“The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work.”
– The Scrum Guide
Openness as a Scrum Value is of utmost importance. To ensure that the Scrum Team makes the most progress in the shortest amount of time, each team member must be brutally honest and open about their own progress. In other words, we don’t hide anything from each other.
Almost every project comes with their challenges. Scrum values candor and honest communication to all team members and stakeholders without fear. This means telling a team member honestly if something needs to be redone and receiving that kind of communication kindly, trusting that everyone is working towards the same goals.
Being open as an individual also means being honest about what you can achieve and how your work will affect other team members. If there is no culture of transparency, bottlenecks, roadblocks and missed deadlines will soon follow.
Transparency and acceptance
Openness has two important facets as a Scrum value.
The first facet relates to transparency. To inspect and adjust products and processes, Scrum Teams need to be open about their progress. Each team member’s work should be available for analysis and suggestions for improvement by the others. This can be a challenge for team members who feel threatened by collaboration, so it’s helpful not to see this as micromanaging, but as a value based on the Scrum pillars of empiricism: transparency, inspection and adaptability. Empiricism claims that knowledge arises from what is known. Team members need to feel comfortable sharing their work and their fears of what’s to come.
The other facet of openness is acceptance and receptivity. Everyone should be open to change, asking for help and giving it. They must be able to admit they are wrong and be open to feedback and cooperation. A perfect example of this is during the Sprint Retrospective. Above all, the team should be open about tackling successes and failures. And being open to each other’s ideas, no matter how strange or great. All ideas are valid.
The mystery of the black box
Organizations that are in a transition to working with Scrum have a long tradition of not to be open. It is a great mystery to stakeholders what happens during development, like a black box. This is often because in a traditional waterfall development, communication usually goes through one person (the project manager). This person reports to the stakeholders and is the one who directs the people in the project. When organizations apply Scrum but don’t pay attention to openness, this will still be the case. Symptoms of a lack of openness include:
- Team members do not ask for help. They do not dare to indicate that they cannot solve something themselves. Tasks remain unfinished for too long.
- The Product and Sprint Backlogs are not visible to stakeholders. As a result, it is not clear to stakeholders what will be worked on in the near future and what the status of the PBI’s are.
- It is not indicated in time that a certain goal will not be achieved. For example: the Sprint Goal is not validated during the Daily Scrum and the prospect of the Product Backlog is not considered in the Sprint Review.
- The team is not open in their way of working. Input from stakeholders during the Sprint Review is not appreciated.
- It is not indicated if a PBI has been miscalculated. Team members work longer to complete Product Backlog Items, sometimes in their own free time – and there is no adjustment or reevaluation of the PBI.
Openness in practice
So. how can you increase openness? Being (more) open is behavior and this cannot simply be improved by introducing a rule. There are however actions that can increase openness. Examples of this are:
- The aim of the Daily Scrum meeting is to identify and solve problems. That can’t happen if team members aren’t aware of any issues or roadblocks they’re experiencing. Create an atmosphere of candor during these important meetings!
- Make the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog public to all your stakeholders. The extra input you get from them is only included when it comes to being able to do the most important first.
- Involve stakeholders not only in the Sprint Review, but also during Daily Scrums and Product Backlog Refinements. In this way, the stakeholders also become more and more involved with the team.
- The value of openness also means that project stakeholders are expected to communicate quickly and honestly, for example when changes occur in timeline, resources or product needs.
- One of the best ways for Scrum Masters to promote openness is by being transparent with their teams. Giving honest feedback during Daily Scrum meetings is not only essential to make the necessary adjustments, but will also encourage honesty and openness from team members.
- Openness means being unbiased in communication between members of different disciplines. Foster a culture that welcomes new ideas and work styles that can help the team move forward.
- Make Sprints as short as possible. First see if a Sprint can last one week and if that is not possible a maximum of two weeks. This provides extra contact moments, which automatically increases openness.
Openness is rightly a core value within Scrum. Without openness you can’t go through your inspect and adapt cycles well, because without openness you don’t have the right information to adapt!