The Agile Bear Inspirations
Episode 4: Openness

For Scrum to work as intended, it involves—nay, it demands transparency and openness. We must be open about our work, our progress, our learning and our problems. We must always remember that we are working with human beings not with robots or replaceable parts in a machine. As humans, we are open to collaborate, fail, learn and adapt fast.

Scrum shapes an environment filled with trust and compassion for each other and therefore is safe for experimentation and the improvement of self and others. Scrum empowers us to use our intrinsic ability to give and receive feedback, putting it in a positive light rather than a negative one. We should openly celebrate failure, for the many great thinkers have said, the real meaning of is the journey of learning. Humans learn best through trial and error.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know.”

~ Michel Legrand

I believe that the greatest issue for the industrial and information age can be summarized as follows: We have been viewing our organizations as machines and the workers in the machine as nothing more than replaceable parts. But I believe that this model is quickly breaking down. Our world is too complex and ever changing for a concept so static and inhumane, yet some of us and many of our structures hold onto the analogy of organizations as machines. Agile and Scrum wants to move corporations (and us along with them) away from this way of thinking toward one that enables us all to grow into real living and thinking systems. To achieve this lofty goal we must embrace openness and transparency. Openness sheds light on what’s happening, what’s working, what’s breaking down, and what’s trying to emerge.

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

~ Epictetus

Our habits of hiding in the machine run deep. Fear motivates these habits. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” The idea of an organization as a machine is predicated the need for individuals to blindly follow a routine, out of habit. Openness is constantly questioning the status quo and accepting the ambiguity of the future. Maybe it’s about saying, “It’s okay not to know, because no one knows, and those who say otherwise shouldn’t be trusted.”

Transparency requires courage, the last Scrum Value we discussed. What would happen if we all stepped out in courage, allowing transparency and openness to illuminate our footsteps? Agility is driving organizational evolution toward truly living organizations, filled with self-managing teams of committed, intelligent and honorable human beings. Not replaceable parts! Let’s escape from the machines of the past. Now let’s look at how transparency lends itself to the concept of an organization as a living, learning thing.

“The main character of any living system is openness.”

~ Ilya Prigogine

Product Owners need Openness in order to:

  • Accept change and to embrace new ideas
  • Provide open and honest feedback, even when it is accepting that they as product owners may have failed to provide clear definition of need
  • Show transparency to the vision and its value impact to the organization
  • Ensure that stakeholders are fully aware of the progress and the challenges the teams are having
  • Build a trusting working relationship with the team, leaders, stakeholders and the Scrum-Master

Scrum-Masters need Openness in order to:

  • Ensure the team knows of all external events that may impact or block their work
  • Ensure that all good and bad news is clearly communicated to project leadership and stakeholders
  • Create a trusting working relationship with the Product Owner, with leaders and stakeholders, and with the team
  • Hold the team accountable for their commitments, agile growth, and to help them hold their honor as a team above reproach

Team members need Openness in order to:

  • Identify unplanned daily activities
  • Identify road blocks and raise them high
  • Identify that our plan did not work
  • Identify that our estimates were not as accurate as we liked
  • Consider failures as learning events, not a skeleton to be hidden in a closet
  • Shine light on why we failed and what we are going to do about it

Leaders need Openness in order to:

  • Build trusting relationships with all stakeholders, the Product Owner, the Scrum-Master and the team
  • Ensure that vision is clear and achievable
  • Provide open and honest feedback

“Anyone can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.”

~ Sarah Dessen


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

“We believe in the Scrum Value Openness therefore we will ________________.”

For example, your team might come back with:

“We believe in the Scrum Value Openness, therefore we will be transparent about our failures and commit to improving so that we won’t fail this way again.”

See how many you can create. And, yes! this is part of your growing team agreement!

The next episode in the series concerns Commitment. Read it now.

Episode 1: Scrum Values

Episode 2: Focus

Episode 3: Courage