Transparency in Scrum teams and Agile organizations

We will discuss the transparency in Scrum teams and Agile organizations. It is a very popular term in Scrum literature and modern Agile trends. Transparency is a sensitive topic to be discussed especially in large organizations.

Scrum and transparency

Out of the three legs of Scrum, being transparent is the hardest thing to do. Yet it is an important thing in Scrum as it relies heavily on transparency. The level of success of Scrum implementation and product development in an organization will depend on the level of transparency in that organization. According to the Scrum Guide, transparency means:

Significant aspects of the process must be visible to those responsible for the outcome. Transparency requires those aspects be defined by a common standard so observers share a common understanding of what is being seen.

Read the article Scrum problems, causes of failure and mistakes to find out more about Scrum mistakes and issues.

The product owner and the stakeholders need to understand transparency

One form in making significant aspects visible to those responsible for the outcome is by creating the Definition of Done and making it visible. Everyone, including the Product Owner and business program stakeholders, should understand what is in the Definition of Done. The Definition of Done will reflect the quality of the product that is being developed. The definition of Done enhances transparency.

The better the Definition of Done, the more transparent that organization will be. The definition of Done will expose the actual cost to build a high-quality product, which is actually expensive. Besides the Definition of Done, Scrum also expects the artifacts, that is the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and the Increment, to be transparent.

When organizations are moving to Scrum and Agile practices

As the organization is moving to Scrum, many things need to be adjusted. Putting significant aspects to be visible to those who are responsible for the outcome of the product can be a lot of work and it can be painful along the way, as any changes are. Scrum Master is responsible to teach and coach organizations to increase the transparency of the artifacts.

Recently I was engaged with one of the largest mobile application development companies in Asia. One of the things that the organization is struggling with is in fact transparency. The quality of the product was deteriorating. The development was chaotic. Dependency between related layers was not transparent. Backlog management was poor. Until we finally make all of the significant aspects transparent.

One of the most interesting thing that I have found is, they started to create the “Definition of …” for everything that would affect the development process. One example is they created the “Definition of urgent issues” because people outside of the development team starts interrupting the development team with urgent issues. And people from outside of the development team are abusing the term by calling everything urgent when they want something fast. But this has proven to disrupt the Sprint goal and most of the times the team could not deliver the Sprint goal. So their “Definition of urgent issues” looks something like this:

  • If the user can not continue working because the system becomes unusable
  • User has to wait more than 10 minutes for the system to process the data
  • Data inserted or displayed on the system is not correct
  • The manual workaround is to take more than 15 minutes to do
  • If we wait until next Sprint to fix it, the business will lose more than 1 million dollars

Definition of Sprint cancellation and termination

Besides the “Definition of urgent issues”, they also created the “Definition of Sprint cancellation and termination”. And I do not know what other “Definition of …” they will come up with in the future but I can see that they are taking transparency seriously. All this is not part of Scrum but it is still aligned with Scrum principles.

From here we have learned that transparency is value-neutral. The more transparent you are, the less room there are for playing politics. Like what Scrum Guides says: Transparency doesn’t occur overnight, but is a path. How transparent is your organization today? What will you do to increase the level of transparency in your organization so that everybody in the organization understands what it takes to develop software?

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