Humility is a prerequisite to agility

The Scrum Guide identifies commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect as Scrum Values. Those values apply regardless of the delivery framework or method used and missing any one of those reduces the benefits of an agile journey. But it might be worth adding one more to round out the list: humility.

Merriam-Webster defines humility as “Freedom from pride or arrogance“. I prefer the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary’s definition that it is “the feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others“.

Similar to the other Scrum Values, humility could be considered in the context of both the individual and the team.

We don’t consider ourselves to have any special authority or rank over other members of our team. We also don’t assume that we are always right which makes us open to hearing differing viewpoints and not shying away from healthy discussions in order to produce the best possible outcomes for our customers.

False humility doesn’t cut it.

We openly acknowledge when are skilled in some areas and best positioned to help the team achieve a goal but will honestly communicate when we know less. While we are happy to accept accolades for our work, we will recognize that our successes were realized through the support of the rest of the team.

We remain open to feedback about our personal work activities and outcomes and are able to resist the natural tendency to become defensive when we receive constructive feedback.

Without humility, the pillars of Inspection and Adaptation crumble.

We know there is no ONE right way (or framework, or method, or practice or tool).

We may meet our sprint goals every sprint and receive rave reviews from our customers but we have the humility to acknowledge that we can always do better. This supports true continuous improvement.

Product Owners will possess a deep understanding of the product domain but effective ones have the humility to acknowledge when a pivot in product direction is needed and don’t allow customer value and team morale to be sacrificed at the altar of preserving the Product Owner’s ego. The scientific method which underlies the good practice of Minimum Viable Products depends on the humility of a scientist acknowledging that their hypothesis might be disproven.

Humility extends to the roles supporting our agile teams. Coaches should know what they don’t know and be capable of recognizing when those being coached have outgrown their services. Such coaches possess the humility to step aside to let others who are better positioned to help those being coached through the next stage of their capability development.

Be like the bamboo, the higher you grow the deeper you bow” – Japanese proverb

Categories: Agile | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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