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Scrum Day Speaker Spotlight: Gunther Verheyen, author of "Scrum - a Pocket Guide"

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Scrum Day USA welcomes Gunther Verheyen — a veteran Scrum devotee and practitioner who helps advance the framework worldwide from his home base in Antwerp, Belgium. He has shared his insights over the years on everything from the value of the Scrum values to how organizations can overcome the perils of practicing “fake agility.”

Gunther’s backstory

Gunther Verheyen is the founder and owner of Ullizee-Inc, where he describes himself as an independent Scrum Caretaker; a connector, teacher, writer, and speaker. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book Scrum - a Pocket Guide (A Smart Travel Companion) which is in its 3rd edition and has been translated into several languages.

Before starting Ullizee-Inc, Gunther worked at as the director of Scrum’s Professional Series courseware and assessments. He’s also held consulting and agile leadership positions.

Gunther’s introduction to Scrum

While recovering at home from minor surgery in 2003, Gunther got a phone call from the consulting firm he worked for about a new contract. A large Belgian telecom company aimed to be the first commercial European player to launch digital television services. The goal was to develop features familiar to us today but in the vanguard then—allow viewers to rewind, pause, and playback programs at their leisure. The telecom company planned to deliver this service through a large hub to connect set-up boxes at home (via the Internet) with back-end systems, video servers, billing and provisioning systems, etc. A division of the consulting company that employed Gunther was assigned the contract to develop this hub but the company’s leadership feared for the project’s successful delivery.

“Although I should have been resting, I agreed to meet with my colleagues and share my opinions on the project,” states Gunther. In a meeting with the sales manager and two software architects, he learned that the project had a hard deadline that dictated that the work should have started three months ago, but had not. The deadline could not be shifted, but the architects suggested they would use extreme programming (XP) to get the work done on time—an approach Gunther only vaguely understood.

“I was skeptical but wanted to learn more,” states Gunther. “The architects gave me a 15-minute introduction to XP, and I was blown away.” Many of the aspects of XP provided a more solid structure for approaches Gunther had been trying to implement in his work. An early contemporary of the Scrum framework, XP emphasized elements such as mixed teams, communication and interaction over documentation, intermediate deliveries and close customer contact. “The deadline crisis was such that our company agreed to use XP for the project,” recalls Gunther. Much to the surprise of everyone involved, the team met the deadline for rolling out the product.

Beyond the success of the digital TV launch, Gunther states that the experience taught him a lot and informed his adoption of Scrum. “I learned about intrinsic motivation, trusting professionals to get their job done, iterative-incremental progression, the need for clear and agreed development practices within the framework of Scrum, and that hard and exhausting work can be fun and engaging.”

Following this project, Gunther dedicated his professional life to Scrum, helping countless teams apply the framework.

Success with Scrum

Shortly after Ken Schwaber established (2009), Gunther joined its ranks as a Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) and the demand for Scrum consulting and classes soared, particularly in the Netherlands. Soon large companies, and some financial institutions, in particular, were clambering to implement Scrum. “There is no other way to describe this period as a wild rollercoaster ride, demand was that high,” he states.

His immersion in Scrum firmly rooted Gunther in the framework and he saw the remarkable impact of its adoption regardless of the scale, size, or volume of the work. “Far from what we unfortunately sometimes see today,” he says, “I was never tempted to twist Scrum to fit the organization, rather than the other way around.” These new experiences (of working with large organizations) offered essential additional insights about Scrum, such as the necessity of interactive-incremental progression of organizational transformations.

Gunther frames these years of success as a result of a “beautiful naivety,” of “just doing things to see if they worked.” He contends that nothing is as insightful as going out to actually ‘play the game,’ gaining experience by trial and error, experimentation, falling and getting back up. Many people nowadays seem to want to understand Scrum by merely discussing the Scrum Guide and other books, blogs and papers. It feels like wanting to learn a language by reading and discussing the dictionary, rather than going out and practicing speaking it.”

What Gunther is looking forward to at Scrum Day USA

As a veteran speaker, Gunther feels honored to share his insights and observations with other practitioners. He states, “The future of Scrum is shaped by shared learning.“

Scrum Day happens September 14, 2023, at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Don’t miss out on hearing from Gunther Verheyen and our other amazing speakers! Get your ticket to Scrum Day today while Early Bird pricing lasts.

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