Agile Meets DEI: How the Five Values of Scrum Can Help Us Be and Do Better

by Pamela Meyer, PHD, and Melanie Coffee

In the first article of this two-part series, we explored how the three pillars of Scrum (transparency, inspection, and adaptation) can guide us in improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). The intention of the first installment was to lay the foundation and initiate the conversation with our agile and DEI panel of experts at the Agile Meets Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Part 1 webinar that followed.

Inspection + Adaptation = Learning and Changing

With this foundation laid and the understanding that transparency is critical for the rapid feedback loops of inspection and adaptation that fuel change, we are ready to explore how the five values of Scrum (commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect) can be applied to help us reach our DEI goals at the team and organization level. We discussed these in greater depth during our webinar, Agile Meets Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Part 2.

Below, we provide a brief review of the five Scrum values and some high-level connections and insights for their value in fostering DEI.

Scrum Value 1: Commitment

Scrum teams value commitment. Agile teams are committed to each other and to working together as an effective workgroup. The reflection and communication practices built into each work cycle also ensure that agile teams only commit to work; they have the capacity and capability to accomplish within the agreed-upon timeframe. The symbiotic commitment to team and task success translates into incremental progress that, in turn, builds team trust and confidence.

The table below shows how this value can also guide our commitment to DEI attitudes, behaviors, policies, and practices.

Commitment for Agile Teams(Scrum Alliance).

Commitment to Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Teams

We are all in for our teammates, our community, and the change we wish to see in the world. We follow-up and follow-through, which means we're careful about what we say yes to. We know that it is okay to disagree with one another—but when we do, we discuss it privately; in public, we speak with one voice.

 

  • To continuously examine and evolve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices and policies within the team and at all levels of the organization.
  • To identify one’s personal bias and adopt tactics to manage them.
  • To build one's cultural competence and leverage Allyship strategies to advocate for those that may not have a voice.

Scrum Value 2: Courage

The Scrum value of courage is most often invoked when there's a need to have difficult conversations and to stand up to outside influencers who want to change or interrupt the team's priorities.

“Scrum teams must feel safe enough to say no, to ask for help, and to try new things. Agile teams must be brave enough to question the status quo when it hampers their ability to succeed.” (Scrum Alliance).

Courage is also necessary for workgroups to be spaces of equity and inclusion, where diverse voices and perspectives are represented and heard. Agile team members need to co-create a space that provides enough psychological safety to live into this value.

Courage in Agile Teams

Courage in Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Teams

We are willing to say no, to ask for help, and to try things. We question the status quo and challenge with compassion. We are strong enough to adapt to shifting priorities and brave enough to celebrate when things go differently than planned. We speak with candor and clarity because it's kind.

  • To speak up when no one else will.
  • To challenge systems, processes, policies, and practices that are not equitable and inclusive.
  • Hold ourselves and our team members accountable.

Scrum Value 3: Focus

The Scrum value of focus is intertwined with courage. In a Scrum team, this value means staying focused on the agreed-upon work and not getting derailed by others' agendas. Many teams, and even entire organizations, fail when they lose their focus or get distracted by leadership changes, shifting priorities, and other unexpected and unplanned events. As time passes since George Floyd’s murder, the killing of Breonna Taylor, and so many others, the need to stay focused and courageous to achieve societal and workplace DEI are even more critical.

Focus in Agile Teams

Focus in Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Teams

To meet our goals and delight the community, we finish what we start and take on limited projects. We are fixated on delivering value, not on a to-do list. While our specific plans will evolve, we are relentless about enabling the community to succeed because they are the center of our work.

  • On work that delivers the highest value of DEI to all stakeholders without getting derailed by others’ agendas.
  • On removing barriers that prevent DEI.

Equity leads to inclusion, and inclusion inspires all team members to focus, innovate, and contribute to business goals confidently.

Scrum Value 4: Openness

For agile teams to be effective, they must be open to new ideas, giving and receiving constructive feedback, and to learning and changing. Since George Floyd’s murder, many companies have been hosting courageous conversations and working to create and sustain opportunities for sharing and airing experiences and frustrations. This is a starting point.

Openness on Agile Teams

Openness on Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Teams

We always have more to learn, so we consistently seek new ideas. We are transparent about our individual and collective areas of opportunity and are willing to seek our teammates' feedback. We continually demonstrate our work and know that doing so is a competitive advantage.

  • We are open to new ideas, to giving and receiving constructive feedback, and to learning and changing to improve DEI.
  • We are open to understanding how Privilege exists on our teams and is impacting our effectiveness.

Leaders in all industries are taking a critical look at themselves, examining company practices, and being open about the areas of improvement when it comes to DEI. Those who value openness in every sense of the word will find more opportunities for success and growth.

Scrum Value 5: Respect

The Scrum team value of respect is not only the core of agile team success; it is fundamental to the success of all human interactions. On an agile team, respect means each team member's skills, knowledge, talent, experiences, and perspectives are respected and valued. Because agile teams are self-organizing, all team members must respect one another to get the work done.

Respect in Agile Teams

Respect in Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Teams

We honor the voices, skills, and contributions of others. We recognize that we are better and stronger because of our diverse backgrounds and experiences. We treat one another as whole, creative, and purposeful beings with positive intent. We add to the ideas of others as we listen, share, and encourage.

  • For each member’s skills, knowledge and talents, as well as our team members’ diversity, perspectives, and life experiences.

Extended to diverse, equitable and inclusive teams, respect means we also value each other's racial, ethnic, cultural, age, gender expression, ability differences and life experiences and each of the many other ways we are different from each other. Respect is intentional and goes well beyond tolerance. No one wants their differences to be merely tolerated. Human beings thrive when they are seen and appreciated for who they truly are.

Agile Frameworks for DEI: Aspiration Meets Reality

Agile frameworks for DEI are aspirational. This may be, in part, because most of the processes were first developed in manufacturing, then refined and adapted for software development, industries, and environments (among many others) that have well-documented challenges recruiting and promoting diverse workforces and creating environments for Equity and Inclusion where all can thrive.

The pillars and values of Scrum are, of course, not a magic wand that will eradicate the pandemic of racism and other inequities. They can help us, however, as guides that inspire intentional action.

Webinar Invitation

We hope you will join us on October 8th for Part 2 of our series: Agile Meets Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in which we will dive more deeply into this topic and hear more inspiring and actionable ideas for how to translate the five values of Scrum into action.

Register for Part 2: Agile Meets Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on October 8th at 1pm ET

 


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is President of Meyer Agile Innovation and the author of four books on agility, innovation, and learning, including The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations, and is a Certified ScrumMaster®. Meyer helps leaders, teams, and organizations that are adopting agile frameworks. She also teaches courses in business innovation, organizational change, and adult learning at DePaul University in Chicago.

Melanie Coffee (CSM), PR & Media Relations Director, Crayon, is a communications expert with more than 20 years of journalism experience. A longtime diversity, equity, and inclusion advocate, Melanie has hosted numerous training workshops on inclusive leadership, diversity, and effective communication for professionals across various industries, including legal, media, and technology.

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