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The Importance of the Transparency Value in Agile

1. Introduction In this article I’ll be writing about Agile and the importance of transparency in Agile Software Development.  This article is focused mostly around Scrum teams, but many points would apply to Lean and Kanban environments as well. Transparency is one of the core values of Agile.  Transparency is critical to the success of organizations and groups adopting Agile.  In Scrum we use burndown and/or burnup charts to report the progress of the team throughout the Sprint.  In Scrum we also have “ceremonies” or meetings that help with transparency, which include the Daily Standup, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Retrospective meetings.  These all give the team and product owner a chance to raise issues and be honest about things like the team’s progress.  The meetings also give the team a chance to adapt and improve. 2. Why is transparency important to Agile Transparency in Agile Software Development cannot be overstated.  In some organizations it is not easy to be transparent and open.  There are lots of pressures to say what the business wants to hear.  But I believe in the long-run a lack of transparency hurts an Agile team, the project, the organization, and ultimately the company.  I've seen firsthand organizations that claim they want “openness” but then, I can say that true transparency is not easy.  Transparency is critical to the success of Software Development using Agile Methodology  and it is well worth the effort.  Without full transparency there are lots of bad things that happen, including: Lack of trust with the Product Owner Team has to get caught-up in politics instead of focusing on what needs to be delivered Team morale can suffer Measuring future work is more difficult The team’s true velocity is not known 3. How teams can be more transparent with a Product Owner There are several steps a team can take to prevent the issues raised in the previous section.  In this section, we will cover some of those steps.  Use burndown charts to be honest about how the team is performing in a given Sprint. A burndown chart tells the true story of how the team is performing. Some teams also use a burnup chart for this purpose. If you cliff-dive at the end of the Sprint, that's not the greatest, but at least you are being honest to the Product Owner in terms of what happened.  If you are not going to make the Sprint commitment, at least that will be more obvious during the Sprint (i.e. the burndown will show that the team is not closing enough points each day and is at risk of either cliff-diving or not meeting the commitment). The point is that the team is being completely transparent.  The velocity is what it is.  The product owner knows what the team is capable of delivering. Using the raw data and not hiding anything from the business frees an Agile team. I believe it is Kent Beck that has an excellent quote in one of his presentations about what he calls “schedule chicken.” He tells a story about people around the table during a typical project meeting and the project manager is going around asking each team how things are going. Everyone wants to put on a good face and says “umm, yeah we are on schedule” even when they are not. Now they have to sit there and know that they might be caught in a lie later. Better to just be honest and say “Well, we are about 2 Sprints behind.” Done.  Now there is nothing to hide and you can move on and deal with the reality of the situation you are faced with. There are a couple things that happen when the team is honest with the Product Owner.  The first, as mentioned previously, is the relationship between the Product Owner’s trust in a team and the team’s transparency.  Figure 1 below shows this relationship.   But there is another benefit we get from being transparent: the team’s velocity becomes more accurate.  This can be seen in Figure 2 below.   4. What Product Owners Should Ask If you are a Product Owner what are some of the signs that a Scrum team is not being 100% transparent?   This section will focus on some of the red flags or “smells” that may indicate a team is not being truthful and transparent.  If a team does not want to share their burndown and/or burnup charts, that is an obvious red flag and is simply not acceptable. If the velocity of a team is very static, that may also indicate issues.  This may indicate that the team has a fixed amount of points they will always commit to for a Sprint, regardless of their actual capacity.  More on this in the section below on case studies.  Another possible red flag is when most User Stories have the same point value.  It could indicate that the team is using a “one size fits all” for their estimates.  The Product Owner should not be afraid to press the team if they feel the team is not accurately estimating User Stories.  But you need to ask in a way that is not accusatory. 5. Case studies In one Scrum team I saw a real lack of transparency and it really was not a good experience. Soon after joining this Scrum team, I attended my first Sprint Planning meeting on this team. In the meeting I noticed something odd. Their true velocity was let's say, 40 points, but they would only commit to around 30 points. They would then find a few more stories and put them in the next Sprint. These additional stories were what they would call “a stretch goal”. But they knew their velocity was much higher than what they were committing to. This seemed very wrong to me. It was a total lack of transparency and honesty. Not surprisingly, the team would typically finish the stories in the current Sprint and then work on a few more stories from the next Sprint that they had put aside. For the most part, this was a management decision because they did not trust the team to meet their velocity in a consistent fashion. This led to a lack of transparency with the business, and normal tools like burndown charts could not be trusted. Also, it did not make the team feel very good because they knew they were not being honest with the business. Instead of using this "stretch goal" approach, use the velocity of the team to measure how much work can be done in a given Sprint. Then, based on capacity, commit to what you know your team can complete that Sprint. Be honest about the team’s velocity and don't give into political games about trying “to look good” on some presentation slide. This type of misrepresentation does not benefit anyone in the long run. 6. Conclusion The bottom line is to let the quality of the team’s work speak for itself. Have a consistent velocity, deliver software without defects, deliver business value, and adapt to what the business needs.  This will lead to more trust with the Product Owner and will make the team feel better since they are being 100% honest not having to play any games.  This lets the team focus on what truly matters:  delivering quality software that adds value.  

The Importance of the Transparency Value in Agile

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The Importance of the Transparency Value in Agile

1. Introduction
In this article I’ll be writing about Agile and the importance of transparency in Agile Software Development.  This article is focused mostly around Scrum teams, but many points would apply to Lean and Kanban environments as well.

Transparency is one of the core values of Agile.  Transparency is critical to the success of organizations and groups adopting Agile.  In Scrum we use burndown and/or burnup charts to report the progress of the team throughout the Sprint.  In Scrum we also have “ceremonies” or meetings that help with transparency, which include the Daily Standup, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Retrospective meetings.  These all give the team and product owner a chance to raise issues and be honest about things like the team’s progress.  The meetings also give the team a chance to adapt and improve.

2. Why is transparency important to Agile
Transparency in Agile Software Development cannot be overstated. 

In some organizations it is not easy to be transparent and open.  There are lots of pressures to say what the business wants to hear.  But I believe in the long-run a lack of transparency hurts an Agile team, the project, the organization, and ultimately the company. 

I've seen firsthand organizations that claim they want “openness” but then, I can say that true transparency is not easy. 
Transparency is critical to the success of Software Development using Agile Methodology  and it is well worth the effort. 

Without full transparency there are lots of bad things that happen, including:

  • Lack of trust with the Product Owner
  • Team has to get caught-up in politics instead of focusing on what needs to be delivered
  • Team morale can suffer
  • Measuring future work is more difficult
  • The team’s true velocity is not known

3. How teams can be more transparent with a Product Owner

There are several steps a team can take to prevent the issues raised in the previous section.  In this section, we will cover some of those steps. 

Use burndown charts to be honest about how the team is performing in a given Sprint. A burndown chart tells the true story of how the team is performing. Some teams also use a burnup chart for this purpose. If you cliff-dive at the end of the Sprint, that's not the greatest, but at least you are being honest to the Product Owner in terms of what happened. 

If you are not going to make the Sprint commitment, at least that will be more obvious during the Sprint (i.e. the burndown will show that the team is not closing enough points each day and is at risk of either cliff-diving or not meeting the commitment). The point is that the team is being completely transparent.  The velocity is what it is.  The product owner knows what the team is capable of delivering.

Using the raw data and not hiding anything from the business frees an Agile team. I believe it is Kent Beck that has an excellent quote in one of his presentations about what he calls “schedule chicken.” He tells a story about people around the table during a typical project meeting and the project manager is going around asking each team how things are going. Everyone wants to put on a good face and says “umm, yeah we are on schedule” even when they are not. Now they have to sit there and know that they might be caught in a lie later. Better to just be honest and say “Well, we are about 2 Sprints behind.” Done.  Now there is nothing to hide and you can move on and deal with the reality of the situation you are faced with.

There are a couple things that happen when the team is honest with the Product Owner.  The first, as mentioned previously, is the relationship between the Product Owner’s trust in a team and the team’s transparency.  Figure 1 below shows this relationship.

 

But there is another benefit we get from being transparent: the team’s velocity becomes more accurate.  This can be seen in Figure 2 below.
 
4. What Product Owners Should Ask
If you are a Product Owner what are some of the signs that a Scrum team is not being 100% transparent?   This section will focus on some of the red flags or “smells” that may indicate a team is not being truthful and transparent. 

If a team does not want to share their burndown and/or burnup charts, that is an obvious red flag and is simply not acceptable.

If the velocity of a team is very static, that may also indicate issues.  This may indicate that the team has a fixed amount of points they will always commit to for a Sprint, regardless of their actual capacity.  More on this in the section below on case studies. 

Another possible red flag is when most User Stories have the same point value.  It could indicate that the team is using a “one size fits all” for their estimates.  The Product Owner should not be afraid to press the team if they feel the team is not accurately estimating User Stories.  But you need to ask in a way that is not accusatory.

5. Case studies
In one Scrum team I saw a real lack of transparency and it really was not a good experience. Soon after joining this Scrum team, I attended my first Sprint Planning meeting on this team. In the meeting I noticed something odd. Their true velocity was let's say, 40 points, but they would only commit to around 30 points. They would then find a few more stories and put them in the next Sprint. These additional stories were what they would call “a stretch goal”. But they knew their velocity was much higher than what they were committing to. This seemed very wrong to me. It was a total lack of transparency and honesty.

Not surprisingly, the team would typically finish the stories in the current Sprint and then work on a few more stories from the next Sprint that they had put aside. For the most part, this was a management decision because they did not trust the team to meet their velocity in a consistent fashion. This led to a lack of transparency with the business, and normal tools like burndown charts could not be trusted. Also, it did not make the team feel very good because they knew they were not being honest with the business.
Instead of using this "stretch goal" approach, use the velocity of the team to measure how much work can be done in a given Sprint. Then, based on capacity, commit to what you know your team can complete that Sprint.

Be honest about the team’s velocity and don't give into political games about trying “to look good” on some presentation slide. This type of misrepresentation does not benefit anyone in the long run.

6. Conclusion
The bottom line is to let the quality of the team’s work speak for itself. Have a consistent velocity, deliver software without defects, deliver business value, and adapt to what the business needs.  This will lead to more trust with the Product Owner and will make the team feel better since they are being 100% honest not having to play any games.  This lets the team focus on what truly matters:  delivering quality software that adds value.
 

Tim

Tim Brizard

Blog Author

Tim Brizard is a Senior Software Engineer, Software Architect, and Scrum Master with over 20 years of experience.  He enjoys designing and building quality software solutions and has implemented several complex, large scale systems at several companies. He has led Agile teams and has been a Scrum Master on several very large projects.

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According to the Agile Alliance, Agile is the “ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment. Ultimately, Agile is a mindset informed by the Agile Manifesto’s values and principles.” We can think of it as a way of getting work done.However, Agile was initially developed for small teams. As Agile – or its most popular variant Scrum - grew to the enterprise, companies began to adopt Scrum of Scrums which is a technique to scale Scrum consisting of dividing the groups into Agile teams of 5-10 people.But over time, more formalized methods of scaling Agile began to develop. In 2011, Scaled Agile Framework, Inc. was co-founded by entrepreneur and software development methodologist Dean Leffingwell. Starting at its first release in 2011, five major versions have been released, the latest edition, version 5.0, being released in January 2020. According to SA Inc., no major releases are planned as of this writing.This article will attempt to explain what the Scaled Agile Framework is, why it is important and what its core values are.What Is the Scaled Agile Framework®?  SAFe® for Lean Enterprises is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.We’ve discussed Agile above. According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, a lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide value to the customer through a value creation process that has zero waste.*And DevOps is a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops). It aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. Image sourceSAFe® FoundationThe SAFe® Foundation refers to the supporting principles, values, mindset, implementation guidance, and leadership roles needed to deliver value successfully at scale.  What is the Importance of Scaled Agile Framework®?It allows organizations to scale Agile to the enterprise and enables Business Agility. Business Agility is the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally enabled business solutions. Key terms in SAFe® The first is Value Stream. Value Streams represent the series of steps that an organization uses to implement Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer. They can be measured using Key Performance Indicators. The next term is the Agile Release Train (ART). The ART is a long-lived team of Agile teams, which, along with other stakeholders, incrementally develops, delivers, and where applicable operates, one or more solutions in a value stream. A Program Increment (PI) is a timebox during which an Agile Release Train (ART) delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. PIs are typically 8 – 12 weeks long. The most common pattern for a PI is four development Iterations, followed by one Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration. Lastly is Program Increment Planning (PI). It is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train (ART), aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and vision. Typically, this is a two-day event bringing together all the Agile teams. Note that that there are four possible SAFe® configurations depending on the increasing complexity of the environment.  SAFe® configurationsEssential SAFe®- contains the minimal set of roles, events, and artifacts required to continuously deliver business solutions via an Agile Release Train (ART) as a Team of Agile Teams. It is the simplest starting point for implementation. Large Solution SAFe® - for developing the largest and most complex solutions that typically require multiple Agile release trains and suppliers but not necessarily portfolio considerations. Portfolio SAFe® - helps align portfolio execution to enterprise strategy by organizing Agile development around the flow of value, through one or more value streams.  Full SAFe® - supports enterprises that build and maintain large integrated solutions which require hundreds of people or more. Multiple instances of various SAFe® configurations may be required.  The SAFe® Core ValuesThere are four core values of SAFe®. They are alignment, built-in quality, transparency, and program execution. It is crucial to understand these.Alignment Scaled Agile uses the example of a car not functioning correctly if it is misaligned. Alignment occurs when everyone is working toward a common direction. It enables empowerment, autonomy, and decentralized decision-making, allowing those who implement value to make better local decisions. Alignment starts with the strategy and investment decisions at the Portfolio level which in turn inform the vision, roadmap, and backlogs. Built-in Quality  Ensures that every element and every increment of the solution reflects quality standards throughout the development lifecycle. Quality is not added later, it is built-in or planned in. (This is a tenet of modern quality thinking, not just SAFe®.) SAFe® Built-in Quality organizes quality thinking around five specific aspects—Flow, Architecture and Design Quality, Code Quality, System Quality and Release Quality. Transparency Transparency – along with inspection and adaptation – is one of the three pillars of Agile. It means that an organization provides open access to the unbiased information and adaptation.  It inspects its work and adjusts it based on empirical evidence. Stakeholders have visibility into the program backlogs, and they have a clear understanding of the PI Objectives for each Agile Release Train. ARTs also have visibility into the team’s backlogs, as well as other Program Backlogs.Program Execution SAFe® places an intense focus on working systems and business outcomes. With alignment, transparency, and built-in quality on the team’s side, the teams can focus on execution.Key areas of competencyAs of this writing, the current version of SAFe® is 5.0. It is comprised of seven areas of competency, all under the heading of Business AgilityEnterprise Solution Delivery Describes how to apply Lean-Agile principles and practices to the specification, development, deployment, operation, and evolution of the world’s largest and most sophisticated software applications, networks, and cyber-physical systems. Large enterprise-wide systems require the full understanding of the system from requirements analysis to deployment.Agile Product Delivery A customer-centric approach to defining, building, and releasing a continuous flow of valuable products and services to customers and users. The key here is customer-centricity. The organization must have the ability to understand the customer’s needs and release on demand.Team and Technical Agility The Team and Technical Agility competency describes the critical skills and Lean-Agile principles and practices that high-performing Agile teams and Teams of Agile teams use to create high-quality solutions for their customers. Lean-Agile Leadership The Lean-Agile Leadership competency describes how Lean-Agile Leaders drive and sustain organizational change and operational excellence by empowering individuals and teams to reach their highest potential. Leaders must lead by example, lead change, and embrace the Lean-Agile mindset. Continuous Learning Culture The Continuous Learning Culture competency describes a set of values and practices that encourage individuals—and the enterprise as a whole—to continually increase knowledge, competence, performance, and innovation. This is achieved by becoming a learning organization, committing to relentless improvement, and promoting a culture of innovation.Organizational Agility The Organizational Agility competency describes how Lean-thinking people and Agile teams optimize their business processes, evolve strategy with clear and decisive new commitments, and quickly adapt the organization as needed to capitalize on new opportunities. Key to this is the ‘dual operating system.’ This is not a computer model but a business model, leveraging the traditional management hierarchy with a Lean/Agile leadership approach.Image SourceLean Portfolio Management The Lean Portfolio Management competency aligns strategy and execution by applying Lean and systems thinking approaches to strategy and investment funding, Agile portfolio operations, and governance.Achieving the Core Values of SAFe® Achieving Alignment   Alignment can be achieved by providing the relevant briefings and participating in PI planning, helping with backlog visibility and value stream organization and coordination. Also, by communicating the mission, vision, and strategy at every opportunity.  Achieving Transparency Transparency can be achieved by openness and visualizing all relevant work, taking ownership for errors, and supporting others who acknowledge and learn from their mistakes. Achieving Built-in Quality Built-in quality is achieved by refusing to accept or ship low-quality work, by supporting investments in capacity planning and by ensuring that architecture, operations, security, and compliance are part of the flow of work.  Achieving Program Execution Program execution is achieved by participating as an active business owner in PI execution, celebrating high quality and predictably delivered program increments and by aggressively removing impediments.ConclusionBusiness Agility is the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally enabled business solutions In today’s world, organizations must be customer-centric and must adopt a Lean-Agile mindset to provide continuous integration and continuous delivery. The Scaled Agile Framework establishes a way not only of doing so, but also the flexibility of scaling up to whatever level of adoption (basic to full, complex solution) is required.Lean waste types are Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Unused Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing. 
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