Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Valerie McLean believes that people, collaboration and communication can achieve amazing things. Currently spending her days as an agile coach and mum of one.

A Scrum Master on a Project Management course.

I recently attended a 5 day course for the APM's Project Management Qualification, followed by the exam for the qualification. When I tell people that, if they know I am a Scrum Master, they give me a strange look. I understand that, most people who know me know I have no interest in pursuing a career in Project Management. But that's exactly why I felt it would be beneficial for me to take the course.

A Scrum Master works not only with their team, but also with the wider organisation to promote agile values and the scrum framework. It is so important to learn the context of your specific scrum team within an organisation - the structure and practices going on around you. That's what I was hoping to get from the course.

One of the main takeaways I took from the course was this:

Every organisation is completely different.

Much like projects themselves, the structures that surround them are developed to fit around the needs of the organisation - it's finding the right balance between  too much and too little structure that is the holy grail.

It was really interesting to hear from the other people on the course and the types of projects they work on. I was the only person who works in an agile environment, but we also had someone who works in nuclear waste management, research, fmcg and a couple in financial services. It was a great mix which led to some really interesting conversations and examples.

The course is set up really well to cater for this diversity and our tutor was excellent throughout. We all shared our own experiences and were given the time to explore how to make each part of the syllabus apply to us. By the end of the week we were using each others examples to help us answer questions in the exam. 

The exam is a grueling 3 hours essay style paper, which is set up to help you prove your knowledge understanding of some of the key concepts, rather than repeat theory from the course material without thinking about real life. It really helped my understanding to put some of the concepts in to real life examples, whether from my own experiences, a house building or renovating project, or a work place example from a classmate.

The things I found difficult were the concepts which really go against the agile mindset. I had to take myself out of my working environment to imagine a project where every little detail could and needed to be planned before you could start on delivery. Having a classmate who worked on a nuclear plant really helped with this - that's not exactly a safe to fail environment!

I've taken a lot away from the course, understanding the roles and responsibilities of those working around me in a corporate environment is one, as well as the need for some of the bureaucracy that surrounds projects.

I want to bring my agile brain to the Project Management function

I think for me, working as a Scrum Master in a large organisation, I want to bring my agile brain to the Project Management function and focus on the appropriate levels needed to satisfy business needs. Ensuring that the processes adopted are suitable for teams working in the fast-moving software industry. Ensuring the project has enough information to ensure viability and enough structure to be in control, but not too much that it hinders progress.

I now see more clearly where I can feed into these discussions at an organisational level and I'm super glad I took the course. As to whether I pass the exam, I could be waiting a while for the results (officially it's up to 10 weeks!) but I'll update when I get the results in.

UPDATE: Results arrived just after 4 weeks and I passed! Happy days :)

What is Agile? Part 2: The Minimum Viable Product

What is agile? Part 1 - Cross-functional teams