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Posing with Shirley Santiago At RCG

I read an article about James Corden’s Late Late show and his struggle to get the carpool karaoke concept off the ground. Nobody wanted to be on it and it was only by luck that the producer managed to corner one of Mariah Carey’s team members at a party to get her into Corden’s now famous SUV. After Mariah, others followed, and the rest is history.

Now of course I wouldn’t dare to suggest that our Scrum Around the World study is as famous as carpool karaoke (none of our blogs have ever hit 130 million viewers!), but we could put ourselves in James’s shoes. Before leaving the UK to travel around the world to visit local companies and Scrum teams, many people warned us that the biggest challenge would be to get those companies to open their doors to us and participate in the study. Despite community being a cornerstone of Agile principles and practices, I must admit that I shared their concerns.

And we did struggle a bit in the beginning, our first country was Argentina where we literally did not know anyone in the Agile community and where face to face communication is so incredibly important in the culture. But we were in luck as we found that the Argentinian Agile community had a big breakfast meetup planned in honour of the Board of Agile Alliance who were visiting South America for the very first time. We decided to join the breakfast (feeling a bit like wedding crashers). We not only met with many great people on that morning, but we also received invites to visit two local companies: 10Pines and Intive-FDV. Unlike the producer of the Late Late show, we did not have to corner anyone, they invited us without any hesitation 😉. Since then we have not been sitting idle; we have visited many great companies and met with many awesome people who have a passion for Agile and are willing to share their experience.

One of those people with true passion for Agile is Shirley Santiago. Shirley is a Professional Scrum Trainer (Scrum.org), and she works as a Chief Architect at RCG Global Services, a business consulting company offering technology & professional services with offices in the USA (head office) and the Philippines. Shirley is based in Manila and that is where we met with her to talk about Scrum in the Philippines, the Agile transformation within RCG Global Services and how teams and clients have adapted over time.

The Scrum movement in the Philippines is relatively immature, and it began to only get real traction from around 2012. Nowadays there is a great deal of interest and its popularity is on the rise, especially within the younger generation. Evidence of this is the Agile Meet Up in Manila that we joined the week before, where more than 110 attendees showed up. There are various reasons why companies in the Philippines decide to transform to Agile. Management at some companies realise that to compete they need to change the way they work. Others are following the trend.

In the Philippines, where traditionally company structures are hierarchical, it is essential that top management is fully behind an Agile transformation. Employees are very much open and adaptable to a culture change, however in general they will in the first instance seek for active buy in from their management.

RCG Global Services started their culture change from the top. The company President and Shirley had a shared vision of Agile transformation within RGG Global Services. This alignment and active involvement from top management has made the journey much smoother. On top of that, one of RCG’s biggest clients started their Agile transformation journey at the same time, strengthening the collaboration between the client and RCG Global Services even further. They were in it together.

It all kicked off in 2013. At first Shirley organised a group of consultants within the organisation who were keen on learning Scrum and she started the official training with them. They were her so called ‘guinea pigs’. After that initial training session, other colleagues became curious and a snowball effect happened. Aside from the Scrum training, more knowledge was gained by sharing experiences across different projects. This paved a way to building stronger Scrum teams, whilst also providing the opportunity for people to get to know each other and align the ways of working.

The concept of family is very important in the Philippines. Employees regard supporting their family as a priority. In order to give this support to their family on a financial level, monetary rewards and career progression are important. But it is not only blood relatives that are regarded as family. As we also experienced in South America, work and social lives are intertwined in the Philippines. Work colleagues, especially team mates, can be regarded as family resulting in teams that are strong in collaboration and knowledge sharing with a lot of respect and empathy for fellow team members. This, in combination with the innate politeness of Philippine culture means that true openness can sometimes be compromised, making retrospectives a bit tricky for example. Nobody wants to be seen to be openly criticising or risk hurting family and friends. Creating a safe environment is key to overcome this.

Because the Scrum teams at RCG Global Services stay together for long periods of time, they have been through the Tuckman stages of team formation (forming, storming, norming, performing). However, sometimes a Scrum team needs to be broken up and new teams are formed. As the team members in the Scrum teams are so close, this can feel as if they are being ripped away from their ‘work family’, which they find hard. At RCG it is common for people to still meet daily with ex-team mates – often going to lunch with their ‘old’ team. It takes time for new team connections to be made, but over the years, not only are there strong teams, but strong inter-team relations and communications.

Now 5 years later 80% to 90% of teams at RCG Global Services are Scrum teams. More clients are understanding the benefits of Agile ways of working and are eager to move to it. Collaboration between development teams and clients is closer. Lessons of discipline in ensuring quality of product have been learnt. They continue to evolve engineering practices such as Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery and ATTD.

All this is being achieved in no small part by the passion that Shirley has for teaching and spreading Scrum. A passion just as high as that of James Corden when he was belting out “Vision of Love” with Mariah Carey 😊.

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