becky hartman interview

Food for (Agile)Thought: An Interview with Senior Agile Coach, Becky Hartman

becky hartman interview
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Becky Hartman, a senior agile coach at AgileThought, is on the path to becoming a Professional Scrum Trainer. In this interview, she discusses how her background in project management has evolved with agile, and how she motivates herself to move forward in her career.

How did you get your start in agile?

My start in agile actually came from volunteering and participation with the Project Management Institute (PMI). I was the president of the Suncoast PMI chapter. John Stenbeck, who is well known in the PMI world, was making his foray into agile training. He was coming to do training for our chapter, but I wasn’t going to go. He said, “Becky, you’d be really good at this. You already have all the skills necessary—you just need a new vocabulary. I can help you see how all of your skills that you currently have translate. It’s just a little bit different.” I haven’t thought about that in a long time, and actually it’s absolutely true.

So, I went and took his class. I also went to an evening meetup with Jesse Fewell and learned more about Scrum and agile there. Decided I liked what I had heard, specifically that everyone in the team shares the work. As a project manager working on higher and higher stakes projects, I was feeling less and less comfortable carrying the weight of the accountability and the responsibility for the whole team. I was just really feeling the stress and the pressure. I liked the idea that I wasn’t accountable for other people’s work. Other people have to step up.

That was my foray into it. My first certification was the PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner. Then after that I took my Certified Scrum Master. Then I just continued on the path. A lot of times in my career, when I wanted to learn something, I would initially get involved as a volunteer, because it was a safe way for me to learn. That’s how I learned how to be a sound engineer too, I just volunteered and eventually ended up with the job. So, it was the same with PMI. As soon as I got my PMP I went and volunteered in the chapter, and that led me to getting all kind of contacts, and mentors and people to give me information and help.

Talk about the transfer of skills. What skills transferred easily, and what did you have to unlearn?

Growing up, everybody told me I was bossy. I can do command and control really well. I think it’s a place we all revert to when we need to. It’s a place of fear, but we all revert there easily. I commanded that place pretty well, because I was always afraid of being wrong. I still work with it all the time, which is that place of being vulnerable, or of saying, “I don’t know,” or asking the question you think everybody else in the room knows the answer to, but you don’t know. I unlearn that all the time. Every class I teach, every team I coach, there’s something significant that they know, that I don’t know. So, I unlearn that all the time.

Transfer of skills? Organization, communication. I’m a huge talker, huge communicator, and even still we can all always improve communication. That was key in project management, especially in the patterns and connections that you make. So, that transferred really well for me. My desire to be a team player and to lean into teams, and to help connect people as a network, that’s helped me phenomenally in my career. That’s a transferrable skill in agile. All of the things that came out of PMI, for the most part, I can still apply, but in a different way. I manage risk more. I plan more now but in shorter increments.

What’s been the best agile coaching advice you’ve ever been given?

The best agile coaching advice—and I’ve had so much good advice—is from one of my mentors and friends, Matt Barcomb. He said to me, “You do the best you can with what you know, and you’ll learn more later. You’ll look back and think, ‘I wish I’d done better for them at the time.’ But, you know, you always just do the best you can.” I think if you really feel like in your gut you’re doing the best you can, you don’t have any regrets. It’s when you’re not doing the best you can and you’re being a jerk, that I think you have regrets.

What advice would you give other people who are aspiring to be in your position?

Learn, learn, learn, and network, network, network. Find people who know things that you don’t know and talk to them. Build your network. Go places where like-minded people are, and learn, learn, learn. There is no successful coach that I know, or successful Scrum Master that I know, who is not constantly on some level, in some way, learning and hearing new things.

Frequently we hear people say they can’t get jobs without experience, even with a certification. What advice do you have for people in that situation?

In our local market in Tampa Bay, if you can’t get involved in something, you are not trying hard enough. There is so much opportunity throughout the state with conferences and meetups. If you want an opportunity, it’s there, and there are plenty of ways to get engaged, to bring something forward, to ask others to participate with you.

You want to try being a Scrum Master? Do a community project with a group of folks, and act in the capacity of the Scrum Master. Ask a coach to help coach that project team. Ask someone to do agile games with you. We can teach Scrum that way, so they can gain useful experience and know how to use the skills they’ve learned with their certification.

You just got back from three days of Scrum.org Train the Trainer class. What stands out in your mind about that experience?

It was intense! This was the second opportunity I got to be at least partly engaged in a Train the Trainer activity. The first time AgileThought hosted the class, I attended even though I wasn’t really a Train the Trainer candidate. So, this time I kind of knew what to expect. It was a little different the way they conducted it, but it only made it slightly less terrifying. There were a couple of things that made it better: I already knew the trainer, Stephanie Ockerman. I already knew Daphne Harris, the Director of the Professional Scrum Trainer Program. We were at Scrum.org headquarters, which is where I wanted to be.

We did some rapid-fire questions. We all took turns teaching Scrum Discovery. We wrote out the hardest questions we get as coaches and trainers, and then flipped them all over. Everybody picked one question and answered it on camera. We all got a topic that we had to teach back to the room. We had ten minutes to decide what we would do and four minutes to deliver it.

During the training class, they create an incredible space where people give feedback to each other. On the third day, we did this activity –I highly recommend it—where you take a piece of paper, and you write your name at the top. You pass it to the person on the left. Everybody, when they get their turn, writes something positive about that person that they’ve experienced in the last couple of days. After you write it, you fold it, so you don’t anchor the next person. When you get it, you get this folded up piece of paper. All you see is your name at the top and you wait until everybody gets theirs. Stephanie says, “Now, open them.” You can see what every person around the circle said about you. It gives you a sense of, “I’m here. I’ve achieved something by being here.” Because, they know what comes next is intense.

What are the key qualities you think that make a good trainer?

Willingness to be vulnerable when people are pushing back. This kind of training really challenges people. You know you have 20, 30-year veterans who have been developers, who have worked on projects, who have been very successful in very high-technical industries, who have always done it in a plan-driven way and were very successful. That certainly has its place. But, challenging them to think differently, people do get really excited, and sometimes really angry. Being able to stand in a place of confidence and not get angry back—I think that’s a good quality.

I think being passionate about your topic is super important, too, because it drives you to be willing to learn and adapt for the class whenever people bring things up. For me, something that I’ve just begun to put into practice in the last several months, is being focused on your learners’ learning, versus, ‘I have a whole bunch of knowledge, and I’m just going to stand up here and pontificate at you.’ I’m learning that all of the time.

What are your goals for the future? Especially in terms of the AgileThought and with the clients?

At AgileThought, I think the world is my oyster in terms of moving down the path of training and development. I want to do more of that, and grow, and learn. Coaching comes under that—to coach teams, and to work with teams, and to coach within a classroom.

I was just thinking about this earlier: can I ever overcome my fear, my imposter syndrome? Can I just get more comfortable with being uncomfortable? And last night was the first time ever that I’ve known I had a class coming, and I still slept all night. It’s not stopping me.

That’s my goal, is trying to educate myself enough, or get to a point where I go, “Yeah, it’s there, but it’s not fear.”

What are some other tactics that you use to overcome your imposter syndrome and step out of your comfort zone?

Meditation helps, for sure. I also try to stay close to things that inspire me, because imposter syndrome tends to keep you isolated. The more you isolate, the further you get to non-truths, and the further you move away from the truth. I pretty consistently remind myself of the positive things other people tell me they experience, with my coaching, with my mentoring, and especially in my class of peers.

The fact that people I respect consistently ask me for my opinion also helps. There are a lot of places I’ll stay silent when I feel like I’m in the presence of those who know more than me. I just keep trying to go out on a limb, whether I mean to or not, and push myself to say what I think. So, I spent a long period of time pushing myself to be out there, out there, out there. Then I created a name through my volunteering, and in our local community, and from being here. My job forces me to be out there.

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