What do you do when the organisation is breaking or failing to honour agile values and principles?
Welcome to part 45 in our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
I’ll be honest, most of the organizations I have worked with in the past do break agile values and principles fairly regularly, so this is a common situation to encounter.
Help people understand what values and principles are.
First step is to understand what the agile values and principles are, and why these are so revered in the agile industry. Help them to understand the purpose of these values and principles and understand why they were included in the Agile Manifesto to begin with.
As a scrum master, you want to help the organization understand what they are currently doing, highlight what the agile values and principles are, and then have the conversation around the difference between what the organization say they want to do and what they are doing.
Why is there a gap?
What was the initial problem we were trying to solve by embracing agile, and why have we deviated from that objective and reverted back to previous behaviours.
There is no point in telling people that they are getting it wrong. If you really want to upset people, turn around and tell them that they are breaking agile values and principles and it is wrong.
You want them to reconnect with the agile values and principles, recognise that their behaviours and actions are not congruent with those values and principles, and explore what is happening to cause this deviation or separation.
Help them explore it and facilitate conversations around the topic that help them understand what is happening, what could be happening instead, and what is necessary to get back on track.
Question the behaviour you want to highlight.
There may be a great reason why people are behaving differently to how we all agreed at the onset of the agile adoption, and it is worth exploring whether the new behaviour is a better fit than what we initially agreed.
It is unlikely, but it is possible, and so we need to have open and honest conversations.
- How does X behaviour help us improve as a team?
- How does X behaviour lead to continuous creation and delivery of value to customers?
- How does X behaviour contribute to psychological safety and respect for all ideas?
- How does X behaviour move us closer to our goals?
- How does X behaviour align with the OKRs we have decided are important?
And so forth.
We work with bright people and if those behaviours don’t align with what we have agreed is valuable and important, it is going to be very tough to justify those behaviours. It also becomes apparent that those behaviours move us further away from our objectives, and as such, a course correction is needed.
Some of these conversations may happen in a sprint retrospective as a team, some may happen in one-to-one encounters over a cup of coffee, and some may happen in small groups.
It will take time, it will take effort, and it will take care.
You simply need to move through the process and allow people to discover for themselves why their behaviour or chosen course of action doesn’t align with agile values and principles, and why that does not serve their interests nor the interests of the team.
If it’s people outside of the team who are involved, it will take a combination of teaching, coaching, and facilitation on the part of the scrum master to help them understand.
Not all negative behaviour is malicious, sometimes people simply don’t understand what agile values are and why they are so important. They may not understand the context of the principles and fail to live the spirit of the agile ideology because they just don’t get it.
Take the time to diagnose the problem correctly and invest time in educating, coaching, and mentoring people outside of the team environment to align themselves with a human, progressive style of working that serves the team, everyone in the organization, and the customers they serve.
About John McFadyen
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