Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam 2023

Whoohoo! Earliest Global Scrum Gathering blog post ever: Still in October! The management summary is: The Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam 2023 inspired me and confirmed the way I work. Here are the 3 main aspects for me:

  1. ScrumMasters have to take care of the organization (waiting for Agile Coaches or having this task taken away is fundamentally wrong)!
  2. Agility is not the end — on the contrary: taking people’s feelings (customers and employees) into account and empowering them is more important than ever in these times (AI, economic crisis).
  3. Change is political: Change can only be successful with political skills and their systemic application

You see, it was great fun again. That’s why in this post I’m sharing the highlights of the sessions I attended in Amsterdam and you’ll find out something about the speakers including links to further reading. Let’s go:

Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam 2023

Compared to Scrum Gathering Vienna, which was the largest GSG to date with >1000 participants, the number of participants has decreased significantly to <500. You hardly noticed it: the atmosphere was great! Compared to Lisbon 2022, in my opinion there were better presentations, which led to a significantly improved mood among the participants. The conversations in the hallways between sessions were more animated and instead of continuing socializing, many people quickly went back to the next room to continue learning.

My personal Amsterdam Gathering agenda

  • Keynote: Shola Kaye — Culture, Leadership Communication, Performance: Delivering Effective Feedback With Empathy
  • Nigel Baker — The Forgotten Piece of Scrum: ScrumMasters!
  • Lothar Fischmann & Andrea Tomasini — Beyond Backlog Items: A Complexity-Oriented Approach to Agile Strategy Execution
  • Keynote: Jurgen Appelo — Nothing Matters Except the (Employee/Customer) Experience
  • Dmytro Yarmak — A True Story of Agile Coaching in Ukrainian Armed Forces
  • Michael Sahota — Agile Coaching Under Fire
  • Paul Goddard — Product Pinocchio (from Gamestorming)
  • Suzanne Kaye Doyle & Lucia Baldelli — Systemic Coaching to Maximize Your Change Impact

Unlike previous gatherings, I didn’t focus on a specific track or topic, but instead consistently chose the sessions that sounded most like active participation.

Outside the agenda Karina Danilyants reminded me that a gathering like this also has a social side that you should give in to. For example, the traditional Monday Mingle and dinner and drinks on Tuesday. Thanks Dani 🙂

Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam Posts

Keynote: Shola Kaye — Culture, Leadership Communication, Performance: Delivering Effective Feedback With Empathy

Shola Kaye - Effective Feedback, visual notes by Robert Kalweit

A good opening speech marked a solid start to this year’s Scrum Gathering: Shola Kaye introduced her contribution with the effects of poorly delivered feedback.

  • The cold shoulder (silent treatment) — complete ignorance
  • Avoidance — Avoiding feedback by dodging and making excuses
  • Drive-by feedback — feedback between the doors and in short time
  • Comparisons — Feedback always only in comparison to other employees
  • Wrecking ball — devastating feedback out of the blue

are probably the worst ways to give feedback. All with their individually different but similarly serious effects.

Better ways to give feedback:

  • SBI: Situation, Behavior, Impact – certainly one of the best-known feedback models
  • Stanford Design School’s “I like, I wish, I wonder”
    In this model, the introduction is very constructively reinforcing, then focuses on opportunities for improvement and questions whether this is a way to improve the situation together or at least in agreement.
  • SAID: Strengths, Action, Impact, Development – very similar to SBI. We emphasize each other’s strengths, lead to the situation, explain what effects certain behaviors have and conclude with the desire for development in a certain direction.

Overall, an entertaining keynote, but with little innovation: Every coach definitely has several feedback models up their sleeve and every ScrumMaster should use and practice at least one feedback model regularly. The Internet is full of “The 10 best feedback models” and the ones mentioned are usually there.

Wie ich Feedback gebe

My method is (since a Communication training several years ago): Perception, Impact, Wish, Open question:

  • Perception — in my opinion, “perception” is superior to “situation” because no one can describe a situation objectively. That’s why you can always start with “My impression is…”. This cannot be contradicted, because that is just my impression. So I always openly admit that my perception may not be correct. A less aggressive start to the conversation.
  • Impact — what impact does a behavior have on me and/or the group?
  • Wish — as I can imagine, to achieve an improvement.
  • Open question (!) — actually always “What do you think?”, the most open question of all.

Fun fact: I prepare every conversation like this. My mnemonic is “pivo” — that’s Czech for “beer.” So I always start the thought with a smile“Perception, Impact, Wish, Open question”.

Nigel Baker — The Forgotten Piece of Scrum: ScrumMasters!

Nigel Baker - The forgotten Part of Scrum: ScrumMasters, visual notes by Robert Kalweit

Nigel Baker’s lecture on the topic of ScrumMaster was a glowing plea to finally fulfill the task in the classic sense again. He has picked up on the trend of seeing ScrumMaster as an internal team role, as a feel-good manager for the development team. A role that is, firstly, far too small and, secondly, rarely even necessary.

Favorite quote:

Calling a ScrumMaster a “team facilitator” is like calling a firefighter a “cat rescuer.” That’s true, but it’s only a small part of the whole.

Nigel Baker

What is needed much more is a holistic ScrumMaster role: one that focuses equally on the development team (working methods, conflicts, technical excellence), the product owners (sparring, strategy, operational) and above all the organization again (Agile values, higher-level organization of teams and projects, organizational deficits). Lately, Agile Coaches have been taking over a lot of this Agile work and thus weakened the ScrumMaster role. This has also contributed to ScMs being seen as a “part-time role” and being hired by higher management levels as an team-exclusive role. That has to change again. ScrumMasters are change agents and a group of motivated ScrumMasters can speed up the evolution of an organization.

I see it completely the same way. That’s why I don’t just stay with the team in the ScrumMaster role, but also work with other ScrumMasters to always serve the entire organization.

Lothar Fischmann & Andrea Tomasini — Beyond Backlog Items: A Complexity-Oriented Approach to Agile Strategy Execution

A practical workshop on the topic Agile Strategy Mapping. A very short summary:

  1. We are working towards a goal
  2. We identify Confirmed success factors (things we have learned and demonstrated in experiments or recent experiences) and resulting tasks
  3. We identify Potential success factors (Things we assume, we hope for, but which we cannot (yet) be sure about) and the resulting experiments

The Agile Strategy Map thereby enables us to distinguish between reliable and unreliable actions and to consciously prioritize between implementation and learning in our strategy (the path to the goal).

An interactive and refreshing reminder that many things in product management are based on assumptions that have yet to be proven. Thanks for that, Agile42!

Keynote: Jurgen Appelo — Nothing Matters Except the (Employee/Customer) Experience

THAT was a great keynote. Not only do we all now know that Vader Abraham was and is the greatest musician of all time and the best DJ of the 90s, 2000s and today, no, it was also funny and educational. Here are a few highlights and links to Jurgen’s blog articles on the individual topics:

Jurgen had some examples from Haier Group, a company that closed 12,000 middle management positions and split its 80,000-person organization into 4,000 micro-enterprises (more at Instead of managers, they now have entrepreneurs with small, powerful teams. Their principle number 1: Zero distance towards the customer. Products are unimportant: what matters is the customer experience. A good example: Farmers in China used their washing machines to wash potatoes because they then got a higher price on the market with the cleaner, nicer potatoes. Now ask yourself: what washing machine product development team is thinking of these use cases?

Jurgen concluded that Value Streams don’t start with a customer request, but with a signal: A customer doesn’t always ask. A customer has a need for a better experience.

He also cleared up some misinterpretations: Yes, you can work agile without making a release visible to customers every 2 weeks (and in many companies you even have to do that)!

“Jobs-to-be-done” combined with 5x why questions is a good way to find out the true customer needs.

And: The customer need is not always as specific as the product that is used. Netflix e.g. not only competes with Disney+ and Amazon Video. Netflix competes with everything people do to relax! 💡

Last but not least, I learned a new abbreviation: Try a RAT:

🐀 RAT: Riskiest Assumption Test -> The smallest thing we can do to minimize the greatest risk.

Dmytro Yarmak — A True Story of Agile Coaching in Ukrainian Armed Forces

As a Ukrainian Dmytro had to join the army and led a unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. I can only recommend this lecture! It was inspiring to see how an agile mindset unfolds change and improvement in every conceivable environment,in this case in a hierarchical organization like the military.

Inspired by statements like “Between Command & Control, there are always other options,” Dmytro has continued to find ways to improve things.

Willem Vermaak on Command & Control
Between Command & Control there’s always an Option.

An example: The order was given: “Within 10 minutes I need two people from your unit who have to do explosives training tomorrow.” Instead of giving this order to two potentially unmotivated people in 10 minutes, he talked to his people. And so two soldiers were found who were very interested in it and were therefore much more motivated to complete this training and of course achieved a greater learning effect for their unit.

I don’t want to say much more here. It was a great, heartwarming talk with an emotional backdrop. A perfect combination of professional learning and personal history.

Michael Sahota — Agile Coaching Under Fire

That was my second talk from Michael Sahota after London 2018 and like back then, this one didn’t disappoint either. On the contrary: Sahota, like few others, manages to get to the heart of things AND to take the listener along and engage them.

Agile coaching is under attack: Organizations are resisting the changes we are striving for (for the good of everyone?). Why?

We can only change organizations if our values ​​are aligned. So he asked: What are your values? And then: Which of these values ​​are also important to the organization (my customers)? Here’s what it looks like for me:

My valuesValues ​​of most organizations
Work well together❌ only important if managers are behind it
have fun❌ almost always secondary
get things done✅ Check! We agree here

Only when our values ​​are aligned can we convince people and promote change. With fun and good collaboration, I can rarely convince managers to take certain measures. However, we quickly come to a common denominator when we are convinced that with certain (agile, but there is no need to mention that) practices we can get more things done or better.

So the question that ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches and other change agents have to ask themselves is:

How can you help others be successful?

Michael Sahota

Only then, building on this shared success, can major changes be initiated.

Michael Sahota at the Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam 2023: Agile Coaching under fire
Michael Sahota at the Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam 2023: Agile Coaching under fire

Of course, in order to help others to be successful, you have to know what these other people want — feeling, suspecting, and asking about this is a political skill and part of our work!

Paul Goddard — Product Pinocchio (from Gamestorming)

Paul Goddard introduced the “Product Pinocchio” exercise from the book “GameStorming” in this entertaining session. Classic approach: Large group divided into small groups, clear instructions, went through the exercise piece by piece. Little innovation, but lots of fun. At this point here is the Goodreads book recommendation list of this year’s Scrum Gathering:

Suzanne Kaye Doyle & Lucia Baldelli — Systemic Coaching to Maximize Your Change Impact

The last session I was at: An introduction to systemic (holistic) coaching. Suzanne and Lucia explained systemic coaching using many examples and with great involvement of the participants and picked up on experiences: We mapped the relationships within our organizations (me: last customer) in small groups and talked about them. For me, this was a good insight: relationships within the customer organization are powerful. With such a map and greater awareness of these relationships, I would have approached my most recent engagement differently:

Systemic Coaching: Relationship Map
Systemic Coaching: Relationship Map

Global Scrum Gathering Amsterdam 2023 — Conclusion

A lot of impressions, a bit of something new, a lot of inspiration and motivation – that was the Scrum Gathering in Amsterdam for me. It could only have been nicer if I hadn’t come home with a bad cold. As before, and despite the declining number of participants, I can warmly recommend a Scrum Gathering like this to all agilists: the exchange, the atmosphere and the content are still great. Let’s see where it goes in 2024! Questions? Notes or comments? Get in touch — either directly below or on the well-known channels.

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