The Real Problem with Hybrid Agile

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Before SAFe®, most organizations would do “our brand of agile”. IMO, SAFe® takes the most common elements of a plethora of hybrid agile approaches and codifies them in to a “standard” (imagine air quotes). My comments today are not about SAFe® but hybrid agile in general.

The common denominator I see across hybrid agile approaches is that they include the notion of some specific deliverables by a specific date. For the agile purist this isn’t agile because that notion is very not agile. Hats off to the purists that get to work that way, and they have already stopped reading by now unless they share the same mental state of people that slow down to look at a bad accident on the freeway (which I feel is not agile, but I’m no purist, so I couldn’t say for sure).

So, having target dates for a collection of stories isn’t entirely a bad thing, in that there are many organizations that have a legal obligation to appear as if they can reliably predict the future. These target days are where the problems start. And I will admin here that the title of this post is a lie, it is multiple problems, but I wanted to rope in those who really think that there is one thing wrong because I think they may get the most out of this particular rant.

So, first problem (position being arbitrary, I don’t have any stats about which problem occurs most) is that if the target is missed then there will be some people that point at the agile side of the hybrid approach as the blame. It could be, but it is much more likely that it is the behaviors that result for hybrid approaches, such as skipping documentation entirely, which results in longer ramp up time and lack of the DRY design pattern, because if you don’t know what’s been done how would you know if you were doing it again?

The next problem (purposely avoiding making it the  second problem to avoid people thinking this is a non-arbitrary sequence…beyond a order that helps to communicate the concepts) is that when the targets are missed the people that are supposed to know what the future looks like look bad, so they get mad at the people who are trying to hit the target. Most people feel bad when people are mad at them (except people with either experience in such things, certain psychological disorders, or a hybrid of the two).  No one likes to feel bad (except people with different psychological disorders) so they try to figure out how to prevent that in the future.  And we have tons of action-comedies to suggest a way to do this: Lower your expectations…lower…lower…that’s it. So people stop missing their targets and Wall Street analysts think the bosses of these people are great prognosticators where what they have actually done is taught their teams to be great procrastinators.

And the last problem I will point at before running for my life from hip hybrid folks who will want blood and purists that stuck around and are still looking for blood is that the people who try to make it happen still miss the mark because they focus on the wrong targets. The long-term goals have this nice, big, shiny definition,  where agile aims to complete one small, solid solution. The magic comes from being able to look at the big shiny and build a small solid that is good-enough-for-now, and still in the direction of the big shiny. One definition of magic is “some can and some don’t know how”, and in the case of this balancing different paths to perfection, some will focus everything on the small solid piece and forget to thing about whether it will fit into the big shiny vision. Or, they will be so enamored with the big shiny vision that everything they do in the span of a sprint is inadequate for the pieces that are solid, making the next sprint slower because they are still waiting on that piece that would let them move faster. Of course, magic is hard, and expecting everyone to produce it is destined for disappointment, which is why the teams that just lower their expectations are more “successful” (Dr Evil-level air quotes there).

So, at the end of the day, or at least the end of this post, the perception of success is easiest to meet if you succeed at level far below your potential. You can stress out everyone and sometimes hit the target. Or you can start forgiving your teams for their imperfections, cheer them for their successes, and teach them to learn from each other to be more successful every quarter. The problem with that last is that I will have to write another post to find more problems with hybrid until they are all resolved.

© Scott S. Nelson
Unlocking Salesforce ROI covers

Move from threads to meetings

(Photo by Johannes Plenio:

I’ve always tried to have some basic guidelines around communications to keep myself from straying from the purpose of the conversation. I’ve had a long-standing guideline for how long to wait for someone that is late to a meeting: 3 minutes for non-critical participants; 5 minutes for colleagues who should know better; 10 minutes for people in senior roles that have too many meetings; 15 minutes for executives and customers. After 15 minutes I write it off as a break in an otherwise hectic day and move on to other tasks.

Recently there was a long-running thread of comments in a Jira story between two colleagues that occurred while I was on PTO. Catching up on things, I ran across it and, as someone outside the conversation, identified that the length of the discussion was because there were different core understandings of the story that neither was aware the other had. Because it had gone on so long, it took longer to come to consensus in the meetings that followed that comment thread.

This is not the first time I have run across such diverging threads, and I am sure you have seen as many or more. I once worked with a very good Project Manager who had a rule that if the thread went more the two responses it was time for a phone call or meeting. As a developer-turned-architect, most of my work is with people that would rather go to the dentist than a meeting. As senior director, I know that both are annoying when unnecessary and you always feel better afterwards when useful (though not always immediately).

I’m will probably revise these in the future, but for now, here is the guideline am adopting and recommending around written threads (IMs, DMs, texts, or comment sections):

One message is a question
Two messages is a conversation
Three messages is an asynchronous meeting
Four messages probably needs a meeting to complete

For the sake of this discussion, let’s consider a meeting of any type of verbal exchange over written, i.e., treating phone, video, and in-person equally (because otherwise we are off on a different topic, and I do that easily enough without help).

Like any guideline, these are not absolutes. For a silly-yet-accurate example, consider “can we talk?” as the first message. In general, that should go straight to meeting. But sometimes the recipient is busy (maybe even in another conversation) and some discussion is required to conclude a time an channel. Another example is when assisting someone with a task where the understand the basics and need help with some advanced or nuanced aspects. Such a thread could go on for dozens of exchanges and be the right way to communicate asynchronously as both parties work on other things in between. In the same context but a different circumstance the thread may be inefficient, and meeting should be called after the first question. So, no absolutes, just some guidelines to think about when you find yourself in an extended written exchange online.

What’s your approach? Yes, I’m now encouraging a thread that is longer than four messages and no meeting 🙂

© Scott S. Nelson
A teleprompter and person reading from it on camera

How to use speaking notes and not sound like you’re reading

Feature image “Our shoot through teleprompter.” by ThisDayToday is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Public speaking is often referred to as the most common fear. Google gave me this random proof this morning, an 8-year-old Washing Post Article. In school it was a major fear of mine, which was sort of hypocritical since it was only being in front of the class or a group where I was nervous. From the back of the class, I often didn’t shut up until I was sent out of the class. I think this isn’t too different than my preference of written over verbal communication, but you are probably hear to learn about a technique to not sound like you are reading when you use speaking notes rather than hearing about my personality peccadilloes.

First, getting over the trepidation to speak in the first place is an accomplishment. The techniques to get over that vary from person to person, though it is fair to say that a key ingredient is being confident in your knowledge on the topic and then focusing on sharing that knowledge more than what people may think of you. It may be worth noting that confidence is often accepted as a replacement for competence, which is more important to the audience than the speaker. For the speaker, it is up to their own personal values and ability to know the difference (I’m digressing, which, my reader is used to by now, but I still need to apologize).

For myself, my fear was less about not knowing the topic than the audience not being interested or not believing I knew the topic. And I am amused to see I wrote that in the past tense…

Once you get over the fear or anxiety or panic (in worst cases) sufficiently to be in situation where you need to speak in public or present virtually some might think that is all it takes. Ha! What happens when, real or imagined, the fear comes to fruition? That they aren’t listening (or you don’t think they are because you can’t read their expressions or even see their faces), or don’t believe/agree with you (same input issues, different conclusion)? You might just plow on, feeling better or worse as you do, or you might give up (hopefully not because, trust me, it won’t get worse).  Assuming you survived (kidding…everyone survives, except some noted historical exceptions that are not relevant to this article and that are too dark for me to ever write about), the next step is to find ways to get better.

Most of my early speaking activities were in a teaching context. I either had a very deep understanding of the material or had learned it recently and intensely enough for it to be very fresh in mind. For these seminar and classes I would have a one page outline that I could leave somewhere within my vision and that was sufficient.

Old sample outline
Nest loop outline from a 1990 sales training

Age does not help eyesight, nor does improve focus if one has moved through many different fields and topics through the years, and I got to a point where the outlines were hard to read unless I used a very large font, and that they were insufficient as a speaking prompt either because the presentation was a condensation of a much larger body of material or a combination of being fairly recently planned and either new knowledge or knowledge gathered and distilled over a long time. Plus, my topics had moved from more academic areas into business and technology. I frequently had much less time to prepare and the outline format had me sounding like I was reading (which I was) and would sometime lose my place (which audiences take as low confidence). I needed a new approach.

The next level from an outline is bullet notes. Short sentences or snippets that act as prompts and keep the talk on track. Generally easier to read, and easily memorized so that a mere glance is sufficient to key the brain into what comes next and where it is at on the track.

  • Guided selling
  • Approval flows
  • Automated escalations
  • Not all CPQs have billing
  • Reporting and types of reporting
  • eSignature
  • Renewals (this could be CLM, CPQ, or both)

Bullet notes did the trick for a long time because of their simplicity, both in format and in management. Things evolve. It might be personal evolution, societal evolution, or (most likely) a mixture of both. In this case, evolution moves from speaking, teaching, or presenting and into interacting with knowledge. There is still a subject, and the nature of the discussion has a general structure, frequently as an agenda, but at any point in the agenda the focus can branch into both planned and unplanned areas. In some cases the discussion needs to return to the originally planned path, in others the sequence changes while the content remains the same, and sometimes the whole plan is out the door.

For that last one there is no substitute for knowledge and experience, even if it is the understanding that “let me get back to you on that” is generally better than faking it. For this shifting flow, I have adopted and adapted the notion of Bionic Reading® to a different style of preparation notes.  I found Bionic Reading Notes as a speed reading technique. I initially tried using the same format for speaking notes but it sounded like I was reading (because I was).

My reader may recognize the reference to Bionic Reading® from some of my recent certification prep articles where I convert my study notes to Bionic Reading® Notes.

Then I started bolding keywords. This has several advantages. Unlike my earlier use of outlines or bullets, I write out the entire content of what I intend to say. I then go through that content and bold key words and phrases. The process of doing so has multiple benefits. First, it helps me recognize patterns that may work well in writing but sound awkward in speaking. Also, it drives me to simplify the content when I notice that the keywords and phrases become overly dense. I shorten paragraphs so that these points stand out better as notes, and will sometimes put blank lines in the middle of a sentence to make it more readable as a note. One key thing is to avoid having the bold words too clumped, or else it is just reading bold text rather than triggering associations in the brain.

When time permits, I go through the content a second time and edit the content down, which makes for a better presentation and the keywords allow me to track where I am at in the presentation without having to read.

Admittedly, this type of note is easiest to use when speaking online, though I have used a tablet or laptop with face to face audiences, telling them up front that I will be occasionally referring to my notes.

I will leave you with an example of my notes from a recent proposal presentation and hope that you got something from this article:

Slide 7: 
It may seem like we have a lot of slides here. And some of the content may be repeated from different angles.
I will go through mine fairly quickly, so please interrupt me if there is something you want to spend more time on.
You probably already looked at the CPQ market and seen that there are a lot of options out there.
This busy slide lists 20 market leaders our of several hundred vendors with CPQ offerings.
CPQ is all about the process of getting from qualified prospect to repeat customer and it can be just as proprietary as the products and services that are being sold.
The differences between CPQ vendors can be:
  • industry focus,
  • role focus – whether it is oriented towards accounting, sales, or delivery,
  • ease of setup versus flexibility,
  • and if the flexibility is mainly in the product configuration, pricing structure, the approval flow, or all three.
The level and types of automation is another key differentiator and often heavily weighted in the evaluation.
Slide 8
For a business that uses Salesforce as their CRM, one CPQ differentiator is how it integrates with Salesforce. While there are a lot of nuances about application integration, there are three broad styles that are easier to manage on a score card.
Without going to deep into it, they are Native Apps, meaning the CPQ app is built entirely in Salesforce; Composite apps, where the CPQ application runs on a separate platform with varying levels of functionality available in the Salesforce UI, and Connectors, which can have varying complexities in their use.
The names of these categories can vary between marketing materials and documentation, as well as how they are defined. For example, there are many vendors that call their apps a Native App when it is really a Composite App, and Composite Apps that are little more than a Connector with very basic UI.
Slide 9
This is a sample of an executive overview, and part of the reason I risked boring you with the previous slide as the integration style can impact the other scoring factors. The factors used in the evaluation will be based on the workshops we have with your stakeholders and there are generally 3 or 4 times as many of them as will be in the overview slide that will list those with highest weight and variation between the top 5 options.
Slide 10
This is another sample of what will be in the executive summary where we will present the best 2 or 3 vendors and our recommendation.
The executive presentation will be backed by set of very through documentation that will be reviewed with your selected stakeholders.

Some variations in processes…
One difference between offerings is the process boundary.
Some start from lead qualification and others only when creating the order.
Some end with the final quote and others go through to renewals.
Different industries and different businesses have varying stages within the Configure, Price and Quote phases.
pre notes:
CPQ is about process. Automate the standard and escalate the exceptions.
The CPQ vendor market is huge because the process can vary between enterprises and business domains.
What is important is finding the balance between flexibility to suit individual needs and complexity to set up and manage. This is why the space is so large, with lots of niche players.
We will help to build the score card that best defines your needs with properly weighted categories to narrow the initial list of potential vendors  and then apply that score card to our understanding of the business capabilities and technical perspective to narrow it down to the best 2 to 5 options and our recommendation of the single the best choice from our understanding at that time.
© Scott S. Nelson
Scott S Nelson Certified Service Cloud Consultant

Passing the Salesforce Service Cloud Consultant Certification Exam

I’ve written about the process I have gone through for all of my Salesforce certifications.  The Certification Prep section of my blog currently starts with these, and I believe that many of those posts also have some helpful tips for the Service Cloud Consultant Certification. If you haven’t already passed the Administrator certification, I would suggest starting with my Tips to Pass the Administrator Certification Exam post. Enough self-promotion, on with the sharing!

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t my first post on certification approaches and if you are preparing for Service Cloud Consultant certification it isn’t your first exam, so I’m going to minimize the elocution here and just drop my formatted notes by section headings for easier reference.

Start with Trailhead

The proscribed place to prep, completing the Service Cloud Specialist Superbadge will have you well prepared for a passing grade if you work all of the prerequisites and then the Superbadge itself. I did complete the prerequisites but have not yet done the Superbadge project. This is much more a comment on my other time commitments than the approach as I highly recommend completing the Superbadge project, preferably right before taking the exam.

If you also have a reason to not be able to fit the Superbadge into your preparation plan, I recommend completing the Get Started with Service Cloud for Lightning Experience trail. Some of the trail modules are part of the Superbadge prerequisites, so it will take less time than you might think.


Quizlet is a great free resource for some exams, and the Service Cloud Consultant is one of them.


I’ve used Udemy to prepare for every Salesforce certification, and have already enrolled in the Salesforce Data Architect Course for my next planned exam because it was on sale. For those who haven’t used Udemy before, they have frequent sales where the prices are drastically below their regular price. By signing up for their marketing notifications you will eventually get a feel for how low particular courses can drop to, so if you have some planned, buying on sale is a great strategy.

Returning from that digression (my regular reader is used to this), I enrolled in the Salesforce Service Cloud Consultant Certification Course by Mike Wheeler because I had previously taken his Platform App Builder course (as mentioned in Become a Salesforce Certified Platform App Builder) and found it helpful in preparation. I will admit I was disappointed with the Service Cloud course. It was recorded in 2018, and while the Udemy listing says it was last updated 11/22, I couldn’t see where. He continually points out Lightning issues that have long since been addressed and spends a lot of time in Salesforce Classic, which is no longer referenced in the exam. And, while the functionality of Live Agent changed very little when being re-branded to Salesforce Chat, there are a couple of questions in the exam where the Live Agent option is the wrong answer.

And, for the record, I do not get a commission if you enroll in a Udemy course I recommend…and not for lack of trying. Their affiliate program has too much friction to bother dealing with (and it is reflected in my losses as a shareholder).

Focus on Force

I won two vouchers this year (so far, fingers crossed) with Trailhead Quests. The first voucher was for a $200 exam and the second was for a $400 exam. My certification path is focused on Technical Architect and I had done all of the $200 exams, so I sat on that voucher for awhile. When I won the $400 voucher I was a bit surprised to find that it had a shorter expiration period. I immediately scheduled my exam for the expiration date and plowed into My Sharing and Visibility Architect Path.

I rested my brain for a couple of days and decided to use the first $200 voucher on the Service Cloud Consultant certification (sometimes called just Service Cloud Certification). For the Sharing and Visibility Architect exam I tried a few Udemy practice exams because they have served me well for previous exams. I requested refunds for all but one, and that is because I had been to busy to start on the first one and the guarantee period had expired. They were awful. I then went to the Trailhead Community and asked folks there for a recommendation and discovered Focus on Force.  I will keep looking for study courses on Udemy, but for Salesforce practice exams, Focus on Force will be my go-to from now one.

My process was to first go through all of the Topic Exams and then start on the Question Bank.  Then I had some issues with Question Bank on mobile, so I did practice exams on mobile and Question Bank on PC. Once completing the first 20 Question Bank exam, I found I needed to focus in these exam areas:

  • Contact Center Analytics
  • Interaction Channels
  • Knowledge Management
  • Solution Design

This is one of the reasons I don’t consider certifications a true test of consulting skill. I have delivered well-received proposals and solutions using Knowledge Management, and am regularly approached for my solution design expertise. The exam questions cover some narrow areas of very broad topics, and the questions I missed are are about activities that are generally one-and-done… then forgotten and looked up again when next needed. But, certification is important in the Salesforce landscape, so I spent time drilling on things that I would still have to look up again in a couple of years.

I went through the Udemy course in parallel, partly because I only had 55 days to prepare and a demanding day job, and partly to see if this approach was better than first doing the course and then using the practice exams.

Where previously I found the feature to check questions individually instead of at the end of the exam useful, this time I found that I did better if I waited until the end. I think this has a lot to do with my not knowing as many answers as the start as I had for the Sharing and Visibility exam (which I found surprising in itself) and that my expectations changed as I saw immediately that I was wrong. Unless you have an eidetic memory your frame of mind can impact your score more than the knowledge you have accumulated.

The Focus Review feature has the same issue as the Question Bank when used in Chrome on Android mobile devices. The score calculation at the end fails to complete. It then remembers the answer state the next time either is tried. Because both use random questions, some will have the answers from the previous session. I reported this twice for Question Bank and once for Focus Review and no fix has happened yet. If you run into the issue, please report it and then stick to using a PC for those test types. The answers from the failed mobile session will still be there the first time but subsequent attempts will work properly so long as you don’t try mobile again like I did (sometimes I’m optimistic when I shouldn’t be).

Bionic Reading® Notes

I use to format my notes for Bionic Reading®. Below are the ones I made to review just before the exam. They are specific to reminders I thought would be useful as I created the notes and I recommend you create your own, or supplement these with your own.

For the Industry Knowledge questions, when not sure always go with the one with the highest cost savings followed by the one with the most potential income result. Again, this is only when unsure. There are some questions where cost is not the key factor of the question, for example when considering the benefits of an email channel, lower cost may not be the correct answer as there are other options that are a lower cost than email.

For processes, Case Stages are driven by the Case Status field

CTI allows telephony services in Salesforce. No desktop software or softphone required.

Customer SLA = Entitlement

List views are automatically created for queues

Customer Service site template for Questions to Case, not Customer Portal

Console History component shows recent primary and sub tabs. Recent items shows records

Email to case has a limit of 2500 per day

Knowledge does not return solutions only articles that are related to similar cases or questions

Messaging is what was called Live Messaging and not related to Social

Enable Case Comment Notification to Contacts is a support setting

There is no case field alert

Email approvals require Draft emails

Service Console requires Service Cloud User license

Knowledge Publication Teams and Publication States do not exist

In the routing model, you choose whether to push work to agents who are Least Active or Most Available. If you select Least Active, then Omni-Channel routes incoming work items to the agent with the least amount of open work. If you select Most Available, then Omni-Channel routes incoming work items to the agent with the greatest difference between work item capacity and open work items.

Internal metrics focus on what happens inside the contact center, and external metrics focus on what happens outside the contact center.

Case Sharing Rules by Record Owner:
Public Groups
Roles and Subordinates

© Scott S. Nelson