Editor's Note: Ken Schwaber (above) is keynoting at AgileDotNet: The Ascension on August 9th, 2013 at the Ohio Union in Columbus. 

 
Ken Schwaber: Mastering Scrum Transparency
By Terreece Clarke, August 5th, 2013

Ken Schwaber is arguably one of the most visible leaders in the Agile community. As an original signatory of the Agile Manifesto, Schwaber went on to create Scrum with friend and co-author Jeff Sutherland. This Summer they are launching a rare update to the Scrum Guide, with the AgileDotNet Conference on August 9, 2013 being the first time since the release date that Schwaber will talk openly about the key concepts that are part of the update.

Schwaber and Sutherland produced the updates in response to suggestions from Scrum users around the world, and they looks forward to the collaborative discussion that will inevitably arise.

"It's to get people to talk to each other, it's not just about Scrum," Schwaber said.

Schwaber is pleased with the updates to the Scrum Guide and its attention to the people side of Scrum. He expects the response to the updates to be mostly positive and most concerns are likely to be seen among those who are just getting started. For those who have been using Scrum for a while, it will be akin to adjusting your running technique.

"…in the beginning when you're running you learn, don't stand up straight," Schwaber said. "After five years, someone comes along to remind you not to stand up straight. It [the updates] are reinforcing those techniques."

The Role of Transparency

One of the updates to the Scrum Guide was to emphasize the need for transparency.

"If I'm trying to make a decision, I need to have solid information to base it on," Schwaber said. "Transparency means that that information is as clear and unambiguous as possible. Imagine trying to know if you should buy something without knowing how much money you have."

"Everyone is affected when transparency is not adequate. The impact of bad decisions ripple through an organization, an economy, a society, and even a world. Think of the recent financial crises when everyone assumed that collateralized debt was real and that the loans were sound."

Speaking of transparency, Schwaber was candid about the state of Scrum in the IT industry. Recently there has been tremendous growth in adoption of the practices throughout a variety of industries including government adoption. It has, however taken a while for the Agile Manifesto to take root.

"We were surprised by how difficult change is [for people], Schwaber said. "It's been a real learning experience…like the Industrial Revolution…it's not going to be a five or six or change…it's going to be a long-term thing."

Agility in Columbus

Schwaber has taught and consulted around the world on Scrum and has seen a variety of levels of adoption. Columbus, it seems, has fertile soil.

"Columbus is really, really good. It has dedicated people creating community and in community there is strength," Schwaber said. "It's a pleasure [to come to Columbus] because people are really working on this."

Part of Schwaber's keynote at AgileDotNet helps management overcome adoption barriers by giving them tools to making it successful. One tool is showing management how to put metrics in place to see if they are treating their people well.

"If you are really working in an Agile environment, you really enjoy coming to work," Schwaber asserted. "People crave the opportunity to accomplish something…it's absolutely imperative to have a safe environment for people to come together."

When asked about those who question the ROI of a positive work environment, Schwaber responded, "Who ever thought unhappy people are more productive?"

"Many IT shops are fairly hostile environments…[software development] is creative work and they've taken it and imposed a machine-like mindset. [The problems began] when they stopped thinking of them [IT pros] as people and used the word 'resources,'" Schwaber said. "Someone stood up and said, 'if GM can build cars by a production line, then we should be able to build software like that' - and it just doesn't work."

Schwaber said research has begun to back up the importance of work environment showing traditional, hostile environments succumbing to high turnover rates while those who embrace Agile culture have lower turnover rates. He said the evidence now helps to ease the transition of companies to Agile.

Looking Forward

When looking toward the future of Agile, Schwaber is optimistic and unthreatened by its possible evolution.

"If the values and concepts - people, transparency, trust, bottom-up leadership stay the same, name changes, etc., doesn't matter. That's the basis of it [Scrum]. Don't drift and always be creating something good."

It's the concept that drives Schwaber everyday to continue touring the world and speaking at conferences like AgileDotNet.

"People ask me when I'm going to retire and I always say, 'When I'm done!'" Schwaber said. "This is my calling."