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Sociology and Scrum

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Communicating with Others Outside of the Team

Impediments often come from outside the Scrum team. Other departments might need to make small adjustments, or otherwise make policy changes to help a Scrum team function smoothly. Professional Scrum Masters often avoid Scrum terms when discussing obstacles in the way of the team. Scrum language that describes Scrum meetings, "chickens and pigs" and the like can be at best confusing and at worst an impediment to effective communication. A variety of techniques are useful for communicating with those outside the Scrum team when asking for help. One such technique is Non-Violent Communication. A web site devoted to developing NVC skills can be found at

The technique encourages the development of empathy, and focuses on the needs of all individuals involved in a conversation, a proposal, a request for help, discussions about differences, etc.

NVC teacher Gail Carroll teaches Non-Violent Communication at NVC Boston.  According to Carroll:

Every message, no matter what its form or content, is an expression of feelings and needs.  NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.  When we can be clear about what those needs really are, and communicate that in a way that also includes the needs of the other party, we all have a much higher chance of getting our needs met.

People who practice NVC have found greater authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution.  

NVC may be a very useful tool for Scrum Masters and team members that value effective two-way communication. These practices are percolating into the Agile space via regional community events. Carroll recently convened sessions on NVC for Scrum Masters with colleague Paul Merrill at the recent Agile Boston Open Space event held on 09/16/2010 in Waltham Massachusetts. 


Developing a Vision Shared by Everyone on the Team

Teams must share a vision for the project, the product and the work to truly function as a single unit. Jim McCarthy, co-author of the book Software For Your Head, defines shared vision as

A multipersonal state of being in which the participants see and imagine the same things.

Jay Vogt, author of the book Recharge Your Team, defines shared vision as

A shared sense of direction as to where a [team] is going and what it aims to do when it gets there.

Jay Vogt's technique called Grounded Visioning is a process that leads to the rapid generation of a shared vision, typically within 4 hours or less. The technique is based on Appreciative Inquiry- the study of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best.

Protocol-Based Team Communication: The Core Protocols

Another useful method of increasing the level of engagement inside Scrum teams is the use of protocol-based communication. Jim McCarthy led the C++ team at Microsoft and then left that organization to study teams and team effectiveness. The result is the Core Commitments and the Core Protocols, a set of structured interactions that can help a team achieve greatness. The Core Protocols include [Check In], which is a promise to stay engaged during a meeting, and [Check Out], a way of disengaging when one cannot be fully present.

[Check-In] is actually a promise to act on the 11 Core Commitments. These are commitments to certain modes of behavior, including to know and disclose how you think and feel, to be fully engaged, to speak only when you can improve the current idea (or suggest a better idea) etc.

The Core Commitments include 11 specific intentions, including: supporting the best idea on the table regardless of its source; to speak only when speaking will improve the general results:effort ratio, and more. Here are the 11 commitments that form the root of the Core Protocols:

1. I commit to:

Engage when present, and to know and disclose what I want. what I think, and what I feel;

To always seek effective help;

To decline to offer and refuse to accept incoherent emotional transmissions.

When I have or hear a better idea than the currently prevailing idea, I will immediately either
propose it for decisive acceptance or rejection, and/or explicitly seek its improvement.

I will personally support the best idea regardless of its source, however much I hope an even better idea may later arise, and when I have no superior alternative idea

2. I will seek to perceive more than I seek to be perceived.

3. I will use teams, especially when undertaking difficult tasks.

4. I will speak always and only when I believe it will improve the general results/effort ratio.

5. I will offer and accept only rational, results-oriented behavior and communication.

6. I will disengage from less productive situations when I cannot keep these commitments, and
when it is more important that I engage elsewhere.

7. I will do now what must be done eventually and can effectively be done now.

8. I will seek to move forward toward a particular goal, by biasing my behavior toward action.

9. I will use the Core Protocols (or better) when applicable. I will offer and accept timely and proper use of the Protocol Check protocol without prejudice.

10. I will neither harm—nor tolerate the harming of—anyone for his or her fidelity to these commitments.

11. I will never do anything dumb on purpose.

These commitments are substantial, and can substantially raise the level of engagement by and between all the parties who agree to use them in a meeting. A rule in using these Core Commitments is that everyone involved do so willingly, with participation 100% optional.

The McCarthy book SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD is now available for the first time as an absolutely free download in PDF format. The book includes descriptions and detailed rationale for all of the associated Core Protocols such as [Check In], [Perfection Game], and more. Also included in the book is the story of Jim and Michel McCarthy's development of these communication protocols running dozens of  "bootcamps" where they engaged in studying over 300 different teams over a period of approximately 5 years. 

The complete 400++ page book, SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD, can be downloaded free here.

Non-Violent Communication and the Core Protocols are examples of sociological tools that have the potential to greatly increase the effectiveness of Scrum implementations. The information on both of these techniques is freely available online. Those who are adopting Agile frameworks for working, and are seeking to be more effective in the Agile adoption effort may freely gain access to the details of these practices online.

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