How honest should you be in Scrum?

First answer: Completely.

If only the answer were that simple. Sorry, but Scrum and Agile provide no cookbook answer to this question. Some people use “honesty” to mean they get a right to be brutal to others (and also to ignore their own imperfections). More often, the de-facto thinking is, “Honesty means I won’t say anything obviously incorrect and I will speak up more than I did before.” (Well, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I didn’t say much before anyway.)

So, for most people, the operational answer is: Be a LOT more honest than you were before, both with good news and with bad and even about yourself.

It turns out that once there is trust on the team, this is not so hard.

Like most things: Easy for me to talk about here. Always challenging for a team to do, at a high professional level in the real world, but important and useful to learn how to do well.


Let’s add a bit more though.

As the team gets to know each other, you will find out more about them. Often more about them than you want to know. So, the team needs to set some boundaries. (“I don’t need to know about your latest fight with your girlfriend, OK?”) And I use, to me, a slightly amusing example, but there are lots and lots of examples.

Most people are fairly good at adjusting the work/personal boundary with people, but not all.

But also, in the course of working closely together, people will be passionate about their work. Some quite passionate. And in the heat of the moment, a team member may speak to another team member in an untoward way. Maybe we’ll just say a way not welcomed by the receiver.

We are dealing with primates. Smart, creative, active, random primates coming from many different cultures. Under pressure. Stuff can happen. (You don’t have to watch “The Office” reruns to know what I mean. Stuff.) And let’s just say that not everyone is as polite as a good Canadian.

In many cases, the resulting ‘conflict’ (to use one term for a broad set of ‘unpleasantness’) is no one person’s fault. No one is to blame. (Perhaps there are some situations where we could blame it on one person. I think there are very few of these.)

Each person has a right to their culture. In southern European cultures, people have a smaller ‘personal space,’ and in northern Europe, the personal space is bigger. Or, that is the generality, and, by analogy, none of these personal or cultural preferences is wrong or right (at least according to the Supreme Court of Scrum, which does not exist). Still, some people will say, “My way is the right way!!!”

You and you all in the team must find a way to live with each other, or decide not to.

So, this honesty and transparency thing, it can be a bit troublesome. But most people almost all the time find it better. (But not all the time.)




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3 thoughts on “How honest should you be in Scrum?

  1. Sean Blanton

    Bring up bad news immediately. Hiding bad news or hoping it will go away, being afraid or embarrassed will only chew up time that could be used to take corrective action and make the problem go away.

    That said, you should make sure have a lot of facts about it and maybe have a few suggestions for resolution before reporting it. This will soften the blow and put the focus on next steps.

  2. Joe Little

    Sean, You are right of course. Still, on alternate Tuesdays, that 10th commandment item gets awfully tough for me. I know I was not honest enough.

    I feel sometimes I want to say “please continue to be honest or even more honest, but say it in a way that does not hurt me so much”.

    I also repeat: “Bad news does not get better with age.”

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