Learning the Value of Transparency Through Agile
by Valerie Senyk
I am intrigued by the principle of transparency which my employer, BERTEIG, models so beautifully.
When we have company (team) meetings, the owners practice complete transparency in regards to company finances, including profits and salaries. As we discuss various agenda items in our meetings, we are encouraged to be completely frank in order to make good team decisions. If personal issues are affecting a team member, he or she is respectfully listened to. If an employee needs time off, the need is not questioned. These are just some concrete examples of BERTEIG’s transparency.
Yet I don’t know how transparency is understood and practiced in other Agile environments or teams.
In the official Scrum website authored by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber (www.scrumguides.org), transparency is described as one of the three “pillars” of Scrum Values:
When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum events, roles and artifacts.
Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living these five values….The Scrum Team members have courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems….The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work. Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.
From the above description, one understands that transparency exists along with other values such as commitment and courage, and that it is one of the necessary ingredients to building trust in a team.
Yet trust seems to be a deficient commodity in our times. There are so many reasons in everyday life to not trust, that trusting others becomes a challenge and perhaps even an obstacle.
The above site goes on to describe what is meant by transparency in a specific Scrum IT environment, which I believe is applicable in diverse organizations:
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.
Those performing the work and those accepting the work product must share a common definition of ‘Done’
Further in the same site there is a heading for “Artifact Transparency” which gets a little closer to the bone of understanding transparency’s importance:
|Scrum relies on transparency. Decisions to optimize value and control risk are made based on the perceived state of the artifacts…To the extent that the artifacts are incompletely transparent, these decisions can be flawed, value may diminish and risk may increase.
The Scrum Master’s job is to work with the Scrum Team and the organization to increase the transparency of the artifacts. This work usually involves learning, convincing, and change. Transparency doesn’t occur overnight, but is a path.
What the above description does not include is corporate or personal transparency as practiced at BERTEIG. Transparency in an organization at the level the authors are talking about is impossible as long as a hierarchy exists whereby ascending the corporate ladder needs to be on the proven merits of things that a person has done instead of their attitude and willingness to walk a new path.
However, the above does make it clear that decisions will be sound, risk will be controlled, and value is optimized when transparency is practiced.
Overall, how do these ideas co-exist with the general Agile framework? From an article by Sameh Zeid on the Scrum Alliance website, he discusses six ways a product owner can increase transparency, then writes:
…without transparency we may not succeed in implementing Agile — and even if we can, the project can revert to command and control. Transparency implementation starts by leadership as represented by the product owner.
There is a plethora of resources that one can access regarding Agile values and how to make it work. I believe transparency is a value that requires courage to begin with – courage which is facilitated by having an Agile culture.
BERTEIG is one company I know of that whole-heartedly practices transparency – – In fact, that element of “heart” may be exactly what’s needed in many organizations. It seems transparency can truly occur when there is caring between employer and employee.
How do you experience transparency, or lack of it, in your workplace?