Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women and nonbinary people leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women and nonbinary people in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.
What does a typical day entail for you?
My top priorities at Hudl are coaching the ScrumMaster chapter (SM), serving as a member of the Product Leadership Team, and coaching squads or individual contributors that are seeking Agile advice.
As ScrumMasters, we work hard at practicing the Scrum framework as intended: a simple process framework to rapidly do work and get feedback on it. We don’t complicate it. I talk about this simplicity with new hires at Hudl. Each time I do, I Google Scrum to see how many results pop up. When I first started giving the new hire presentation a couple of years ago there were just under 5 million results. Doing a quick search now, what do I get? 16 million. New add-ons seem to spring up every day. We focus instead on solving the problems the framework uncovers head-on. It’s difficult work, but worth it. It fits well with our company value of being “Respectfully Blunt.” We aren’t perfect at practicing Scrum and we’re always working to improve. But our SM Chapter likes to say “We have good problems to solve.” These good problems take up the bulk of my day.
I also coach on a daily basis. I prefer embedding with a squad or business unit and focusing on them for a longer period of time. I’ve had to learn the hard way — and am still learning — to avoid giving a little bit of advice to a lot of people. I also avoid “inflicting help.” It’s very tempting sometimes, but focusing instead on concerns or requests for help that bubble up from squads or business units themselves yields better outcomes.
How has going fully remote during quarantine changed the way you work? Are there any improvements you’re going to carry over once once things are back to normal?
For me personally, not a lot has changed. I often found myself in video calls and Zoom meetings before the pandemic because we’re a global company. We have ScrumMasters working in Omaha, London, Sydney (Australia, not Nebraska), Boston, and Den Bosch in the Netherlands. Zoom calls were our go-to for bi-weeklys, chapter meetings, and Scrum events.
The most challenging part for most Hudlies was quickly figuring out a work from home setup while sharing space with school aged children (and extra duties), spouses working from home, and roommates working from home. That’s probably true of most companies, but to ease that strain we were able to get equipment from local offices, had a WFH equipment stipend early in the pandemic, and leaned into our unlimited time off benefit. I think our familiarity with Zoom and our global distribution of people, coupled with company support, made it easier for us than many companies.
There have been some good things to come out of this that we’re going to carry forward. One of the most positive things is having a better sense of awareness of how remote employees feel. While we were good at the technology to enable remote working, a lot of people had never or rarely worked remotely before. We have many fully remote and internationally distributed Hudlies who routinely joined meetings on Zoom and would be staring at a conference room full of people. It was difficult to see who was at the far end of the table, or figure out who was speaking. Internet lag, and getting off mute quickly made it challenging to contribute without interrupting and being behind. Our level of awareness is so much greater now regarding how difficult it can be to work remotely. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and it’s something that will be top of mind and change how we work when we return to the office.
Your educational background is in Agricultural Economics. What was your career journey into technology like?
I’m an accidental ScrumMaster, and it was definitely a journey! I didn’t know much about technology when I was in college. The closest thing in my Ag Econ major was going to computer labs to complete my assignments in Lotus 123. We had to know our way around macros and formulas pretty well, but it was a far cry from programming. A lot of my coursework was around modeling and data sets, and I’ve always been drawn to analytics; those skills are still helpful to me today, but I didn’t decide to become a ScrumMaster when I completed my degree.
After college I went into banking where I did a lot of credit analysis, some loan origination, and then became a lender. During that time, I responded to an interesting Sunday newspaper ad and ended up getting a job in online learning. I found technology intrigued me.
The job involved development of new programming that could be delivered mostly online, with short face to face sessions woven in. I was so fortunate that during that period of time there was a huge emphasis in improving both access to and validity of online learning. There were a lot of audiences craving it: rural audiences, military members, medical professionals, and of course — people working full time that wanted to complete or advance their education. This interest allowed for a lot of experimentation and reimagining education. I loved the ability to try things out (early days of prototyping?) and get feedback from students on how it worked.
We did very interesting work and had a lot of talented people, but I was constantly stumped by why we had such a difficult time getting project work done. We routinely found ourselves in a long cleanup phase that was frustrating and tiring and demoralizing for the team. We got better at it, but didn’t figure out how to be good at it. Shortly after my time in higher ed, I was laid off during the Great Recession. I found myself looking for jobs and responded to an ad to help out a ScrumMaster and accidentally became a ScrumMaster myself. Right away I was hooked because I could see how the framework helped teams succeed in a way that wasn’t possible in previous project work that I’d struggled to improve. I’ve been a ScrumMaster ever since and have helped several companies with agile implementation.
Think about the best engineers or product people you’ve ever worked with. What qualities did they have?
Natural curiosity and willing skepticism. The natural curiosity to try solving a problem a few different ways, sometimes by taking their hands off the keyboard and thinking deeply about a problem. The engineers that don’t necessarily code first to solve a problem tend to be the most innovative.
Willing skeptic isn’t my term; but it’s one that made sense early on in Scrum implementations I was working on. I don’t expect anybody to just accept what I tell them about Scrum. Those who are skeptical, but willing to give it a try, usually get the most out of it.
I’ve also noticed that engineers with these traits are good team members. They are usually willing to not only be a specialist at what they do, but also to become a generalist at something else. Maybe that’s because of natural curiosity.
What are some of the most interesting challenges your team is trying to solve right now?
We’re in a market that stopped in its tracks a little under a year ago. Sports halted at the beginning of the pandemic. Most have started again, but our market is still far from normal.
We learned during this strange time how to make our product useful in new ways while our customers adapted how they play sports. We’ve never been through a period of time where teams weren’t playing, and it was scary. We didn’t know how long it would last. We still don’t know how far away normal is for our customers, and what parts of their new workflows will become permanent. The biggest challenge was pivoting to the needs of our customers so frequently. We believe we’re coming out of the stop in sports with improved products and poised to serve our customers even better than we were before.
Who’s one woman or nonbinary person in technology you’d like to name drop, and why?
When I look at my bookshelf there are many influences, specifically in learning Scrum. Many of those people I’ve listened to at conferences and on podcasts as well. Diana Larsen comes to mind, and Esther Derby as well. I don’t know them personally, but they’ve certainly influenced how I work.
Early on, I got their books because I learned one of the major success factors of a Scrum team is great squad dynamics. Building the right squad, with the right skill set and mix of personalities, then keeping that intact and healthy as long as you can is a lot of the magic. Their contributions in that area have been a huge influence in how I work with individual squads and how I coach. They are great at the mechanics of Scrum as well, but their work and influence on psychological safety and squad dynamics helped me a great deal.
I can think of two different times this week where their influences got my ScrumMaster/ Agile Coach spidey senses tingling and thinking: Hmm, there’s something else going on underneath this. This is not how this squad or this person normally acts or behaves, and there must be something else going on. I was able to get a one-on-one Zoom with them and talk through what’s really going on here. And sure enough, we uncovered something that was a big process hiccup, which led to a misunderstanding we were able to smooth out.
Without their influence, I would probably pay more attention to delivery and impediment removal. I encourage anyone who’s interested in Agile coaching to read anything they can from them, listen to them, and follow them.
What book do you think every product leader should read and why?
The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff and J.J. Sutherland. It breaks down the end goal of Scrum. Even if you’re not interested in Scrum, but interested in better efficiency and curious about what might be slowing you down, this is a great book. The other is Inspired, by Marty Cagan. If you’re in a product company, this is a must read. As I was reading his book, I was thinking, Oh, yeah! All the really good product owners I’ve ever worked with do these things!!. He does an excellent job of giving examples and laying good product work out in practice. It quantified so much for me about what my really fantastic product owners had been doing. We don’t have project managers, and we don’t have product owners at Hudl. I dug really deep into this book because product management is so different than product ownership for an internal project — like migrating to a new system. I had worked on products in the past, but I couldn’t articulate what set good product managers and companies apart. No matter what role you have in a product company, this is a must-read.
How have you gotten creative with your plans this year during quarantine?
The most creative thing we did was rethink a high school graduation party to be safe and socially distant. The biggest hit was individually wrapped hotdogs, like you get at a concession stand. Why do they taste so much better coming out of that wrapper?
Know another woman or nonbinary person whose name we should drop? Tweet us at @HubSpotDev with ideas.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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