How Leaders can create the conditions where Scrum can thrive
As mentioned earlier, Scrum is founded on empiricism – transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Empiricism is only possible in certain cultures and contexts. Leaders have the role of creating and nurturing the culture and shaping the context.
Are your teams able to focus on one important mission/goal? Do they have one clear set of priorities? They know when to say “No it doesn’t make sense to start this now, our plate is full”. If you’re a senior leader this starts at the portfolio level – being able to say “let’s focus on these key initiatives” and mainly “let’s NOT do these other things until we actually have the organizational capacity to deal with them” creates the culture where the focus is possible. Ideally, Leaders make courageous choices and organize their teams around concrete Product Goals reflecting these choices.
Leaders should have open discussions about whether their organization/ecosystem is conducive to Empiricism and Scrum as well as inspect and adapt the cultural behaviors and standards that can be impediments to an effective Scrum culture. Are you able to tell your senior leader they are wrong? Are your people able to tell you you’re wrong? How open will the conversation be in the Sprint Review when leaders and teams get together to inspect an increment of work? Will teams open up to what’s really going on? Effective transparency and inspection require this openness.
Leaders commit to setting the Scrum Team up for success and supporting it through the removal of things that get in the way of flow and feedback loops. For example, an existing quarterly planning meeting requires a long detailed report which has no value for the Scrum Team. When this waste is raised the leader should work with the organization to remove the need for the Scrum Team to provide it.
Leaders have the courage to do the right thing when it comes to setting Scrum Teams up for success and when working on tough organizational problems. They make choices and communicate them and the rationale behind them. This doesn’t mean always siding with Scrum or the Scrum Team or making the popular decision. It might mean decisions that will create some hardship for them and others in the short term but are the right decisions when taking the long view.
Leaders understand and respect the Scrum Team roles. They work with these roles within the Scrum accountabilities. Because the Scrum Team accountabilities do not directly map to the organization’s job titles and structures this may require the leader to help smooth out any disconnects. Leaders approach the different Scrum events with respect to the work being done, the opinions being shared, and the rules of the Scrum process.
More thoughts about how Leaders can use the Scrum Values
Leaders should be open about the work, the challenges in the work, and the process/structural/transformational challenges. They should have the courage to share with other leaders and teams, in a transparent way, what the challenges are. They should be committed and focused on addressing these challenges. They should proceed with respect to the rules of the Scrum framework and the space the Scrum Team needs to thrive. Serving a Scrum Team requires a delicate balance. In some cases, you need to teach/mentor. In other cases, you need to let things be and actively do nothing. In some other cases, you need to proactively work with the Scrum Team on the issue.
This provides an environment where leaders are demonstrating transparency and the values of Scrum. By courageously and openly sharing these challenges it provides an opportunity for others to provide insights and solutions.
In summary, The Scrum Values of Focus, Commitment, Courage, Openness, and Respect all correlate to an environment that enables Trust, Empiricism, and Self-Management that in turn support innovation and value creation.
Creating a Culture aligned with the Scrum Values
Creating a culture that thrives upon the Scrum Values is a tough mission. A key issue is that inspecting and adapting the culture is hard when the culture isn’t very transparent. Scrum helps by making the culture and context painfully transparent. Leaders should pay close attention to the tensions that Scrum highlights between its empirical self-management approach and the current organizational culture.
Addressing these tensions becomes a key leadership role.
One additional way Leaders can communicate the importance of the Scrum Values is to start by applying the Scrum Values of Openness, Courage, Focus, Respect, and Commitment to their work and interactions with others – including but not limited to the Scrum Team. For example, when presented with an opportunity to be focused they should call out that they are following the value of ‘focus’ and then describe its use. By constantly re-enforcing the Scrum Values and providing context they become role models for the Scrum Teams.
One more suggestion is to run a values-focused Retrospective where you explore current strengths and opportunities in your culture, from a Scrum Values perspective. This works well as a skip-level Retrospective with some representatives, or with certain roles such as Product Owners and Scrum Masters, or as a wider event with entire Teams.
There are some situations where Leadership teams become Scrum Teams – in these situations, this helps the leaders understand and model the Scrum behaviors and activities as well as helping them use Scrum to implement Scrum. Introducing Scrum is a complex problem which is a perfect context to use Scrum.
Each situation is different which requires Leaders to apply Scrum in a different way, however ultimately leaders are accountable for creating an environment where Scrum thrives and teams leverage empiricism and self-management to solve complex problems and create value.
A Leader can leverage the Scrum Values as they figure out how to structure a Scrum Team and as they engage with the team. Our next post in the Scrum Guide Leader’s Perspective will cover the Leader’s perspective on the Scrum Team roles.