The Values Essential to a Scrum Software Development Practice


The Scrum Guide was updated recently to make values an explicit part of the framework: commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect. When these values are embodied and lived by the team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. Is your team practicing them?

The creators of Scrum, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, recently released an update to the Scrum Guide that makes values an explicit part of the framework:

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.

On the surface, the update is minor. However, these values can fundamentally change the way team members relate to one another, their stakeholders, and customers.

Commitment can transform a team. It is a promise to yourself or others to deliver. Scrum teams make a commitment to the product owner during every sprint, and team members make a commitment to each other to adhere to Scrum and to support one another.

Focus allows all of us to bring our very best forward. Valuing focus means that we give people the time they need to think about their work. Creativity is hard enough without constantly being interrupted. Insisting that team members are focused on one project, one sprint, and one story at a time gives the team the best chance of delivering on their commitments.

Openness enables our minds to be clear and our hearts to be open. Openness is at the core of transparency, which is what makes Scrum work. If Scrum is not transparent, there can be no inspection or adaptation; improvement cannot happen without openness.

Respect creates safety. Transparency is scary. Admitting when you are stuck is hard. Respect makes these actions possible. A high-performing Scrum team is built on mutual respect, and honest discussions create the safety needed to tackle difficult issues. Respect helps a team gel, grow, and learn together.

Courage is the linchpin for the other Scrum values. It takes courage to commit, to focus amid many distractions, and to be open to new ideas. And it takes courage and faith in your team to count on respectful interactions in order to bring problems forward.

Learning to Internalize Scrum Values

Early in my career as a ScrumMaster, I did not fully understand the importance of these values. I certainly had not internalized them as guide posts for serving Scrum teams. Fortunately, a developer helped me learn their true meaning.

I was still new to the ScrumMaster role and had not fully grasped the concept of servant leadership. I took a heavy-handed approach with the daily scrum, sprint planning, sprint review, and sprint retrospective and ran them how I saw fit.

During the daily scrum I asked the questions of each team member and asked follow-ups where I felt more information was needed, effectively turning the scrum into a status meeting.

At sprint planning meetings, I pushed the team to use the traditional “As a (role), I want (goal) so that (benefit)” format for user stories, which is not prescribed by Scrum. The team came up with its own format that they felt more comfortable with, but still I pressed on. Why I felt the authority to do so is beyond me.

A developer named Brandon approached me and very respectfully disagreed with my mandated user story format. Tension grew. After I accused him of objecting to the format “just to be difficult,” he stormed out of the room. I was left with a team of amazed developers staring back at me, disappointed. And they were fully justified.

I found Brandon later that day and apologized for my behavior. We had a great conversation about what had happened. He helped me realize that I had to inspect and adapt my mindset and practices. I also apologized to the other team members. They showed me a lot of grace and gave me another chance at being their ScrumMaster.

It took some time, but I learned to internalize the Scrum values and use them to guide the way I acted as a ScrumMaster and agile coach. This change in thinking freed me from concerns of user story formats and status updates.

Instead, I focused on serving the team. I became committed to helping them remove impediments, learn the principles of Scrum, and live by the Scrum values. I also decided to respect the team’s right to determine how to do their work.

Brandon is the hero of this story. He truly embodied the Scrum values: He had the courage to speak up, the commitment to the team to want to do things better, the openness to air a grievance, the respect to keep things civil, and the desire to focus the team on valuable work. By embracing these values, Brandon helped make me a better ScrumMaster and teammate.

Scrum Values: A Guide to Success

The Scrum values are a compass we can all use to guide our way through the many obstacles and difficult situations that arise during a software development project. Now that they are officially part of the Scrum Guide, teams can evaluate how they are upholding the values and adapt as necessary.

How will you internalize the Scrum values and help your teams grow? Is this a topic that you’ll address during your next sprint review? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comment section below.

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