“Scrum team members have the courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems.”
– The Scrum Guide
Why should ‘courage’ be mentioned specifically, do you think? Courage in the context of the Scrum values means having the courage to do what needs to be done and not being afraid that it won’t work.
Scrum values the courage of each individual contributor to the team. While we may not always think of courage in the context of an office job, there are certain circumstances that require courage.
Scrum is basically about being honest with everyone on your Scrum Team (and beyond). And frankly, that can hurt sometimes. It therefore takes courage to stand up to a team member, to hold them accountable. Also to overcome the “we’ve always done it this way” or “it’s not my job” mentality. Scrum is about asking the team what we can learn and being honest with yourself: did I really do my best today?
The Scrum value of courage is critical to the success of a Scrum Team. Scrum Teams need to feel safe enough to say no, ask for help, and try new things. Scrum Teams must be brave enough to question the status quo when it hinders their ability to succeed.
For example, it takes courage to point out a mistake, even if it takes your team time to correct it. Having courage also means tackling difficult challenges right away rather than procrastinating or passing them on to a colleague.
People outside of Scrum can’t necessarily measure team progress, but they do depend on the team to take vital steps. The entire organization and all stakeholders trusts them to be honest about their work and the challenges they face. This requires courage at every step.
What are examples when courage as a Scrum value is not propagated in a company or Scrum Team? There are a few red flags that can show a lack of courage.
- Suppression of bad news is a killer. Problems that could have been solved are only discovered too late when people are afraid to speak up.
- The information about how the sprint is going is protected. Burndown charts, the sprint backlog or improvements are not publicly available, in other words, a lack of transparency, because the project information in the used tooling is only accessible to the people in the team. This is shielding the real situation, so that no criticism can be made.
- The Sprint Review shows everything, not just the work that’s completely finished, but also everything that’s only slightly built. This is masking the real situation. By saying a lot, one seems to think that it is good, because the team has done a lot – while not finishing whole PBI’s. A smoke screen, so to speak.
- There is never a good discussion in the Scrum Team. Teams consist of different individuals who all want to do their best. This means that at some point there really has to be a discussion, or that someone is held accountable for behavior or breaking the agreements made in the Scrum Team.
- Team members do not dare to take risks. You see this especially at Product Backlog Refinements when not everything is known about, for example, a user story. Another indicator is that no one dares to tell you that they were wrong, or that they do not ask for help.
Courage in practice
- Scrum teams must have the courage to be honest, open and transparent, both to themselves and to stakeholders, about the progress of the project and any obstacles they encounter. Team members also need the courage to ask for help when needed, to try new tactics or methods they are not used to, and to respectfully disagree and have an open dialogue.
- Show courage by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to achieve success. By staying committed to the goal and focusing less on yourself, you can solve challenging problems and achieve unexpected results! So, be willing to face the unknown. If you come across things you don’t understand or identify a problem, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. Your ability to speak honestly and question the status quo can be the key to improvement during any given sprint.
- Routines are comfortable and it takes courage for individuals to go beyond “the way we’ve always done it”. When the team is confident that they are committed to each other and that the company is committed to them, it is easier to make bold decisions.
- Improving also takes courage. Just like the products they deliver, Scrum teams need to continuously improve.
- Encourage your fellow team members to be proactive. If someone has an idea, help them with everything in your power.
- Explain to the environment (management, Stakeholders) what the positions and agreements are within the team, so that that environment understands more easily why certain decisions have been made. In environments where decisions have been made by managers for a long time, such as what is done by whom and when, many employees have stopped thinking about what needs to be done and what it takes to get it done.
- Give the teams back their self-organizing capabilities so that they have the courage to deliver the best functionality they can!
The Scrum Master as an example
There is a special role in promoting courage for the Scrum Master – by demonstrating it! The Scrum Master must have the courage to stand up to stakeholders and Product Owners to avoid mid-Sprint changes or scope creep. It takes courage for a Scrum Master to deliver bad news to stakeholders outside the team. It takes even more guts to keep those stakeholders from blocking the team’s progress. Of course, this is all based on each member’s honesty about their progress with themselves and their teammates.