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First time with Jeff Sutherland, one of the fathers of Scrum

Scrum leads the change because it is simple. Unlike Deming, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Total Productivity Management (TPM), Scrum is easy to understand and to implement.

Thirteen years ago my company was the first company in Thailand to win the Deming prize from Japan. The management and employees were very proud of their success, but more than fifteen talented engineers resigned during implementing the Deming methodology. Again later, when my company implemented TQM and TPM, for ten years I had to deal with PowerPoint, reports, meetings, and unproductive activities.

Jeff Sutherland is the co-creator of Scrum with Ken Schwaber. Meeting Jeff was one of my dreams. I wanted to meet him because I wanted to know why this guy was able to change the world. It had to involve more than his sharp intellect. After spending 40 hours with him in two events - the Silicon Valley Agile Leadership Network and the Certified Product Owner Seminar - I sensed from my “human being radar” that Jeff is a humble and simple listener.  

Many famous or infamous leaders are arrogant, but Jeff is quite opposite. I met Jeff for the first time on Jun 18, 2017 at the Silicon Valley Agile Leadership event at CA Technologies, Santa Clara U.S.A. While I was helping volunteers to set up food and drinks, I saw him talking to a man not too far from me. I approached him and told him how amazing Scrum was. While I was talking to him, I did not feel nervous because his easy smile contributed to a relaxed and engaging conversation. Our short conversation fueled my inspiration and passion for Scrum. This increased my desire to pursue a career of implementing Scrum for IT and non-IT businesses in the U.S.A., Thailand and around the world.

“Jeff looks ordinary. Yes, he looks ordinary. I mean he is very simple. I observed him during the three days of the events. He wore a black long sleeved shirt, black jeans, and black shoes. We had lunches together and he joined me and other attendees at a restaurant for a happy hour. Even though his accomplishments are extraordinary, but he did not act self-centered at all. He taught me that how normal people are, how extra people will be.”

Everyone understands the word “listen”, but how many people know how to listen to others? “No more small snowflakes!” He hit me hard with this phase on the morning of Jun 20, 2017 during a training session led by him as a product owner at Tesla. The trainees were divided into groups and directed to make cut-out paper snowflakes. At one point he told my group that he would buy our snowflakes if they were bigger than the ones we had made. I presented him with a new set. He bought it with saying “No more small snowflake”. I was awake immediately. It meant that I did not listen to my customer. This was a very power activity for me to learn to listen to others. Outside of this activity, anytime I talked to him, he listened to me and let me finish my conversation first and then he gave me useful and practical answers or suggestions. In my years first as a student, as an intern and now as a participant in Scrum training workshops I rarely see this skill from other instructors.

Scrum is simple, but it is a remarkable tool to make the world better. Learning to be a humble, simple listener like Jeff is necessary for me, because it will create the possibility of success as I teach others to use this tool. I will listen not only my customers, but also my family, friends, and anyone in my life to serve their needs more effectively. 

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