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Professionalism is more important than Regulation

April 26, 2018

I recently wrote an article for Entrepreneur on why Tech Companies need a code of ethics which got me thinking more broadly about the role of ethics, values and professionalism and why the agile community have been thinking about it more than most.

Cambridge Analytica and the Facebook scandal has reminded us of the question ‘do we need to regulate high tech companies’. And privacy is not the only concern with the recent death of a pedestrian by a self-drive car, technology is in the spotlight. But is regulating technology firms the answer?

I think the answer is yes, and... Yes, we need to add focused regulation on certain technical advances. For example, with privacy, or self-driving, or even cognitive computing. But, we all know that the intersection of technology and humanity is complex and that even with the best, smartest regulators those regulations would never be defined in enough detail to give them teeth or would be so constrictive that innovation would flee to places where the regulation is not enforced. So, we need to supplement any regulation with a focus on individual professionalism. A focus on ensuring that the people building these products have a focus on doing what is right.

Surprisingly agile software delivery and Scrum have always led with an ethical stance. Even if that ethical approach was not driven by a moral code, but instead by the fundamental need for agile teams to be open and transparent, which required trust. Trust is the corner stone of both ethical standards and agility. Without trust you will not get an open and honest view of the product you are working on or how the team is working. Scrum goes one step further and adds four more values to a Scrum teams expected behaviors. Courage, Focus. Commitment and Respect. Much has been written about these values including the great overview by Gunther Verheyen on what these values mean. Instead of describing them again I want to look at them from the professionalism or ethical standpoint.

  • Courage – How many times have you been at a Sprint Review where you know something doesn’t really work, but because of an amazing demo the stakeholders do not ask those difficult questions? Courage describes the need for a Scrum team member to do what they think is in the best interest of their team, the customer and the company. But increasingly this includes a broader society element. They must answer the question ‘is this the right thing to build?’
  • Focus – By focusing on the goal of the Sprint and the work that requires a Scrum Team does something that can then be evaluated. Focus so easy to say, so hard to do encourages the team to direct their attention to the outcome they are trying to achieve. But focus also has another side effect. By being explicit on what the team is focusing on you ensure a level of transparency. For example, instead of work being done by one person who was told by their boss work is VERY visible to the team and stakeholders. And work outside of the Sprint Goal would always be challenged.
  • Commitment – A key part of being a professional in complex situations is committing not to the outcomes, but to work, to being transparent, to working as a team. Commitment and honesty go hand in hand. By being committed to working with a transparent process and being committed to following the values you create an environment of trust. This environment includes both the Scrum Team and the other roles supporting the Scrum Team. They commit to allowing / enabling the Scrum Team to be effective.
  • Respect – It goes without saying that without respect it is very hard to gain trust within a team. But respect actually applies not just to the team, but also to the people around the team. It is crucial for everyone working with the Scrum Team to respect the views of the team, and the great thing about Scrum is that respect is supported by the empirical nature of the approach.
  • Openness – The foundation for an ethical approach, but also fundamental for agility. Being open and transparent drives a set of behaviors that encourage a more ethical stance. Just like the best way to encourage portion control is to put the food in front of everyone, ethics tends to be a dish best serve in front of people.

Of course, the Scrum values do not force an otherwise corrupt organization to suddenly become more ethical, but by encouraging teams to have courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness you are more likely to behave in an ethical way. And ultimately become more professional in how you approach the work, work within your organization and deliver value to your customers. 

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