April 15, 2019

The Power of Honesty: Leveraging a Simple Concept for Dynamic Scrum Gains

By Angus Kinsey

“Our span of life is brief, but is long enough for us to live well and honestly." - Cicero

Honesty has always been close to my heart. I can remember the first time I was caught in a lie, and it became clear that owning up to my fault would have been the better alternative. I was 5, I had eaten a pack of skittles that I had been forbidden, and my face was a rainbow colored mess. In this case, the lie was obvious, and dishonesty got me in more trouble than owning the mistake would have. I have my parents to thank for instilling in me a drive towards honesty.

In its most basic form, honesty is used as a trust building device. When you’re honest, people know what to expect from you. You’re predictable. Concerning the art of building software, trust and predictability are of utmost importance. They greatly assist in the assuaging of operational anxiety. Anxious managers, stakeholders, product owners are ones that are susceptible to becoming micromanagers. This hurts productivity, and can give developers/value producers more pressure to hide their faults.

Transparency

If you look for it, honesty and its effects are seen everywhere in software. In Scrum, we frequently reference transparency, which is one of three pillars of empirical process control. This can look like:

  • Clearly communicating constraints and deadlines in order to get out ahead of any impediments a scrum team may face.
  • Having a publicly available and agreed-upon Definition of Done so everyone knows exactly what “Done” means.
  • Tracking work with a burndown chart to reduce the amount of time spent asking “when will it be done”.
  • Showcasing the product itself! Demonstrating product progress during a sprint review unlocks a lot of potential in the form of feedback.

The clarity that transparency affords is powerful in the volatile world of software development. Too often we lose time to communication breakdowns or repeated lines of questioning. Reclaiming this time lets us focus on what matters: digging in on difficult requirements, producing value, and interacting with users, just to name a few.

Being transparent can also mean something more personal. Acknowledging you’ve been distracted at work, or letting a team member know that something they said offended you can be a powerful trust builder. It’s important to build trust with members of your team; it can be a powerful advocate for pervasive honesty.

More Than Truth Telling - Inspection

“...so many of us are conditioned to avoid saying what we really think. This is partly adaptive social behavior, it helps us avoid conflict and embarrassment,” (Kim Scott, Radical Candor).

Surface level honesty is great, but can we go deeper? Honesty -at least the way that I think about and frame it- is not just avoiding telling lies or letting people know when they pissed you off. There’s a certain humility and sincerity that you must couple with base level honesty in order to be successful in giving and taking feedback.

Being transparent builds a good baseline for honest inspection, another of the pillars of empiricism. This is just as valuable for execution and improvement as having a transparent output in the first place. Leveraging our previous transparency, we are able to take a good look at what we are doing both individually and as a group, and form opinions about how it’s going (this is where we’ll be interacting with feedback). However, it can still be difficult to voice your opinion. We must be bold.

Practical

Whenever I come across a tough situation that may require some tact, I try to keep these three questions in mind:

  • How could I leverage honesty here?
  • What are the possible drawbacks of honesty here? (being too blunt, or not balancing a challenge/aggression with caring personally. For more on this balance: Radical Candor)
  • Is there a different way I could frame this idea/topic that would achieve better results?

To get the most out of feedback loops and growth cycles that involve inspecting and adapting (be it product, process, individual or team performance), challenge yourself and your team to be honest when giving feedback. Without this, you’ll waste time fixing the wrong problems, and waste is crime.

Once we have taken the time to review, we should have a good idea of how we need to improve. We’ve already done a lot of heavy lifting with transparency and inspection. For more on how to turn honest analysis into positive change, check out my previous post on building better habits.

Resources


About Angus Kinsey

Angus is a passionate software professional who is always looking for ways to improve process. Functioning best in collaborative environments, he works hard to espouse candid communication from those around him in order to promote consistent team growth.