This is our forth interview of our brand new series of Agile Interviews with agile influencers. Our previous interviews were with Joel Semeniuk, Stephen Forte, and Elizabeth Harrin

If you have any questions for Hala, please submit them in the comments section below. There is an agile influencer you think we should interview? Please share them also as a comment below.

Would you please introduce yourself?
My name is Hala Saleh, and I am currently an agile project management consultant with both Certified Scrum Master and Project Management Professional certifications. I coach and work with agile teams and organizations on agile process definition and implementation, as well as manage projects. In a former life, I was a software developer, but quickly decided to leave the coding to those who were really good at it, and help them look at the big picture and figure out how to work together to make our projects succeed. I now want to make sure that whatever project I'm involved in, I bring in some element of continuous improvement and hopefully, fun!

What is agile?
Agile is an overarching term for a set of product development methodologies that are iterative and incremental, the most popular being Scrum, Extreme Programming, and Kanban. That's the formal answer.
My personal answer is that agile methodologies are a set of frameworks that guide the development of products in a way that aligns with the values expressed in the Agile Manifesto. However, for me, the specifics of each methodology (while important to learn and apply well upon initially "becoming agile") are secondary to the effects and achievements of "being agile". This includes, in my opinion - Empowered, self-organizing teams: I am passionate about helping teams achieve a high level of performance. I believe having the right levels of empowerment and autonomy (which are values embodied in agile methodologies) are critical to achieving high performing teams.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee all the way! Morning or night, but preferably black.

Do you scrum?
Yes, I scrum. :)

Any other addictions?
Staying fit and adrenaline rushes that come from trying new things.

Favorite agile principle?
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

What do you have for breakfast?
Never the same thing! My favorites:
1) Avocado on toast with a tiny bit of olive oil and fresh black pepper
2) Eggs cooked in coconut oil with a bunch of mixed leafy greens and tomato
3) Oatmeal cooked in almond milk with berries

Tell us more about the project excellence passionista. We love the title of your blog. How did you choose it?
Thank you for the compliment! I went through a process of trying to figure out what differentiates me from others. There are many project managers, scrum masters, agile coaches out there in the world. It wasn't going to be enough to label myself as one of those things - so I tried to figure out a way to capture a part of what I bring to the table; Passion, a strong female perspective, a drive for excellence, and experience with projects and project teams. I think that title might need to change over time as I myself evolve, but I'll keep it for now!

How do you manage your groceries shopping list?
I actually create a note using the notepad app that's on my phone. I add items to the list during the week and then use the list to guide me at the store.

How big is your team?
Since I am involved in a number of things at work and outside of work, I have more than one team. At work, I currently have a small team of about 4 - 5 people, but I also have an extended team that I work with on various projects as they come up.

You are a mom of 2 boys. Have you tried Agile parenting? Would you share a tip with us?
Yes, I am a mom of 2 beautiful, crazy-fun boys and they are the light of my life. They are 6 and 2 years old. And yes, I have tried Agile parenting! We started by putting together a list of items my 6 year old has to finish in order to get ready in the morning before going to school. He chooses an item from the list (in any order he likes so I can enforce the concept of self-organization/self-management), and crosses things off as they get done.
Right now, I'm experimenting with instilling agile values through bedtime stories, and it's a fun experiment both for me and my boys. I shared one of the stories I recently told him on my blog. Some tips I would share regarding Agile parenting are to: 
1) Be realistic and maintain realistic goals
2) Make sure your expectations align with the child's age
3) Don't underestimate a child's ability to understand the reasoning behind why you are asking them to do things a new way - explain and allow them to ask questions
4) Lead by example: If you allow children to see you managing your own life in an agile way, it becomes second nature

How many projects do you usually work on?
I have to be honest with this one: Although I really do try to lead by example and encourage focus and work on one project at a time (and more importantly, discourage people from trying to multitask), I typically work on a couple of projects at work, as well as 2 - 3 other 'projects' outside of work (for example my blog!)

What keep you organized? And what focused?
To stay organized, I have my own personal Scrum board where I list items in the following columns: ToDo, In Progress, and Done. I am considering experimenting with figuring out my WIP limits and evolving this into a Kanban board.
To stay focused, I really need to exert physical energy. I cherish my 60 - 90 minutes in the morning where I do some form of exercise; running, high intensity interval training, or yoga.

Please share your agile predictions for the future. Short-term. And long-term.
Wow, this is a fun one! I'm going to go out on a limb and just let my imagination wander for this one.
Short-term, I predict more experimentation and implementation of Kanban. I also predict an increase in agile adoption over other traditional methodologies.
Long-term, I predict a decreased reliance on methodology labels, as companies and teams start to tweak the basics to come up with hybrid agile models that work best for their needs. I also predict a return to XP practices as the basis for good Software engineering and higher-performance. Also, everyone will be implementing DevOps - or else they will have missed the boat.

What's your favorite place on earth?
My favorite place on earth is wherever I can be happy and healthy with my family. My other favorite places on earth are in my running shoes and on my yoga mat.

Which are the must have features in a project management tool to be successful with agile?
You know, I wish I had the secret code and the answers for what makes a tool successful with agile. I am a believer in low-fidelity, high-touch management methods like whiteboards, physical burndown charts, etc. However, I also realize (and deal with) the realities of distributed teams and other varying organizational requirements and desires for reporting and communication, as well as the desire for documentation and maintaining consistency via usage of a tool. I think most importantly, the tool should be accessible and easy to use by all: From the project sponsors to each and every member of the team. In addition, I think the tool needs to be flexible enough to accommodate different methods of showing progress, and different ways to capture relative size of effort.

What was your first scrum project like?
My first scrum project was with a team that was just transitioning to scrum. The team was going through the expected growing pains that come with methodology change. Our sprints were 4 weeks long, and it was my first experience tweaking the process to better align with the team's needs. It was a great experience for me, and was a great way to learn about the most important aspect of any agile transformation: the people.

Do you recommend Kanban and why?
I am still working on gaining more experience with Kanban, so I can't really say much about how the theory translates into practice. However, what I can say is that teams and people I know and know of who are implementing Kanban have usually arrived at it after trying other methods, then determining that Kanban was right for them. I do think limiting work in progress and identifying bottlenecks sounds like a great way to achieve consistent, high quality throughput, and I am excited to give it a try with my own team.

Please share your favorite reads - professional and non-professional.
Oh, wow. Where do I even start? Let's just stick with my most recent reads - Professional: The Lean Startup, which quickly turned into a favorite! Non-professional: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

What was your worst situation that agile was able to address?
Stakeholder skepticism: By developing demonstrable features from the very start of the project, and demonstrating completed functionality early on, we were able to prove to our stakeholders that we actually had a good chance of succeeding!

What's your favorite myth about agile?
That it's only for super-geniuses. (Oh, wait, that's not actually a myth about agile, is it?) Real answer: That Agile is chaos. Oh heck no it isn't.

How did agile feel like the first time?
Like a sweet summer breeze and a breath of fresh air. Honestly, it felt natural, like it was exactly what I (and the types of projects I work on) was born to do.

Which are the top 3 benefits of Agile?
When done right: 1) Self-organizing, empowered, high-performing teams, 2) Increased trust and communication across the entire organization, and 3) Higher quality products that actually meet the needs of the end-user

Team or individual sports?
I love playing team sports, but at this phase in my life, I do more individual activities for exercise.

What's the cure for PMs of multiple projects?
To find a way to infiltrate the culture of their organization and get to a point where they are not managing multiple projects at once.

Which is the most common show-stopper to adopt agile? And what is the solution for it?
Cultural barriers and a fear of letting go of the familiar. Adopting agile methodologies requires giving up a lot of control, which can be difficult for executives and managers who have no real guarantee (or confidence) yet that the new methodology is going to work - especially when those executives and managers are accountable for project success!

Where can we get updates on what you are up to?
Good question! I am trying to do a better job of keeping my blog and my Twitter feed (@HalaSaleh1) up to date with my latest! Ping me there and remind me to keep things fresh, if I seem to disappear for a bit.

What kind of skills an agile coach should possess?
Agile coaches are just as varied as the teams and companies they work with. It's a beautiful thing, to see the unique and varying perspectives different coaches can bring to the table. There are many more, but some of the key ingredients for an agile coach's success are:
1) Understanding servant leadership
2) Possessing good listening skills
3) Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
4) True working knowledge of agile methodologies
5) Adaptability/Flexibility
6) Desire to continue to learn and grow

hala saleh

Hala Saleh is an agile coach and project management consultant with over 10 years of experience working in both traditional and agile project management methodologies. Hala's passion is in working with teams and organizations to help them realize their maximum potential and achieve real results in a positive, trusting environment. Hala possesses a thirst for learning and continuing to grow, and spread that knowledge far and wide. Hala is also passionate about leadership, innovation, and technology. You can follow her updates on twitter @HalaSaleh1 and check out her blog


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