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That transparency thing? It’s for EVERYONE!

Opaque vs. Transparent illustration.

A fellow Scrum Master told me a story recently that both angered and saddened me. Anger at the blatant disregard for the Scrum Values, and sadness at the realization that organization-wide change remains unimportant at many companies. The story goes like this:

My Scrum Master friend and her team spent a lot of time preparing for a Sprint review. They were excited to show their progress to upper management. Everyone walked into the meeting feeling great about what they had created.

As the Scrum Master kicked off the meeting, excited to present the team’s progress, one of the managers interrupted. This manager apologized for taking over and proceeded to explain that, while the work so far was good, they no longer felt this was an avenue worth pursuing. The manager tried to reassure the team that they would all be utilized elsewhere, but it would be in different areas of the business. After some questions, the meeting ended. No review, just a development team left in limbo, completely angered and confused by the metaphorical grenade that had been lobbed into the room.

My issue with this is not the pivot. One of the key benefits of Agile is the ability to change quickly and adapt to customer needs. It’s the very meaning of the word “agile”.

What really angered me was the complete and utter lack of transparency exhibited by the managers in this situation and the total disregard for the well-being of the team. Not a single member of the team was told that the pivot was a possibility. Instead, management walked into a review, hijacked it, and destroyed a team.

Management has its reasons, of course, but these reasons in an Agile organization are garbage.

  • They worry that being honest about the potential status of a project will lead to lower productivity, which shows a complete lack of trust.
  • They fear the possibility of abandoning a project will lead to losing talented developers when all they need to do is provide transparency sooner. Developers in an Agile organization know that change is necessary and good. A majority of them are likely to embrace new challenges.
  • They want to avoid arousing suspicion so they re-purpose a regular review meeting. In doing this they are communicating that Scrum is not important. It can be discarded when convenient. And again, transparency up-front would have helped the team understand and be ready for the potential change.

I’m not going to mince words. I believe the actions of management in this instance were cowardly. They were completely self-serving and dismissive of the Agile framework. In one brief meeting, they showed complete disrespect for people, practices, and the value of work.

This is why I am constantly on my soap-box about organizational change. Adoption of Agile, or any framework for that matter, requires an organization-wide commitment. Scrum is not something you throw at your development teams with a mandate to “deliver faster”. It’s not something you can disregard when it’s convenient. Change is hard work. Change breaks things. Change introduces visible failure, and you have to understand those failures are valuable. Agile, to put a finer point on it, will not fix your delivery problems. It only shows you a way. It takes the commitment of the entire organization, and a willingness to do the hard things, to turn things around.

I believe transparency is one of, if not the most important value to uphold when it comes to organizational change. Secrets lead to distrust, which leads to a sense of self-preservation, which undermines everything Scrum and Agile stand for.

Say it with me: transparency is for everyone.

Scrum Master, PSM II, unabashedly committed to transparency and team autonomy. I also write on Medium for Serious Scrum.

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