Scrum Spotlight: Alisa Stolze and the Importance of Scrum for Happy and Diverse Workplaces
From the outside, Alisa Stolze appears to be your everyday Scrum educator and consultant. She is fiercely dedicated to her students and clients, often working in tandem with other educators to provide professional training and Agile Education Program™ credentialing. Alisa is a volunteer with Women in Agile EU, an organization that believes in diversity, compassion, and a growth mindset. She also works with Scrum Events, an Authorized Agile Education Provider (AAEP) and German-based organization that offers workshops, training, and more for organizations looking to adopt Agile ways of working.
Alisa presents with the same qualities you’d find in many of our successful Registered Scrum Trainers™ and Registered Agile Coaches™: confidence, dedication, empathy, experience and expertise, and a commitment to continuous improvement.
When you peel back a layer, however, and dig a little deeper, you learn that Alisa has a unique, diverse past that makes her truly stand out in the Agile community. When considering the source, and contemplating the “why,” you learn that Alisa’s evolution and growth was driven by an industry entirely separate from consulting. Upon further inspection, you learn that the impetus for Alisa’s career in the Agile world actually came from her first love: the stage.
Alisa is based in Berlin, Germany. She is a Registered Scrum Trainer™, Registered Scrum@Scale Trainer™, and RST-Fellow™ with the Agile Education Program powered by Scrum Inc. As a consultant and coach, Alisa works with clients, students, and leadership team members in various industries to implement Scrum and Scrum@Scale. Her goal? Use Scrum as a way to facilitate positive change in the world.
The first chapter of Alisa’s professional life, however, lived outside of Scrum and consulting. Prior to finding Scrum, Stolze was a performing artist, working primarily with German TV and theaters. She eventually fell in love with Scrum because she saw Scrum as a mirror to the practices she knew from her life as an artist. “In theatre, you start with a plan, but just as in the real world, there are always unexpected factors that arise, and performing artists must be able to work together, improvise and adapt — as they say, ‘the show must go on’,” Alisa notes. Now, Alisa is on a mission to use the tools she learned performing on stage alongside the Scrum framework to help organizations and professionals, especially those who identify as female, unlearn the habits that keep them stuck, struggling, and unsuccessful.
This month, in celebration of Women’s History Month, the Agile Education Program is proud to feature Alisa Stolze and to see what lessons from her journey can help us all learn how to embrace our passions.
Interview with Registered Scrum Trainer™ Alisa Stolze:
Question: Hello, and welcome! Give us your elevator pitch (your bio) in your words – who are you and what do you do?
Alisa: Hi! My name is Alisa and I use Scrum to help make the world a little bit better.
Question: What led you to Scrum? Who introduced you to the framework?
Alisa: I was still working for German TV as a live Audio-Descriptor for the blind, translating pictures into words during live shows, when my now husband Peter Fischbach asked me to be a reviewer for one of his Scrum trainings. When I saw the framework, I immediately understood the power of it—but I also recognized how other training participants had a really hard time thinking outside of the concepts they had been taught before.
During this special Scrum training, I was able to start every morning with a short meditation. You could see and feel how uncomfortable the participants were, doing only very simple exercises to get themselves centered and ready for the learning day. I was wondering which part of their education or work life had made them become that way. I saw a ton of trapped potential, creativity and energy. On that day, my focus shifted from wanting to make an impact translating shows that shaped German society —and meant exclusion for those who could not see— to wanting people to feel safe inventing, experimenting and actively co-shaping their environment through their everyday work, instead of feeling rather powerless and trapped.
Shortly after, I learned that Scrum Events was looking for somebody to help students find “Scrum early.” They wanted to give children and young adults the tools to manage their learning in a way that both empowers them and helps them build their collaboration skills. I became an ambassador for eduScrum in Germany alongside eduScrum founder, Willy Wijnands.
Question: What similarities do you see between Scrum and the performing arts?
Alisa: In the performing arts, there is no way you can only plan your musical theater play, rehearse with the singers and dancers separately, let the costume designers do their thing, ask the orchestra to play according to their notes, and then go into dress rehearsal. It was always clear on stage that planning is necessary, but the real value comes from everybody working together, trying the costumes out, seeing how the fabric behaves, hearing that singer with her unique voice, seeing the ensemble almost fall off stage. Working together on the nuances that make the play exciting and worth watching. Experimenting together and improving. That magic moment, when you see a colleague accidentally drop a prop, you go with the flow and discover—hey, we could never have come up with this in our minds, but it is so good! Let’s keep it! We underestimate the power of doing. In the end, we want to enable these magical moments with Scrum as well, we encourage the moments of, “Yes, this is great! And what do you think about adding that?!“ The team becomes more of an ensemble; colleagues are encouraged to bring a bigger part of themselves to the workplaces and keep learning.
Question: You reference “learned habits” in a lot of your material—why are habits so hard to unlearn?
Alisa: Because they are unconscious. Our teachers in theater school were very direct—and don’t get me started about the mirror in the ballet room at 9:00am! Scrum is like that mirror or a good teacher and brings so much to light. The habit and rhythm of doing Scrum helps us unlearn other habits and bring a fresh perspective. It also gives us time to challenge our own set beliefs, one after the other.
Question: What about Scrum and Scrum@Scale help organizations and individuals evolve past their current state? What helps them get “unstuck”?
Alisa: It is the small, doable steps towards their goal. Running an experiment every day to try to make your team, your organization, yourself better. To start small, create good experiences, find out what is working for the organization, and then you build on that. It’s important to not get lost in the big picture. When you go into the uncertain and embrace the unknown, the practice of doing Scrum serves as your safety belt. Scrum and Scrum@Scale always provide you with the data you need to make the next decision on your way and validate the last steps. The Scrum@Scale framework additionally helps you with the components, the focus areas that interact with one another.
Question: You’re part of Women in Agile. Why is it important to you to work with female professionals?
Alisa: Back in the day when I was working on stage, I was surrounded by women and members of the LGBTQ community. When I started working in the consulting world, I was suddenly surrounded almost exclusively by men. My training participants were men, I had male colleagues, and Agile and Scrum conferences consisted mainly of male speakers and maybe a female co-speaker. A couple of years into my agile journey I discovered that there are, of course, many women working in and with Agile, but they were so underrepresented at those conferences where knowledge was shared and connections being made. They just didn’t think their experiences were “important enough” or worth sharing.
Being born in the ‘80s, I was raised to see no differences between men and women and consider everybody equal, but of course there are some differences. Being part of the Women in Agile Europe Organizer Group and being a co-founder of a German Agile Ladies Barcamp, we see that our female colleagues really appreciate being amongst their female colleagues, having the impression that they don’t have to show off or “be strong,” get good feedback in a safe space, ask a seemingly silly question, share their new ideas… and drink a glass of wine! The conversations are different.
The Women in Agile conferences reserve the place in the spotlight exclusively to female speakers. We see that the submissions for conference talks have an emphasis on soft skills and collaboration, the human dimension of working as a team. At the “traditional” agile conferences, we hear mostly about tools.
Agile to me and the women shaping the community in Germany is also the next step in the evolution of us working together, valuing rather yin and rather yang qualities, no matter whether they are being found in a man or a woman.
Today we need the people to show up to work with all of their capabilities and creativity, not only to stand still and get the tasks done. Creating that yinyang balance helps us create amazing teams!
Question: What advice do you have for young professionals looking to make a career change? What success stories and challenges can you share from your experience moving from performing arts to consulting/coaching?
Alisa: I was lucky to be supported by my network, my Scrumming family “The Fischbach Clan”, as well as Willy Wijnands and Jeff and Arline Sutherland, who truly believed in me. I also had the time and the will to sit on my behind and learn! Today I am able to support another female colleague who has been working with Scrum for a couple of years and wants to join our mission to use Scrum as a tool to make the world better, which makes me happy.
But most importantly I would say: try to be courageous and step outside of your comfort zone. Focus on the qualities you can add to your new environment. This is a piece of advice I wish my younger self would have taken seriously! There is so much you will not know, but also a lot that you can bring to the table. When I was working with German teachers it was actually a more challenging environment for me than the business context, because the teachers actually would have preferred another teacher to practice eduScrum with them. But at least I was able to add a new perspective that had not been blurred by years of everyday school life and “this is impossible around here.”
And: go to conferences, go to barcamps, find a tribe.
Question: What advice would you give to young women interested in learning more about Agility?
Alisa: Join the Women in Agile Community! The Women in the Agile are very welcoming and open to help their sisters and learn together. Schedule your own MeetUp. Learn Scrum from one of the trainers of the amazingly diverse Agile Education Program™!
Question: What are you currently working on? What are you excited about? What upcoming courses, events, webinars, etc. would you like to share?
Alisa: Of course I am really excited about our upcoming conferences!
Our annual Scrum Day in Germany hybrid on June 30 / July 01 2022 with our Motto “Moving the Scrum Downfield” https://www.scrum-day.de
The Women in Agile Europe conference online on the 9th of November 2022 with the motto “Breaking Boundaries” https://womeninagile.eu
And our regular Barcamps for German speaking Agile Ladies: https://www.meetup.com/de-DE/agilefrauenstimmen/