In the context of Scrum and in the Agile world in general, we often refer to the notion of transparency. I would even describe it as a fundamental value of these approaches that are aiming at making individuals and their interactions essential elements of executing a project.
Transparency is both a way of being and a characteristic that can apply to some work processes inherent to the Scrum method. In all its manifestations, it needs courage and discipline. Indeed, it’s not always easy to confront all the sensitive subjects and have certain difficult conversations. As well, it’s often hard to carry out the tasks necessary for a complete transparency of the processes. On the other hand, when we take time to do it, we generally get excellent results in regard to harmonious work relations and overall efficiency.
This courage and discipline often come with experience. Thus, the maturity acquired over the years helps us distinguish between the professional and the personal spheres. This distinction is important because it allows us to not unecessarily transfer in our private lives the negative side of certain work related problems. Experience also puts in evidence the importance of transparent processes. So much time is wasted because of poor communication…
The Scrum method relies on an empirical control of the processes in which knowledge is acquired by experience and decisions based on the facts observed. Its iterative and incremental approach enables better risk control and improves the predictability of the process. According to Scrum, the three pillars that support the implementation of an empirical process control are transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Here, we will investigate the question of transparency.
To make sure everyone understands what they observe (empiricism) in the same way, we need to define a common standard and all important aspects of the process have to be visible and properly communicated. For example, the team in charge of the execution has to share the same “definition of done” as the team in charge of validating the delivery. Furthermore, the different elements of the process and definitions obviously need to be elaborated using shared semantics.
The definition of done
When an increment or a task from the Product Backlog is considered done, everybody needs to understand what that means and implies. The meaning can vary significantly from one Scrum team to another, but to ensure transparency, members need to have a common understanding of what done work means. That’s what it’s all about when we talk about the “definition of done”. It’s used to evaluate if the work is completed upon the delivery of a feature or an increment and is directly dependent of transparency on all levels.
The Scrum ceremonies offer a chance to inspect and adapt. Their goal is to enable transparency and adaptation and that’s why they should not be neglected. The transparency of the Product Backlog’s tasks can vary in function of their level of clarity and precision that itself varies with the activities led by the team during the ceremonies to reach this level of details.
The choices that are made to optimize the value and control the risk are made in light of the state of the artifacts. The more the transparency is whole, the more the choices will be wise. The different stakeholders (the team, the Scrum Master, and the PO) need the ensure this transparency. To do so, they can examine the difference between the desired result and the result obtained.
The Scrum Master needs to work with the team to increase transparency during the entire progression. He can use continuous improvement trainings and coaching to help people journey toward greater transparency. He might need to be patient because it’s generally much easier said than done.
The quicker we discover the problems and honestly communicate about them, the less they will affect productivity, efficiency, and especially the final result. We need to include the client in these discussions in order to not drag along a “transparency debt” with him.
A sustained and durable transparency generates more trust in the client/supplier relationship and allows better risk management on both parts. The end user can provide very precious feedback to make sure that the solution stays aligned with the requirements.
In closing, I would like to underline that honesty and openness are not necessarily synonymous with transparency. We can tell the truth, but still omit to reveal certain things. My understanding of transparency implies that we make accessible the entirety of the available information. All the stakeholders then have access to the same common base to form an enlightened opinion.
It is said that the truth is sometimes better left unsaid. Even if in everyday life, it’s recommended to be delicate and hide certain facts that could offend or hurt people, I have often been surprised to notice that most of the time people prefer to hear the hard truth than delude themselves because their interlocutor has problems assuming his position.