AGILE VALUES - HOW THE SCRUM PILLARS CAN HELP MAKE THEM REALLY ACTIONABLE

Updated: Mar 9


The transformation towards an agile way of working is way more than just teaching and applying a new framework with a new set of rules and tools. In its essence it is a huge change process for anyone involved that requires close attention and dedication to the people who are supposed to undertake this journey of transformation.

As outlined in my previous article, agile values and the level of adherence to them can serve as vital signs to monitor the health of your agile transformation. This is how you can make it work for you.


Be transparent - Calibrate your device

The Cambridge dictionary defines values as "the principles that help you decide what is right and wrong and how to act in various situations".

To serve this purpose, for the agile values as well as for any other it's crucial that they are understood in a common way. To achieve this common understanding, I experienced it as helpful to jointly define a set of sample behaviors reflecting what is perceived as good or bad, right or wrong behavior in the light of each value.


The more specific this is in the working context of the team the better these measurement criteria work in the subsequent process. So instead of saying something like "You show a good level of respect when you accept each others roles and responsibilities" you might rather state something like "Given a discussion about whether to pull a product backlog item into the sprint backlog or not, when the product owner has a different view on the feasibility to deliver a story as part of the sprint than the development team, then the product owner finally accepts the ultimate responsibility of the dev team to decide whether the item can be done in the sprint or not".


Just like calibrating a device, such behavioral samples make the values and their meanings more tangible and provide transparency for the whole team or organization as the precondition for regular inspection and adaptation.


Inspect - Measure your values frequently

Given the values and the "device" we are now able to actually measure the status of the agile transformation as determined by the agile values and the level the team organization is living up to them.

Since these values can be considered a vital part of the way the team works together a retrospective can serve as the perfect opportunity to perform regular measurements.


To effectively emphasize the importance of the agile values for leveling up the performance of agile teams I usually recommend to make value measurement a permanent item on the agenda for each retrospective, at least once a month, though.


Each team member then is supposed to bring to the table one example for an effectively observed behavior that is considered as good practice by our measurement device as well as one behavior reflecting specific room for improvement. I prefer to let the team members do this individually to facilitate true reflection and to avoid people just copying one from another only to get this done quickly. I also ask them to rate the good or bad on a scale from -5 as the worst to +5 as the best possible behavior.


When the results provided by the team members are grouped by the values we can easily identify, like on a heat map, the values currently resonating the most, be it positively or negatively. This pretty well shows us where we are on solid track and where we have, more or less, urgently perceived need for adaptation.


Adapt - Respond to your findings

Just as with any other finding during a retrospective, the rubber hits the road when actionable steps are defined to sustain, amplify or avoid specific behavioral patterns. The calibration exercise as illustrated above already provides lots of guidance as to what is supposed to be amplified or rather to be avoided. And any new finding, not yet reflected in the jointly created calibration set of behaviors, can be used to further refine that calibration providing even more detailed guidance as to what is considered good or bad behavior.

Finally, to achieve an effective commitment from the whole team, I have learned that it is important to explicitly phrase which behavior is deemed more desirable and what benefits for the whole team may be expected from this.


This whole process of putting the scrum pillars to action can also be considered an instance of the build-measure-learn cycle as introduced by Eric Ries in his book "The lean startup".

  • Build... the set of rated sample behaviors as our device

  • Measure... the presence of agile values using this device

  • Learn... about the way agile values are currently lived up to as well as how the device to measure them can be improved

While the previous article, Agile values - Vital signs helping you keep your agile transformation healthy, was supposed to illustrate the relevance of agile values for a healthy and sustainable, hence effective, agile transformation, this article today targets is to give you some tactical advice as to how this can be set up so that you can effectively stay in control of the agile values in your organization and bring alive the promises of a truly agile way of working.

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