Scrum Values V: Today’s Episode — Respect

And with part five, we get to the heart of everything.  Respect.  One last time, the Scrum Guide:

“Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.”

I’ve seen what can happen when respect is lost, and it’s not pretty, my friends.  

Have you sat in a team meeting (pick one, any one) where one person talks over the rest of the team?  Had someone who simply will not listen to any opinion other than his or her own?  How about the meeting where one or more members of the Dev Team refuses to listen to the Product Owner or Scrum Master because he/she “knows better” or “has been doing this longer than you have”?  Have you seen a team lead who tells the rest of the team to do what he says, not self-assign work or swarm on the most valuable items in the Sprint Backlog?  Have you had the team member who brings his/her laptop into a Retrospective or Sprint Planning meeting and is too busy sending emails to pay attention to what is happening in the room?  

Better yet, have you seen all of those in the same person?

I have, and it’s horrible.

How about the Product Owner or Scrum Master who intentionally moves to sit near the door so he can monitor when everyone enters and leaves, and keeps track of exactly how long each person is away from their desk because they demand 100% utilization?  Have you thrown your hands up in exasperation at the end of a meeting, or at the end of a day, and wanted to just scream because it feels like you could have spent your time better poking knitting needles through your arms?

Those things are fun too!

In fact, I don’t even have to think that hard to come up with an example of each of these disrespectful behaviors.  Look back at the first post I wrote here, about a failed Agile Transformation.  The lack of respect for the team is all over that post, and everyone on that team – myself included – felt it.  Want to take a great team and make them completely dysfunctional?  Stop showing them any kind of respect and see what happens.

Without respect, the rest of the Scrum Values are just words.  They mean nothing.  We can’t do anything else if we don’t show ourselves and everyone on our Scrum Teams respect:

  • We actively listen when someone else is talking, even if we don’t really want to hear what they are saying.  Especially then.
  • We firmly believe that every person on our team is awesome and can do any task they put their minds to.
  • We know that every member of our Scrum Team is absolutely professional, is dedicated to doing their best at all times, and wants the entire team to succeed.
  • We understand that the entire room is smarter than the smartest person in the room, and value what the entire team has to say.
  • We value the input of our stakeholders, who want the best possible product for all our users, both internal and external.
  • We recognize the importance of being on time for meetings, and for staying within timeboxes.
  • We respect our process.

When we lose respect, the team suffers.  

  • We lack Commitment, because we start becoming too busy looking out for ourselves and not the team.
  • We lack Courage, because we have already accepted defeat.
  • We lack Focus, because our minds are preoccupied, or we allow ourselves to be distracted.
  • We lack Openness, because we cannot trust.

We lack a team, we devolve into a group of individuals who might happen to be working on similar things, but in a manner that is completely self-contained.  Our velocity suffers.  Our quality suffers.  Our happiness suffers.  Our product suffers.  Our company suffers.

Respect is the foundation upon which all of the other Scrum Values rest.  A lack of respect by any member of the team is something that simply cannot be allowed.  It must be addressed quickly, or the damage will be quick and lasting.

Lead by example.  Show every member of your team absolute respect during all of your interactions with them.  Truly listen to everything they are telling you, and ask questions to understand when you are not sure of something.  Value their input, because they probably have information you don’t.  Recognize that without each member of the team, dedicated to doing a great job for the team, the entire team would fail.

Respect breeds respect.  Give a lot, and you will get a lot. WIthhold it, and you will never get it. Without respect, at it’s deepest level, a team will never be successful, no matter what else you do.

Part IV
Part III
Part II
Part I

Scrum Values IV: Today’s Episode — Openness

Now that we have the first three values established, we move into the two that really start to pull everything together into a whole.  We start here, with Openness.  Once more, from the Scrum Guide:

“The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work.”

It’s pretty amazing how one sentence summarizes it all.  Scrum demands that we be completely open about everything we are doing.  Period.  There are no secrets.  There is no building of silos and obfuscating work to hide what we are doing.  Instead, we want to make everything known to everyone, starting with ourselves!

  • Openness means we talk about our progress toward the Sprint Goal every day.
  • Openness means we talk about where we are falling short, and enter into discussion on how to get back on track.
  • Openness means that when we aren’t on track, we don’t offer excuses or try to hand-wave our way past an issue.
  • Openness means we put all our work on the Scrum Board, so anyone can see what we are working on and our progress toward Done.
  • Openness means everyone is welcome into any of our Scrum ceremonies to learn more about our progress and what our product looks like.
  • Openness means we are willing to keep the Product Owner up to date as work moves toward Done so he/she can accept that work in real time.
  • Openness means we are willing to raise impediments with the Scrum Master so he/she can remove them and let the team focus.
  • Openness means we are willing to have the difficult conversations, and trust each other to help the entire team succeed.

Your Jedi mind tricks don’t work in Scrum.  In fact, they will backfire.  We don’t like to talk about our shortfalls, as individuals or as a team, but when we try to mask them, or ignore them, we actively damage the team.

  • Being open about our progress toward the Sprint Goal requires Commitment.
  • Being open about where we are struggling requires Courage.
  • Being open about the most important things we are working on requires Focus.

The Agile Manifesto explicitly tells us the importance of Openness right away.  We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.  We recognize that sitting down and talking to people, openly and honestly, is the best way to convey information.

Openness pulls things together, allows the team to honestly inspect our progress, and make adaptations as required to stay on track.  When that openness is compromised, the rest of our Sprint Values are compromised with it.

Part III
Part II
Part I

Scrum Values III: Today’s Episode — Focus

Once again, from the Scrum Guide:

“Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team.”

In my post about commitment, I touched on the importance of setting our forecast for Sprint in accordance with the Sprint Goals.  In my post about courage, the importance of adhering to our Definition of Done made an appearance.  These things have something else in common.  To make both of these things happen, we need Focus.

In some ways, Focus is perhaps the simplest of the Sprint Values for us to consider.  In other ways, it is much more complicated.

The easiest way to think about Focus, is to look within the context of a Sprint.  During Sprint Planning, the team works with the Product Owner and selects what it will be working on within that Sprint.  In order for the team to meet that forecast, the team must focus solely on the selected work.

  • The team doesn’t work on anything that is outside of the Sprint Goal.
  • If someone makes a new request of the Development Team, the direct the requestor to the Product Owner, rather than diverting their attention.
  • When there is something that is preventing the team from making progress, they bring it to the attention of the Scrum Master, and resume work toward the Sprint Goal.

Going beyond just that, it’s easy to see other ways in which Focus is important to how Scrum makes us more effective!  The most effective way to get a User Story done is to swarm on that item.  When the team swarms on the one or two most valuable/important things in the Sprint Backlog and gets each to done before moving on, the team’s velocity skyrockets.  When we are focused on those one or two things, it’s much easier to spot the trouble areas and come up with a plan to deal with uncertainty.  Focus is what allows us to make sure all of our important ceremonies in Scrum fit within their time boxes.  We aren’t having meetings purely for the sake of having meetings, but we are concentrating on the task at hand.

Distilled into its simplest form, focus gets us to done and lets us become faster and more productive.

Part II
Part I

Scrum Values II: Today’s Episode — Courage.

Courage is an easy thing to understand.  It’s also incredibly hard for people to fully embrace when we are dealing with the Scrum Values.  As before, I want to start by looking at the one sentence in the Scrum Guide that applies:

“The Scrum Team members have courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems.”

There is it in a nutshell.  Do the right thing, and work on tough problems.  THere’s a whole lot more below the surface of that sentence, though.

When we talk about team members doing the right thing, there is an implied “even when it’s hard” at the end:

  • We have the courage to not revert to old habits when work is challenging.
  • We have the courage to not take shortcuts and get work done quickly simply for the sake of getting it done quickly.
  • We have the courage to ask difficult questions when we don’t have all of the information we need to build a product.
  • We have the courage to adapt to change.
  • We have the courage to trust the entire Scrum Team.
  • We have the courage to do everything in our power to meet our forecast and stick to the Definition of Done.
  • We have the courage to commit.
  • We have the courage to be honest about our work.
  • We have the courage to listen to what others on our team are saying, even when we don’t want to hear it.
  • We have the courage to fail, and the courage to admit it.

Some of the biggest issues I have seen with teams who are struggling with Scrum all come down to courage.  It’s very easy to fall back into familiar patterns, and even easier to point fingers when things don’t work.

The ceremonies of the Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Retrospective all require courage.  For Scrum to succeed, we must be able to talk about things that aren’t going well, and come up with ways to fix them.  We have to be willing to show the cracks in our armor to the team, and trust that the team will help us to overcome obstacles.

Showing work in the Sprint Review takes a huge amount of courage.  We accept that we might get feedback that we may not like, and we go into the meeting only prepared to show work that has met our Definition of Done.  We are not going to show our stakeholders (and each other) work that is half-finished and we are going to hand-wave past the incomplete parts.  We also aren’t going to show stakeholders a chunk of code they don’t necessarily understand; we will only show them work as our users will see it.

We are willing to have an honest discussion every day to inspect our progress toward our Sprint Goals and adapt our plan if we are off track.  We have a cross-functional team that is willing to jump into work they may know little about and get it done, as a team.  We are willing to be honest in our Retrospectives and discuss ways we can be a better team.  We do this without throwing our teammates under the bus, but are willing to share in our failures as much as we are willing to celebrate our successes.

Scrum takes a tremendous amount of personal and team courage.  The courage demanded by Scrum allows us to shine a bright light on every aspect of what we do, to look at it clearly, and always find ways to make improvements.

Part I

Scrum Values I: Today’s Episode — Commitment.

That’s a huge word that carries a lot of weight.  It’s also a word that has had a shift in definition – as it relates to Scrum – in recent times.  So what, exactly, do we mean when we are talking about commitment?

For a long time, commitment meant “I am going to do everything it takes — working 9 days a week, 27.5 hours a day if necessary — to make sure this gets done exactly on time and exactly as described by the requirements.”  For some people, this is still what it means, being on call non-stop, never being able to disconnect, even on vacation, and putting that commitment above all else.

That’s not how this works.  That’s not how any of this works.

Go back to the Scrum Guide for a minute, open it in a separate window or tab.  Got it?  Now search for the word “commitment” in there.  As of the November 2017 update, there is exactly one place you will find it, and that’s in the Scrum Values.  Further, the Scrum Guide states:

“People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum.”

That’s it.

Commitment doesn’t mean we have no life and pull out every single last stop to get everything done exactly as commanded by some arcane (and likely out of date) requirements document.

  • It means that everyone on the team is dedicated to helping the team succeed.  The exact work that will be done within a Sprint can and will change as work is underway, but always with the end desire of achieving the Sprint Goals.
  • It means that if we are behind, the Development Team will sit with the Product Owner and have a conversation to make adjustments to the work in the Sprint so that an increment of working software is done when the Sprint ends.
  • It means that the Product Owner leaves flexibility in his or her Acceptance Criteria so that the team has room for negotiation.
  • It means that the Scrum Master is actively listening and responding to the needs of the team.
  • It means that we are going to do our best, but recognize that if we fall short it will not be for lack of effort.

Organizationally, it means that we empower our Scrum Teams, and give them the resources and flexibility they need to be successful.

When the team sets their Sprint Backlog, we should stop talking about commitment – as it relates to the old way of thinking – and recognize that we are talking about a forecast. Things may change as we get more clarity on any or all user stories in a Sprint.  Things may be moved out, or be added, to allow the team to still meet the Sprint Goal.

That doesn’t mean the team failed to meet its commitments, it means they are being truly Agile.

Bringing the Scrum Values to Life – A Tale in Five Parts.

Scrum Values

One of the best things that happened to the Scrum Guide in the last two years was the introduction of the Scrum Values.  These two very simple paragraphs shine a huge light on things that are crucial to the success of Scrum.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about each one, how they impact what we do each day, and want to look at each one in turn.

  • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Focus
  • Openness
  • Respect

Quoting from the November 2017 Scrum Guide:

When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum roles, events, and artifacts.

Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living these five values. People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team. The Scrum Team members have courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems. Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team. The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work. Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.

Two paragraphs.  Lots of information to digest.

Rather than writing one large post on why these are absolutely critical, I will take them one at a time – one per day, starting next Monday – and dive into what how each one of these Scrum Values is so important.  These aren’t just words that we can consider and forget, they are imperative in how we create highly collaborative, highly productive teams.  

It’s worth pointing out right here that I actually wrote this first post after I drafted all of the ones that will follow.  One of the best parts of examining each of the Scrum Values, to me, was examining how each one relates very strongly to the others.  Considering each individually, it becomes clear how all five are tightly connected, and provide crucial pillars upon which Scrum is built.

This should be fun!

Shhh… the strength of silence


Picture this:  Your team (or someone on the team) comes to you looking for help.  You are asked a question.  What do you do?

You answer it, right?  That’s the normal response.  By nature, we want to help others (well, most of us do), and that means answering their questions, and sometimes even rolling up our sleeves and helping with the actual work.

How about this situation:

You’re facilitating a Retrospective for your Scrum Team and you ask them a question. Nobody answers.  Maybe your question was too hard, or they aren’t comfortable providing the answer, so you wait a short amount of time and start talking again, either giving them the answer, leading them toward the one you have in mind, or changing the question to make it easier.

So what if I were to tell you that might be the wrong thing to do?

As a Scrum Master, one of the most potent tools you have is silence.  Keeping your mouth closed is easy, but it’s also one of the hardest things to practice and teach yourself.  I had to fight every instinct to learn this one, and I still find I need to catch myself on a regular basis.  Being quiet takes work!

But here’s the thing: When you become comfortable with your own silence, you allow your teams to grow.  When a question is asked — whether in a team discussion or in a one on one setting — don’t answer right away.  However long you think is a good pause before you answer, wait three to four times that long.  Let the silence get uncomfortable, and read the energy of the room.

Don’t focus on the fact that you aren’t talking, focus on how people are reacting.  Read their body language and listen to what they are not telling you.  You will naturally start to come up what your answer might be – resist the urge to do so!  Keep yourself actively listening through the silence.  Shift all of your attention from your instinct to speak and keep it completely on your team.  Make eye contact, smile, and let the silence hang.

When you do this, one of two things will happen:

1) You give yourself extra time to compose your response and make sure you and giving the right answer (or asking a better question), should you choose to do so.

More often, however…

2) The person will provide their own answer, or someone else on the team will, allowing you to stay in active listening mode and feeling where your input is actually needed!

We don’t like silence. Most people will instinctively try to fill the silence by speaking up, rather than letting that awkward, uncomfortable silence linger.  You will be surprised at how often they will answer their own questions, or at least come up with a more insightful question than the one that was originally asked.

Your knowledge, experience, and insight is important to the team.  Your silence can be even more important.  In that awful silence, they have the opportunity to stretch out beyond their comfort zone and to grow.  The trick lies in knowing how long to let that silence hang, and when they really do need some of your sage-like wisdom.

Growth happens in those uncomfortable moments.  I’ve joked with my teams more than once that when I see they’re in that uncomfortable space, I cackle with glee on my commute home.

Silence is powerful.  Make it a part of your toolbox and see where it gets you!