The three pillars of empricism are: Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation. Without transparency, your inspection is rendered worthless and any adaptations based on that inspection are flawed. This is basic and obvious. Everyone can understand it. Yet many scrum adoptions suffer because of it.
Why do we make such an obvious and fundamental mistake? Here’s one perspective, and one solution.
Picture the scene: I’m one of a group of contracted agile coaches working with a large, established organization. It’s early on in the transition and we’re looking at an ‘agile metric’ that has come from the CTO. He wanted to measure the baseline for where we’re at, so he can review progress. So far, so good.
We looked at the baseline measurement. It was produced by someone that none of us knew. And it was very obviously wrong. We imagine what will happen when we point this out to the CTO. Even at the most basic level, it’s not pretty:
- The CTO struggles to balance what his own staff are telling him, versus what a group of external consultants are telling him
- The CTO believes us
- The CTO doesn’t believe us
It’s easy to see how, under these circumstances, the truth may become ’embellished’ when we approach the CTO. But we’re coaches and we understand how vital transparency is. We’re going to tell it as it is. If we get kicked off the contract, well, that comes with the job. At least our integrity is intact.
But, replace the coaches in this scenario with internal staff. Staff that are worried about paying the mortgage. Staff that are worried about their next promotion. Staff that are worried about the next round of redundancies. It’s easy to see how the true situation can become opaque.
I Walked Into a Room Full of Senior Managers
As part of my work, I occasionally get the chance to speak with senior managers about their scrum transitions. I question I often ask is: “Would you prefer your teams to tell you the truth, or embellish the truth and just work harder behind the scenes to deliver on time?”
Almost every single manager says that they want the truth, because then they can manage the situation effectively. My next question then is: “How do you deal with teams that tell you the truth and its all bad news?”
This can lead to some interesting debate but a common theme is to find those responsible and ensure that this doesn’t happen again. This leads to my final question: “Do you believe that your response to the truth encourages teams to tell you the truth?”
We don’t tend to have much debate here. The answer is usually along the lines of “No. But we have to prevent errors from being repeated.” Which is a very valid point.
With managers that don’t encourage honesty and staff that are cautious about being transparent, is it any wonder that scrum adoptions suffer?
A Better Way
There is a better way. It requires a mix of trust, and slight shift in perspective from management, to encourage crystal clear transparency.
Scrum depends on self-organizing teams. That means that managers don’t have to issue commands, directives, or orders to teams on what to do. Instead, they set goals and objectives and trust the team to deliver. That includes delegating full authority to the team for dealing with issues.
For their part, scrum teams maintain data that provides a transparent picture of their work. They maintain this to help them inspect the current situation and then adapt to that situation. As part of this, they will request help from managers as soon as they see an impediment that is beyond their own control.
Working in this way, managers can concentrate on providing the help that scrum teams need to succeed. Managers can also leave the scrum team to do their own analysis on issues and trust the team not to repeat any mistakes. They can rely on this because scrum requires teams to regularly inspect how they work as a team and to make any necessary adaptations.
This way of working actively encourages transparency. Once we have that, we’re well on the way to a successful scrum transition.