In 2020 Scrum celebrated 25 years of existence and a new edition of the Scrum Guide came to light. That prompted a lot of discussions among Scrum Masters and coaches alike, about the practices, principles, Scrum 5 values, all the changes Scrum has experienced and how it got so much less prescriptive over time.
When frameworks change, one of the points I like to consider is how strong the values they propose are. Do they still hold? Did they change? In the case for Scrum, the 5 values of Courage, Focus, Respect, Commitment and Openness still hold solid and invaluable. I would say now more than ever, in a less prescriptive Scrum, values are what help you to stay true to Scrum.
I always like to start with courage when talking about Scrum. Boldness, fearlessness, bravery. That is why on my talking with teams and individuals, I depict it always as a lion.
Scrum calls for a team to do the right things AND to not do what is wrong. In a world where sometimes companies might bend the rules to benefit agendas other than the client satisfaction, a team who can embrace Scrum will be rather disruptive, but that is the only way to grow and achieve results within this framework.
There are many moments in which courage will be asked of Scrum teams. Here are some examples:
- Integrating pieces of the product everyday or releasing straight into production early and often. A team who does that is constantly exposed to the possibility of breaking already functioning components of the product, and they challenge themselves each day to be their best version in responsibility and in knowledge to avoid such issues.
- Challenging assumptions and ways of thinking and of doing that have “always been that way”.
- In a similar fashion, voicing opinions, especially when the voices are dissonant, calling out discrepancies in methods, in results and in behavior.
- Choosing proper solutions instead of quick fixes. A great Scrum team knows how important customer delight is and how heavy is the burden of technical debt.
- Asking for help and saying “I don’t know” can be wrongfully perceived as a weakness. A courageous Scrum team calls this a normal day and grow from these opportunities of learning and collaboration.
- Making decisions: deciding and owning up to the outcomes of their decisions, including and very importantly, when making mistakes. Without this, no team can truly be self-managed.
- Sharing the truth on real progress and quality is what guarantees transparency. In an ideal environment there is no judgement, but a Scrum team knows that in the real world there is nothing 100% judgement free and that should not hurt their integrity.
A great Scrum Master will build a safe space in which people can be brave everyday, or will at least fight hard for it. On that note, the Scrum Master should be the first one to behave with courage and set the example to everybody else. But ultimately, management and leadership layers are key for allowing that level of autonomy speak and do great things. In an environment governed by distrust and hidden agendas no Scrum team can really succeed.
The definition of focus is a point of concentration. Emphasis. Direction. Vision. In the Scrum context, focus is undivided attention to do what needs to be done. And what needs to be done is the right thing according to clients and the law.
Scrum teams usually are creating products that are of high complexity, in which a lot is to be discovered. When facing complexity, stripping things to the core and not getting distracted by details, to be able to deliver, to get stuff done, focus is essential.
That is why my chosen pictogram is a bullseye. Here are some examples on why focus is such an important value for Scrum:
- Any study on executive brain function will tell you that we all perform at peak when doing one thing at a time. We are not only talking about one main objective (feature, deliverable, functionality), but also, literally, one task at a time, sequentially, as if you could mark a checklist. In that sense focus help both people to achieve flow and to lessen the opportunity for making mistake.
- One corollary of this this is that focus actually leads to more stuff done overtime, because multi-tasking is costly on attention and context switching, not to mention time spent on fixing errors and redoing things, instead of incrementing them.
- A second corollary is to use the metaphor that a team that is sending a lot of arrows hoping to hit a bullseye will most likely not hit anywhere near the center of the target. So you had a lot of work done, actions taken; none of those really amounting to something complete or valuable. That is demoralizing for the team and wasteful of the company’s resources.
- Doing what matters: products and features instead of doing lots of documentation, like the Agile Manifesto said. Focusing on collaborating with the customers in giving them what they consider valuable. Goals and objectives the team takes should reflect that.
- Operating in unison, as a real team, more than just as a working group. The focus or target of the Scrum is shared by all team members, regardless of their title or skill set. That is working together with a one single goal. That is collaboration.
Focus is what allows team to keep the ever-so-elusive sustainable pace indefinitely and the Scrum Master will be protective of that space for the team. That is why Products have goals, Sprint have goals and every event in Scrum has a clear outcome. Because… focus. So a Scrum Master is always busy working with the Product Owner and stakeholders to create a clear and single channel for demands and prioritization. Also working with the team to call out whenever they seem to be aiming at too many directions.
In order to be able to focus, a team must have the courage to say no to certain things. They must also be respectful of people’s individual limits, which requires respect. I believe at this point I am being able to show you how the Scrum values are very essentially intertwined.
I find this statement so powerful: Scrum team members respect each other to be capable, independent people. Capable. Independent. It speaks of us all being able to accept our individuality and celebrating it on others. I will always depict that with a heart!
Respect is so visceral because it is attached to people’s self-worth. When it is lacking, teams are more than demoralized. People feel diminished, not valued and that is probably the one value whose absence people will tolerate the least. It has to be there!
But Scrum requires yet an extra level with this value so that Scrum teams can operate in good health. Let’s look at examples:
- If courage asks us to say what needs to be said, respect is what reminds us to say those things in a positive and encouraging way. We look forward, we envision solutions, we do not assign blame.
- A Scrum team is appreciative and respectful of differences not only in people’s background, knowledge and opinion, but also uses discomfort, dissent as an opportunity for growth and to seek perspective. This is an interesting part when the value of respect touches the value of openness.
- Respecting people’s autonomy is to give them healthy boundaries so that they can grow and be their best version as people and professionals. When challenges and autonomy match team maturity, courage, respect and commitment intersect.
- A Scrum team is in a healthy place with respect in their company when the demands are placed on them respecting appropriate volume of work and accepting people’s decision on if and how to do work. The team knows better how to do their work and only they can know how heavy it is to produce a quality product increment and how long that takes. Pushing an indiscriminate amount of work down the queue does not make quality work advance any faster. Pulling instead of pushing is an indicator of respect.
- A team who truly respects its members also shows it when defining team agreements together and abiding to them, instead of just casually forgetting it as life goes by or when things get tough. It is not only a respect to the joint decisions made, but also respect of people’s time and effort put into making those decisions.
Probably one thing the Scrum Master continuously does is to assume good intentions and teach others to see things that way. Without respect there can be no collaboration and a Scrum Master is constantly looking for opportunities to optimize collaboration both inside and outside of the team.
As I mentioned before, this value is so closely linked to openness, so let’s move to that value next.
When we are open we not only see things for what they are, without judgement, but also be have an opportunity to see the positive, the forward, the growth: what things could be. The little eye icon, wide open, is a reminder of that.
The Scrum team will be constantly scrutinized in what they do and how they do it. In fact, they invite all sorts of feedback at several moments in the development lifecycle.
Openness can be identified in Scrum team by:
- Transparency. A clear backlog, telling and useful Sprint Reviews, inviting stakeholders to know the good and the bad about the plans and outcomes, asking for help outside the team. A scrum team that is open is also courageous: they tell everybody what is going on and create great dialogue.
- Creativity comes from diversity. Instead of listing the true but tiring case for diversity I will just leave you with an allegory on this one: one dot is a dot. Several dots can be connected in many ways with lines and create many forms. This is as true for creativity as it is for just good old diversity of thoughts in more mundane problems. Creative solutions require a lot of perspectives.
- Being open to being wrong and admitting mistakes, knowing that we are not defined by them, we just learn from them. A Scrum team will not hide mistakes, but rather recount the story on what the mistake unveiled for them, how they got out of it and what is the lesson learned for the future.
- Similarly, by being open to new ideas, new challenges, by not dismissing possibilities right at the beginning before studying, experimenting. An open Scrum team takes in empiricism and form opinions based on tested knowledge, instead of prejudice and pre-conceived notions. This could be about a funky combination of technologies or about solving a problem that seems impossible. Courage will meet openness and the team will responsibly tackle the challenge.
- By definition, the Scrum team is open to learning and growth. There is a Retrospective at the end of every Sprint. It is not an optional moment. It is a true and tested acknowledgement that space should be given for the team to zoom out and take in the big picture.
- Changing direction when everything seems to be pointing there. What will differentiate a Scrum team from muted Scrum implementations is the ability _and courage_ to pivot. The word gets overused, but in a Scrum team that is open, when we learn that the current work, decisions and results are not working, it is then time to implement change: from incremental to dramatic.
Open eyes, open ears. Bottom line: the Scrum team sees and listens to everybody. Listening is not believing and doing everything you are being told. Seeing and listening is taking in perspective, not being be short-sighted. The Scrum Master, as the one team member who is not deep in the fire of delivering, has a responsibility of helping the team to do this zoom out, to help them acquire perspective thinking. By designing excellent interactions a Scrum Master can guide a team to be open to change their mind, to grow.
The open Scrum team will also teach the organization to embrace empiricism. What is the worst that can happen? Leaning.
I saved commitment for last for a reason. The first being commitment is a binary thing. You can’t commit half way: be half married, half-graduated. When it comes to commitment, you are either in or out. It’s yay or nay. Thumb’s up or thumbs down. self-explanatory picture.
The second reason being probably one of the biggest misunderstandings I find in Scrum. Scrum teams are not committing to delivery, they are committing to the process. And the process is empirical, so they know they will get results in the end of every sprint. Results can be learning, can be a deliverable or something else.
A Scrum team commits to get things done, to get outcomes achieved. They commit to a vision and a mission, but not so much to a deadline of deliverables. That is forecasting, something that with commitment, focus and courage, aided by discipline and the usage of tools, usually can be automated after a while and be a help for teams to even fine tune their ability to commit.
Now, that is not to say Scrum teams are not pursuing the ultimate goal of delivering a product that delights the customers on a timely manner. That is indeed the ultimate result of all the team commitment that is expressed in:
- Committing to apply themselves, to do their best work. Scrum teams commit to quality. They commit to be open and honest about what they find, about the progress of the work. They commit to focus.
- Commitment is expressed as integrity and honor. We first commit individually, then as a team. And that is powerful because we keep our eyes on the prize AND have each other’s back. We commit to our team, to work as a team. There is commitment to collaboration because the work of Scrum teams is usually complex and a team is more than a sum of individuals.
- On that note, goals are serious in Scrum and that is why we only have opportunity to change those once the cycle ends: on next sprint. Teams use all their focus to reach Sprint goals and sprint goals are aligned with product goals. Goals are the transparent (open and courageous) statements of the team’s commitment.
- Scrum teams are committed to mastery, to craftsmanship and to grow knowledge. The organizations need to be prepared to offer an environment that invites that.
- Since stated in the Agile manifesto that working with the client is a key tenet, a Scrum team commits to the customer, which guides their mission. There are all sorts of customers, but in the end, it’s their needs and agenda who lives in the backlog and the team adds courage to their commitment to serve the right person and challenge assumptions and directions that go another way.
Probably one of the key aspects of commitment is that it constantly rubs on courage and openness when you decide what you can commit to and are open and honest about what you cannot commit to. An organization that wants to see Scrum teams truly committing must be honest about how far they can go and be respectful of when teams say no. That makes commitment all the more valuable.
On that note, the Scrum Master is attentive to remind their team the powerful commitment holds and the cost of constantly committing to the wrong things or committing without intention. Failed commitments break up trust, both inside and outside the team. Committing responsibly is key. But for the commitment to be inspiring it has to be a teeny-tiny stretched. It might require an extra courage. Did I say courage? Well, the cycle on values goes back to the beginning then!
What to make of all this?
If values are not lived, the practices and tools in place are just for show. Having people put together to deliver some parts of a product without giving them the opportunity to be brave, open and respectful of their commitments is not the same as having Scrum teams. Expanding on Scrum, just meeting at the end of 2 or 4 weeks and talking about work is not the same of running a Sprint and working in Scrum. There is intention behind every Scrum event and they allow the space for the 5 values to manifest itself continuously.
If you find this valuable and you are some sort of Agility enabler such as a Scrum Master, Agile coach or Agile manager, download the sheet below to check-in with the team how strong they are being on the Scrum values. The point is not to measure for blaming, shaming or complaint. The point is to understand where the team lands now and how to get them looking forward, improving and growing.
Interested in learning more about Scrum?
If you are interested in learning more about Scrum, check out my e-book. Scrum is very simple, and you can learn how to use it in a day. If you never worked with agile before it most certainly introduces you to agility in a very practical way.