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The Importance of Agile Methodologies Within Student-led Industry Projects

Jun 13, 2017 By Chris Sroka

Al Sinoy is a master of agile methodology, a key component of the MDM program that he graduated from in 2010. Previously, he discussed with us the value of sprints from the perspective of a scrum master within the Berlin-based game company, Wooga. Now Al is back home at the CDM as a visiting faculty member, coaching student teams through the various components of agile methodologies as they embark on industry projects. We caught up with Al to discuss the importance of agile methodologies within student-led industry projects. 

What is Agile? Why have you dedicated yourself to scrum?

Agile is a development mindset that is easy to learn but hard to master. Agilists value being fast, being adaptive and continuously improving with a rhythm. The most popular framework is Scrum. Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Scrum Developers are very much on demand in tech scene.

One of the most common challenges in the real world is to shape the right mindset that is required in running a scrum team to build a high performing team and high quality product. The fundamental mindset is based on not being scared to fail fast but learning to adapt, and having key timeboxed meetings in place where team members encourage each other continuously improve.

What’s great about the MDM program is that it’s a priceless opportunity to practice the scrum rhythm and simulate scenarios without the pressures of letting down a company/supervisor or feeling worried that you may get fired.

I dedicated myself to scrum because I was introduced the concept of it at MDM, followed up with it in the mobile game industry and lived the full benefits of it. A lot of the practices made more sense after I was formally trained by official scrum trainers and studied the official scrum material.

I was very interested to bring this back to the MDM Program to teach the fundamentals in scrum and guide teams with best habits to create the same successes that I experienced. The feedback I received for being hands-on was that the students get a better understanding of how to approach the different tools and how everyone plays a role in planning and improving, not just the managers.

Another challenge is that the students don’t necessarily share same the insight from reading books and get confused on how to really execute a certain idea or exercise. With hands-on mentorship, I can fully guide teams on what is involved in the process and not over-think about doing every exact detail as described by the book.

Where I gain additional trust from the students is when I refer to stories that I experienced back at Wooga. What gives students a good amount of relief is that teams even in successful running companies make mistakes. The idea is to learn how to overcome these mistakes gracefully and not drown in them with frustration. I believe what will make our MDM graduates stand out is their knowledge on how to create impactful and positive change in their work environment.

Can you ellaborate the concept of Agile/Scrum to help shape high performing teams?

I refer to the agile manifesto to all the teams I teach. It states 4 agile values. The most important for me is: Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools.

I embraced this statement while studying at MDM even before I knew what the agile manifesto was. The missing element that teams forget to practise is having a retrospective at a weekly rhythm for teams to evaluate together what they do well and what they should change to become better. With the right team mindset and effective tools, it really works wonders.

What is your biggest achievement in shaping high performing teams?

My biggest achievement was applying all the tools and practises to shape “The Diamond Dash” team. We were one of the highest-performing teams that created one the most popular games on facebook canvas and was in top 10 grossing iOS charts in its prime.

Even after the team dispersed to different paths over time, we’re still very close and talk about how well we worked together and how we built great friendships that helped achieve great milestones for our game.

How can that be adopted to student project teams? How can they improve?

The students seem to easily understand the theory in the lectures I give but they make sense of how it is really done in practise once I coach them through the process for at least 3-4 weeks. Once they figure out the rhythm and know how to conduct the key meetings themselves, I let them run the scrum process on their own and look out for indicators of success.

Easy indicators are how they communicate in their meetings, how effective their retrospectives were to show big improvement in the process, the working piece of media that comes out of every sprint and if we all can sense that the team is having fun.

What are some misconceptions of scrum?

One of the most common misconceptions about scrum is following the framework by the book. From my observations outside the MDM program, teams resist the change from their managers because it either feels enforced, the style doesn’t really fit to them or they do so many changes at once.

I found the most success by introducing the retrospectives first to teams in production because it focuses on improving the way people work with each other. This habit can drastically affect the quality of the work that comes out with every sprint. Once they witness the change, teams become more open to try new things and adapt to the concept of scrum development.

How do you think Agile/Scrum can improve student-led industry progects? 

I think the missing link for the MDM students was having a better grasp on rhythm and how to treat certain aspects like timeboxing. After having gone through the scrum trainings and applying the practices in the industry, I am able provide the students more clarity on the different scrum practices, demonstrate them and guide them while they are practicing it.

Over the years, I learned that there were many ways and styles to facilitate the scrum flow and my role as the student's “Agile Coach” is to consult them with different exercises whenever they feel stuck.

The part that makes my job so enjoyable is that when I witness the student teams eventually drive their own rhythm, feel a sense of how they improved over time and start sharing best practices that was specific to them to become a high-performing team. In the end, I get to learn from them as much as they get to learn from me.

We are happy to have Al back at the CDM. Learn more about Al on his website or connect with him on LinkedIn