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Issue 49

Scrum values through the eyes of an Agile team

Sorin Sfîrlogea
Senior trainer & Agile coach @ Colors in Projects
MANAGEMENT

Agile projects are not successful if the process attached to the Agile method is adhered to mechanically. The success of Agile projects lies in the quality of the team, in the way the team thinks and acts at an individual level. The way in which team members think and act is based on a common set of values. It looks simple enough. However, do we actually know how to interpret these values correctly?

Classic project management derives its success from the quality of the process involved, from the rigorous planning and from the management of the activities involved. If applied where it fits best and if led by a manager who knows how to handle processes, the process has great chances of success.

Scrum-based projects will not be successful if only the process or if only the Scrum „mechanics”, which is quite Spartan, is applied. The key to success in this case is the quality of the team, and the way in which each person thinks and acts. The way in which team members think and act is based on adhering to common Scrum values. It sounds simple enough: it is easy to read the seven words. However, using the seven words in practice is very hard. So do we truly understand these values?

As soon as an Agile team is formed, one of the first questions that requires an answer is: What are our values? How can a team, especially a newly-formed team, give a satisfactory answer to this extremely important question? How can the team find the shortest path which leads to that set of values and which guides team members towards creating a suitable environment for collaboration and self-management?

Some will say that it all comes down to the work experience of team members. This holds true if at least some of them have previously had the opportunity to collaborate. The past experience team members have had with Agile plays an important part. It is easier if team members worked with Scrum before. However, if the team is made up of people who have never worked together before and whose prior experience with Agile is limited, the answer is not that easy to find. So, what can be done? How can an Agile leader or coach help them?

Scrum values are an excellent guide for this challenge. It is very hard to work with Scrum if team members do not embrace these values, right? However, do we know how to interpret these values correctly, so that they make sense for the members of a new team?

Let us quickly have a look at Scrum values: Respect, Courage, Focus, Commitment and Openness. Two other values were later added to the list: Visibility and Sense of Humour. Taken one by one, all seven values seem easy to understand. What are the relations among these values? Why were these values chosen in the detriment of other values? Let us try to discover their deeper meaning together.

Respect is the most important value, because it underpins all other values. Why does an Agile team need respect? Respect is essential when it comes to people and the interactions among them, and it is less essential when it comes to processes and tools. In an organization where processes are well-established and the instruments are compulsory and standardized, respect is welcome, but not compulsory. Such an organization can function relatively well, by following procedures, and not by necessarily respecting the people who perform the processes. Each person carries out a role according to the process where they are included. Each person respects the process, and the process ensure success if it is efficient and practiced under strict discipline and supervision.

However, in Scrum, Respect for the others is fundamental. Without respect, the productive relations among team members are impossible. A Junior’s voice or an introvert’s voice will never be heard, if they are not respected. Their ideas will always be ignored or – even worse – will be treated ironically or sarcastically. As time goes by, these people will not even try to express their opinions anymore, their commitment will dwindle and their personal development will be blocked. How can you work side by side with a person that does not respect you? The results will be mediocre, because, in Scrum, the people ensure the success, not the process.

However, even if there is respect among team members, this does not automatically mean that each will express themselves freely. This is because Respect must be coupled with Courage. If there is respect, each team member must find the courage to speak freely, without fear, even if, sometimes, what they say may lack value or truth. We are all prone to error. If there is respect, each team member must have the courage to put their vulnerabilities on the table, without the fear of being ridiculed. No matter how senior we are, there are many things that we do not know and one needs courage to admit that this is so. No matter how much expertise we hold, sometimes we make mistakes and they lead to errors in the products that we work on. The courage to admit to our mistakes is built on the respect that others give us. We are all aware that nobody is perfect.

And, perhaps, the most difficult proof of courage each team member must show is accepting that one’s performance is the team’s performance, or accepting that the value of one’s work is the same as the success value of the entire team. In Scrum, there is no room for stars or heroes. The ultimate proof of courage is when you take responsibility for the poorer results of the team, even when you believe you did everything that was up to you or even when you out performed yourself, but your effort was not enough to reach success.

Courage goes hand in hand with Visibility, which is also based on respect. Being part of an Agile team is not about admitting to your limits or your mistakes, but about making them visible to everybody, even before the team members discover them. Being part of an Agile team is about the sincerity of making your work public, of making your effort and your results visible, when they are successful and even when they are less spectacular.

Visibility must factor in the respect each team member deserves. When things go smoothly and when things go rough, visibility must showcase not the individual’s, but the team’s merits and the team’s weaknesses. Within the team, visibility entails that the activity of each team member is totally transparent. There are no taboos. There is no private property.

In addition to visibility and courage, an Agile team must show Commitment, the true, unconditional devotion to the goals the team adheres to. The personal agenda must come second, and the team goals must come first. How can this be achieved if there is no respect among team members?

However, commitment is not only the personal promise that individuals will work hard in future projects. It is also the duty of holding all other team members accountable for their contributions. If you do not care that a colleague is not doing their best, then you have already broken the commitment.

When courage and visibility are based on respect, the team reaches Openness. Being open entails the courage of accepting the other people’s opinions, of embracing new ideas and of trying out new things. Being open entails accepting visibility as a means of communicating honestly, within the team and outside the team. Being open means that you understand your personal value, with its merits and its limits, and you are ready to learn something new and useful from anyone, anytime.

Visibility and commitment give a team the ability to Focus on what is essential. The team and each team member can focus on what really matters, namely customer satisfaction, if the team is committed and has a clear picture of its goals. The goals of each sprint, of each release cannot be achieved unless each team member and the team, as a whole, understand the progress of their work clearly and correctly, and unless members devote their entire skill set towards achieving these goals.

Last, but not least, commitment and courage must trigger a Sense of Humour in each team member. The authentic pleasure of working together with other people in a relaxed environment, where jokes and laughter are part of the daily work, is refreshing.

Seriousness is the last refuge of mediocrity, some say. Self-irony keeps your alert and nurtures the will to be better with each day that goes by. Self-irony is the distinctive sign of a mind which is courageous enough to admit to its own imperfections and which is always determined to learn something new.

Many times, Scrum teams, the new ones especially, express their values as a chain of nouns. The values mentioned above are often part of this chain. If we interpret these values as I suggested in this paper, by linking them to one another, it is clear that these values do not refer to the expectations that each team member has from the others, but to the personal commitment or stand taken in front of the entire team.

An Agile team that works with Scrum must be made up of people that share the behavior described above. We know that it is hard to find people who possess all these qualities and that nobody is perfect. For this reason, these values must not be seen as Procust’s bed, as a strict benchmark for evaluating how well-suited people are for Scrum. These values should be the target professional behavior for team members, their pledge of allegiance which they must work towards every day.

We do not ask for respect, courage, sense of humour, commitment, focus, visibility and openness only from the others. We must first promise that we will promote these values ourselves. Maybe, with such a frame of mind at hand, it will come natural for every Scrum advocate to take the following pledge with oneself:

Through Respect for my colleagues, through Courage and Visibility, I will show the Openness that each Agile advocate must manifest.

Through Respect for my colleagues, through the Visibility of my work and through my Commitment, I will exercise absolute Focus towards the team’s goals, to make my team successful.

Out of Respect for my colleagues, through Courage and Commitment, I will maintain my Sense of Humour as a state of mind I must never separate from, no matter how many hardships I might encounter.

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