Larry Layton: The man, the myth, the Agile master

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“We” passed the Scrum Master and the Project Management Institute’s Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) test.

Larry Layton smiling and standing in a grassy field with a fence and oak trees in the background

And by “we,” we mean Larry Layton, our Software Development Project Manager. We’re proud of him, so we asked him what this means for himself and Braille Works. He walked into our meeting with a pad for note-taking, his textbooks, highlighted notes from test preparation and copies of his recent certifications. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. Larry comes prepared for the interview. He means business.

I see you carrying books around a folder. What is that?

“These are reference materials, all of my Agile stuff. This book is the coursework for the original certification that I got earlier this year, a certified scrum master. The book is from Scrum Alliance, and the PMI-ACP is from the Project Management Institute. Here, [as he points to a blog from ProofHub on ranked tests], is something I had researched because it lists the Top 5 scrum or Agile certifications. The first one, I took a while back, is for Scrum Alliance I, it’s shown here as #2 on the list, and my most recent certification is the PMI-ACP, ranked number #1 in the world for project management. This PMI-ACP was way more difficult than the Scrum Master certificate, and that’s why it’s more of a bigger deal.”

Agile project managers are pigs

Atop his stack of resources is a certification folder with three pigs and a cluster of chickens. Pointing to one pig on the sheet, Larry says, “So this is me (the scrum master), these are my team members, and then you have a product owner. Oh, and these (pointing to the chickens) are our stakeholders”. What’s important about pigs, you ask? Well, according to Larry, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing; but it’s like cooking breakfast. When you’re cooking breakfast, the chickens can lay eggs and walk away, but the pigs have skin in the game. Pigs must be committed to completing the project, or their butts are on the line— unless someone wants chicken for breakfast, like chicken sausage. The allegory crumbles a little, now that you can order chicken and waffles for breakfast, but the idea still stands.

When Larry gets skin in the game; with certifications like PMI-ACP, Braille Works gets a tried-and-true scrum master with serious project management credentials. The PMI-ACP “is an industry-wide certification. It doesn’t apply to any specific industry, so it’s respected wherever I [am, and] want to go, that needs a project manager to do agile practices. The PMI-ACP is valid for five years. If you get those, you just need to submit them on the PMI and Scrum website. It tracks those that you’ve taken, and you’re  good for another year.”

How do you study for Agile?

But when you work 40+ hours a week and commute 35+ miles in heavy traffic, what is the best way to study? For Larry, the book was helpful, an app with practice tests was beneficial, but nothing replaced his real-work experience.

“My number one help in all of this is the fact that I do it here every day. So, when I took the test, it wasn’t about vocabulary; rather, it was all real-life scenarios where you needed to judge the best course of action. With 120 different scenarios, and only small details differentiating one scenario from the other; I had to lean on my experiences at Braille Works.”

Getting Agile to Braille Works

Larry brought the idea of Agile training to Tanya Weaver, Braille Works’ Human Resources Manager, so the company could implement its methodologies. “I said this was one that I think we should all use. My team was already using agile practices, but it’s hard when you’re only a piece of the puzzle, and you’re trying to implement something wondering ‘why don’t they get it… why don’t they understand?’ So, I knew it would help us, and everyone else, understand us and work with us to get what they need; and we can work with them to get what we need. The class taught terminology and methodology, and some of it has stuck. We now refer to ourselves as an ‘agile company’”.

When program management is agile, we get initiatives like a “world-class enterprise application for production workflow at Braille Works”. Three years ago, Larry was told that every department here is different, with clients that talk about their files differently. Still, with some skin in the game and a phenomenal team, we now have many of our clients in the app, and programs cutting down additional temporary hire costs, thanks to automation.

When asked how he would take his know-how outside of his department, he brings up his weekly meetings. In his IT Operation Meetings every Wednesday, Larry reiterates a top-down approach. That might sound like industry-specific language, but it means Braille Works will have the most influence spreading a vision across the company if we can change how things are implemented. A body-up approach, where you start from the bottom to incorporate standards based on an individual’s specific ability, hinders this approach. “It starts at the top, and that’s what we need to get to.”

Where to find him?

If you want to see the certification, send Larry a congratulations email. He already has “comma PMI-ACP” and “comma CSM” in his signature, so if you click on them, they will take you to the website that holds his certifications.

If you’d like to stay in the know on what Larry is up to and how he’s leading his team, he’ll be on LinkedIn soon.

“I don’t have a LinkedIn profile, but I want to have one. Getting these certifications makes me want to have one because I can put it all in one spot, and it’ll spread the word for me. I can stop carrying around these materials, and they can look at my signature [or profile].”

And what’s next for Larry? “Next, I will get my Six Sigma Black Belt certification… I love learning this stuff, being able to apply it, and seeing positive results come from it becomes fun. And my team loves it!”

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This post was written by Clerise Phillip Samuel

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