At first glance, the five Scrum values seem like a no-brainer: Commitment, focus, openness, respect, and courage. But often, there isn’t one version of the truth. Without clarifying what these values mean in Scrum, the team is left to interpret what these values mean through the lens of their own experience and cultural norms.
In the Scrum Guide, commitment is about the team committing to achieving its goal and supporting each other. It’s important to clarify the difference between making a commitment and making a promise. While we can commit to working together to reach a defined goal, we can’t promise we’ll achieve it.
Commitment doesn’t promise an outcome. It’s about working towards an outcome. We can make a commitment to pursue our collective goal in a focused way, to being supportive of each other’s success, and working together to achieve it.
It’s no coincidence that one of the examples listed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “the team lost focus.” Without focus, teams can lose their sense of direction – where they are headed at any point in time.
Fortunately, Scrum is full of mechanisms that ensure the team stays focused. The most important of these is the sprint timebox itself. Teams focus on the highest priority opportunities that can fit in that fixed timeframe. Other practices can help teams focus such as setting explicit Sprint learning goals, publishing your team’s definition of done, and adding expiration dates to product backlogs.
You could also plan a learning focused daily Scrum where you change the emphasis of the agenda towards learning rather than task progress and delivery.
It’s easier said than done and it’s only achieved in teams that have developed trust. Without trust, people will be afraid to be truthful. They won’t be willing to admit mistakes, take responsibility, or even be honest about challenges they’re facing – because they’re afraid of the consequences. If the response to mistakes is “shaming and blaming,” people will be reluctant to admit to them or point them out.
Cultivating an environment where people can be honest and expect to receive support (instead of a rap on the knuckles), is easier in some cultures than in others. We all make mistakes. It’s what happens next that determines whether people feel they can speak freely or it’s safer to stay silent. It’s important to create a culture that embraces small failures in order to avoid the large ones. Creating an environment in which it is safe to fail not only leads to greater innovation and experimentation but also to one that is more open and transparent.
It starts with assuming people have good intentions. That no one deliberately sets out to make a mistake. As a leader, you make them too. The important thing is to identify and learn from these so we may become better leaders and team members. Openness is the key to unlocking future improvement.
You may find that holding a safety check when you kick off your meetings makes meeting safety a prerequisite and allows you to assess and evaluate whether safety issues have been dealt with. Feeling safe leads to more engaged participants and better meeting outcomes.
When there’s openness in Scrums, problems are identified sooner, solutions are found through greater collaboration, and everyone knows whether they’re on target to meet their goals.
In some cultures, respect is a given. You’re expected to respect your elders, your teachers, your managers. In other cultures, respect must be earned. You aren’t given respect simply because you have a fancy nameplate, a long-winded title, and are higher up in the corporate tree. In Scrum, respect refers to the respect we have for each other. “I respect you, because I know you”. Because we respect each other, we treat each other with respect. Because we respect each other, we assume positive intent in the actions and decisions that others make. Because I respect you, I don’t think you’re purposely trying to undermine me. If you’re doing something I don’t agree with, it’s because you believe your path is the better one. Because I respect you, I should have a natural curiosity to try to understand “why?”
We earn the respect of our team members through the actions and decisions we make as ScrumMAsters. We take responsibility as leaders. We earn it through empathy and caring — prioritizing the success of our team members no less than our own.
Doing the right thing — even if it means negative ramifications — takes courage. It takes courage to say “No” to unreasonable customers. It takes courage to resist the urge to cut corners just to get something out the door. It takes courage to admit that we have failed; that we have made mistakes; that we missed something.
It takes courage to admit we were wrong and we should change course. And to do so in the spirit of cooperation and getting back on track, where everyone knows what needs to happen next.
As a member of a scrum team, it’s your role to support your team in finding solutions. It’s saying, “Let’s work together to find a solution.”
To ensure your team can move from theory to practice, it’s essential to ensure everyone is on the same page about what these values mean and how to implement them.