The Agile Bear Inspirations
Episode 3: Courage

Dear Past

The origin of courage is the word heart. Courage is the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Courage is that inner voice that whispers, I will not give up! At the end of a day that may have been fraught with failure, we say to ourselves, “There is always tomorrow.” In many ways, doing Scrum and being Agile, truly takes courage.

Lyssa Akins often challenges teams with the following question; “Go ahead, keep a tally. If you are not in any situations that require courage, are you sure you are doing Scrum (or Agile)?” I like this thought, as it tells us that if we are not behaving and feeling courageous, then we are likely just slowly and safely adapting! For example, often Agile team members need to have courage when they confronting their fear of being transparent with failure.
Below you will see a few thoughts that I personally hold about how different roles demonstrate courage.

Product owners need courage to:

  • Shield the team from heat from all external stakeholders
  • Make decisions and stand by them
  • Come to each meeting prepared to make decisions
  • Accept stories that meet the confirmation criteria, even if the intended outcome wasn’t attained
  • Give real feedback to the team during story review
  • Negotiate a real Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Scrum-Masters need courage to:

  • Shield the team from heat from all external distractions
  • Give the team space to self-manage
  • Facilitate even when they have the urge to direct
  • Help the team resolve impediments, and escalate them when needed
  • Support the team in re-planning when needed
  • Champion the Agile process, switching between teacher, coach and mentor when necessary

Team members need courage to:

  • Maintain transparency throughout the entire workflow, especially when the process reveals errors
  • Identify unplanned daily activities
  • Identify road blocks and raise them high
  • Acknowledge that the plan everyone supported and carried out did not work
  • Acknowledge that estimates were not as accurate as they first seemed
  • Consider failures learning events, and sources of shame to be hidden
  • Retrospect with the goal to continuously improve

Leaders exhibit courage when remembering:

  • To facilitate and advise when the desire to direct is overwhelming
  • Never to overrule a team’s agreement
  • To ask open questions and listen carefully to the answers the team provides
  • To celebrate team successes without over-emphasizing individual performance
  • To support team self-management whenever possible
  • To sometimes let the team learn through failure
  • NOT to be a “helicopter leader”, hovering and micro-managing the Agile team to death.
  • Finally, to trust that workers and employees are reasonable people who can be trusted to do the right thing.


Now for the homework – I would suggest each team to fill in the blank in the following sentence:

“We believe in the Scrum Value Courage therefore we will ________________________.”

For example:

“We believe in the Scrum Value Courage, therefore we will courageously commit only to what we know we can truly deliver so that we don’t create a culture of acceptable failure because we never meet our commitments. See how many you can create. Yes, it is a part of your growing team agreement!”

Then What?

You could incorporate this type of a commitment to courage into your team’s working agreement. One suggestion is to hold a small workshop with your team to create this artifact or, less preferred but also effective, do it through email, having everyone fill in the blank with their own commitment(s). Then you can all vote on which your team agrees is a team commitment to Courage . Next, add one final set of ideas around how the team wants to hold each other accountable to this new team agreement. Finally take a commitment vote, and post it in a prominent place in your team room(s). Remind each other to follow through with the agreement and gently calling each other out; both as a celebration of the good and the opportunities to improve and learn. Also, every once in a while have a conversation with the team about how you have been applying this value. Share your team agreement with us here—we really are interested in your maturation process in the Agile mindset!

Nelson Mandela

The next episode concerns Openness. Read it now.

Episode 1: Scrum Values

Episode 2: Focus