Interview with Barry Overeem

As you probably know from other posts, this week I was attending the Agile Lean Ireland 2018 in Dublin. I want to use this blog to share some of my insights about the talks and the conversations with other people.

In this post, I want to share an interview with Barry Overeem, here a link to his amazing blog. Barry was leading a workshop at the conference about the “8 Stances of a Scrum Master”. I totally recommend you to go visit his blog, he has really interesting stuff, useful for the daily work.

If you’d like to read more interviews I made, here you have one with Jeff Gothelf at the same event.

I’d like to jump directly to the interview, I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.


– Many people know you from all your contributions to the agile community such as your blog and podcasts in some shows, and the workshops you lead. Tell us a little more about yourself.

I’ve been working in the IT sector for about 17 years already. I started my personal Scrum journey 9 years ago mostly by fulfilling the Scrum Master role. Since a couple of years my work consists of a combination of sharing my lessons learned with the Scrum community, providing trainings & workshops, speaking at cool events and coaching organizations in their own Scrum journey. Together with Christiaan Verwijs, we started the company “The Liberators”. Our mission is to unleash organizational superpowers in the age of complexity.

– You have been sharing your insights about the Scrum Master rol for a while. A clear example is the great keynote about the 8 stances of Scrum Masters we can watch on your blog. If you would have to suggest nowadays a skill for Scrum Masters to be focused on, what would you recommend the most?

Facilitation! A Scrum Master should facilitate the Scrum events in such a way everyone enjoys spending time together and the desired outcome is achieved. The Scrum events should be considered as the ideal opportunity to collaboratively determine the best next step.

As a facilitator the Scrum Master can help increase transparency. As a Scrum Team they can offer transparency about the past (with the Increment), the current (with the Sprint Backlog) and the future (with the Product Backlog).

Being a facilitator, the Scrum Master can support this necessary transparency because this enables inspection and adaptation.

– We usually receive a lot of inputs about how a Scrum Master should help the team, however, the team itself should also improve the way it works. What would you recommend to developers, and the team in general, to increase their self-organization?

Trust them. And use the Scrum values to create an environment where trust can happen. I believe that everyone in the organization wants to succeed on a personal level, team level and organizational level. Self-organization is the best way to solve problems, build great products and determine the next steps.

Sometimes, however, the organizational structure is missing in which self-organization can occur. It’s up to the Scrum Master to help create the boundaries for self-organization. The Scrum framework itself already offers these boundaries of course.

– If we are not careful, eventually, we can get used to events, iterations, indicators, and not appreciate the real value behind the agile culture. How a team should avoid falling in the Zombie Scrum or Zombie Agile?

Hmm… maybe by reading all the articles that we’ve shared about Zombie-Scrum on the related website 🙂

Another tip is to keep things as simple as possible. I can’t repeat this enough. For this reason, we’ve created a “not Scrum” sheet in our trainings & workshops. Our purpose with the ‘Not Scrum’-sheet is to distinguish between possible useful practices (‘Not Scrum’) and elements of the framework. Scrum only prescribes what needs to be done, but not how. Practices like User Stories, Velocity, Stand-ups or Story Points can be very helpful, but they can also get in the way and in the worst case lead to Zombie-Scrum. Of course, this also applies to Kanban, XP, DevOps etc. Focus on what’s really useful for your situation. The rest is waste that should be removed.

– What advice could you share with big organizations that want to escalate agile with a worldwide approach? Would you suggest specific frameworks or principles?

Continuously focus on simplicity. Often complex organizations think they need complex tools and frameworks. However, things will only become even more complex. Always try to simplify your organization (and products) and focus on scaling-down instead of scaling-up. And don’t use tools like Jira, TFS etc. If you have to use these tools, again try to configure it in the most light-weight way.

– What 3 books would you suggest for Scrum Masters?

  • Scrum Mastery by Geoff Watts
  • 96 visualization examples by Jimmy Janlen
  • All the books by Henrik Kniberg
  • Liberating Structures
  • Lean Change Management by Jason Little
  • Scrum a pocket guide by Gunther Verheyen

… That’s 6. I know. I would be a lousy Product Owner!

– After the Agile Manifesto in 2001, many things happened in between. The situation back then seems to be different than now. More organizations try to work with an agile approach. Even the amount of time needed to stablish new companies and deliver new products is much smaller. Agile in some companies has become something critical to enable their success. How do you see the future of agile in 5-10 years from now?

Hmm… I’ve learned that it’s pretty difficult to predict the future 🙂

My hope is that the “Scrum cowboys” are gone. Companies that don’t really get the Scrum values and principles and mostly aim to make as much money as possible without truly helping individuals, teams and organizations. My hope is that we’ve build strong bridges between the Scrum, Kanban, DevOps, XP and Lean community. My hope is that Liberating Structures will become the enabler by which the potential of all the communities will be unleashed!

– Thank you so much, Barry

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