small increments where feedback is possible.

To educators, this can mean that the student (or team of students) can establish their own objectives for learning over a fixed period of time, focus on that learning and then obtain feedback on how they might adjust their learning patterns for the next cycle.

To realize their ability to work cross-functionally, we did an exercise using a Skills Matrix approach originating from the OpenAgile Framework.

What are the skills necessary to operate and grow our company and schools as a leadership team?
The leadership team at Blueprint Education grouping their ideas about the needed skills for their team.

The results looked like this...

The team decided on these for their definition of the quadrants for each skill...

All 4 quadrants means you can teach this.

Completed Skills Matrix

This exercise served several purposes including (but not limited to)..
  • It allowed the team members to recognize each other’s skills and strengths and from whom they could learn more.
  • It helped the team recognize that they do in fact have the skills necessary to take on almost any goal in a cross-functional way.
  • It allows individuals to recognize where they might grow their skills to help the team and the organization.
Over time, we’ll learn more about the wonderful things happening at the school(s). 

By example, this video was the creation of the teachers and leaders at Hope High School in Phoenix Arizona. They worked together as a team to discover a shared vision for their school…

If you are interested in learning more, I encourge you to reach out to John Miller or the Blueprint Education folks.  Of course, I'd also be glad to help as well.

More to come...


John Miller & Agile Classrooms -
OpenAgile Institute -
Skills Matrix - OpenAgile -

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Do not create unnecessary fear and animosity with Development Managers

During agile transitions, the Development Manager often feels like an outcast.

I'd like to present an important discussion to have with Development Managers, especially the ones that go out of their way to help and not hinder.

Most Development Managers have their positions because they know something about development. I have yet to find one that does not care about the people that work with them (or for them). They have usually built relationships with those they work with.

Assume the following scenario for discussion purposes;
  • The Development Manager is openly supportive of the changes to occur (and is sincere).
  • Support is both top-down and bottom-up.
  • A coaching team is put together to help (some external, some internal coaches).
  • It has been decided (let's just assume for a good reason), the company will be using Scrum.
Cross-functional teams are formed and the people will go through the Tuckman model of Team formation: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.  

The Development Manager is encouraged to allow the teams to grow organically. He understands that a high-performing team arises from a group of people working hard to solve problems on their own. 

Image "Team" by Dawn (Wills) Manser under a CC 2.0 license

As teams grow, they build confidence and seem to become self-contained, and almost insular to some. This is normal and is not a sign of dysfunction. This simply indicates that the team is starting to have  self identity. They are starting to act as a team. This is a good sign.

Eventually, the team will mature to a point where they realize they need outside help to act effectively in a larger organization.

Something is happening.. The Development Manager is starting to feel disconnected from the team and the work.  

As the teams become more effective, the Development Manager feels more loss.

Put yourself in the position where (through all your good intentions), you no longer feel you have relationships with the people that used to report to you. 

Consider the agile value "People and Interactions".  

Ideas for Coaches and Scrum Masters

If you are coaching, once the team has achieved a certain level of self-awareness and autonomy, remind them that the Development Manager is a person and...

There is No rule in Scrum or the Agile Manifesto  that says "team members may not talk to a manager". 

I have coached several pre-existing teams coached by others, that have been very happy to learn this. Do not assume this is known.

Potential discussions with Teams:
  • Thank the Development Manager for the support. 
  • If you have trust with the team, ask them if they would like to invite their manager to their next team lunch or get-together.
  • Next time the team needs help, consider asking the Development Manager for an idea! 
  • Be inventive. I've seen all kinds of interesting things.  One of the coolest was a manager who was brought in as an SME by the request of the team for a strange product the manager had worked on in in the past. This helped to create a feeling of contribution and trust.

Discussion with the Development Manager:
  • Talk about what the manager should expect and how the team will evolve. 

  • Do not simply assume that a manager new to Scrum or Agile will know this if they have never experienced it. 
The team will "come back to them" as they mature.  The manager needs to know they will still have personal bonds with their peers in the future. 

This feeling will pass as the team realizes it needs others to succeed in the organization. 

Scrum Masters or Coaches have an important responsibility here; To recognize this as a time to build bridges. Hopefully you have been spending time teaching and coaching servant leadership to the Development Manager so they can provide the appropriate guidance and support. 

When I'm with an account, I find it respectful to explain to the Development Manager that there is a natural evolution for a team, and they should expect some sense of personal loss at first.

Awareness is always a better approach than surprise. Surprise creates fear and animosity. 

Development Managers can enjoy learning new skills, or new approaches to leading and working. However, they are unlikely to be in such a frame of mind if they feel like outcasts. 

Consider the importance of transparency and openness about team evolution, and that it makes no sense that all the skills and knowledge of the Development Manager should be ignored or dismissed.

A Development Manager who knows and understands this natural evolution of teams will appreciate the knowledge. This is a far more desirable approach than an unnecessary feeling of loss.

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile