One of the key precepts of agile is transparency. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines transparency as:
a: free from pretense or deceit : FRANK
b: easily detected or seen through : OBVIOUS
c: readily understood
d: characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices
Though all four defnitions of transparency are relevant, the bottom two are most applicable in the context of agile practices. The 4 agile values postulated in the Agile Manifesto have to be practiced with full and real transparency. Furthermore, the 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto can be practiced effectively only when the team and the organization believes in and practices transparency. Let us examine transparency in the context of a team using the Scrum Framework.
Teams and organizations using the Scrum framework are familiar with the following statement: Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed. [See Scrum Guide] For a Scrum Team to make “decisions on what is observed” they need to practice transparency. Well, this sounds simple but can prove challenging for various reasons.
The Scrum framework is designed to implement the 3 pillars of empiricism: transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The Scrum Guide defines Transparency as: “The emergent process and work (that) must be visible to those performing the work as well as those receiving the work. With Scrum, important decisions are based on the perceived state of its three formal artifacts.” The three formal artifacts are Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and Increment.
There are two aspects to making decisions on what is observed.
The first is related to the team making decisions based on current state and on what is present. In the context of the transparency of the Product Backlog artifact, it needs to be accessible and visible to everyone associated with the product, so that decisions to optimize value and control risk can be made with all and complete information.
The Sprint Backlog allows anyone to observe what is being worked on, what work is pending and what’s complete. This transparency enables the team to see, at a glance, whether they are on track to meet their sprint goal, have too much work in progress or are blocked on one or more stories.
The team can use this information to change the way they are working. If the team sees that too much work is in progress (WIP), they can decide to reduce their WIP and focus on just one or two stories to get them to complete before working on more stories. Without transparency around processes and output, the team is unable to make informed decisions. When the team is unable to make informed decisions, it will impact their ability to deliver an increment that is of value and of high quality.
There are other numerous areas where the team needs to be “observant” and then incorporate what they learn in their process and work. For instance, the team should reflect on their story sizing to observe how consistently they are sizing stories that are of relatively similar size. This reflection should occur during the Sprint retrospective. Team’s that do not reflect, analyze and incorporate the learning from the reflection/observations, will continue to struggle with inconsistent sizing. And this will have a direct impact on their Sprint Planning and their ability to meet the Sprint Goal.
My next article will talk about the second aspect of making decisions on what is observed. This relates to empiricism which “asserts that knowledge comes from experience.” I see many teams lacking the understanding of this key principle of empiricism, and struggling with practicing it. The next article will discuss how to proactively practice empiricism.
What Do You Think?
Are you always transparent with your team members? What about with external stakeholders? What types of behavior or instances of low transparency have you seen?
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