Courage and Leadership

(Doodle by Martyn Frank @frankletsbe – hope he doesn’t mind me using it but I absolutely love it and he captured my talk beautifully).

This all started with a quiz.  Give it a shot.  What is the correct answer to the following question?

According to a recent item on the Scrum Alliance website blog*, there are three benefits that companies see during a transition to scrum. Select the option that is not one of these.

  1. Faster delivery
  2. Communication 
  3. Transparency 
  4. Leadership

The correct answer is a) Faster Delivery. What surprises me is not just that virtually everybody who answers this gets it wrong, but that they all pick the same wrong answer, Leadership.

Somewhere along the line, I found myself saying.

“Everybody is missing leadership.”

Is that just in the quiz? Or does the quiz reflect an actual lack of leadership? First, let’s go back to the answer that wasn’t one of the three. Faster delivery. This is why I hate multiple choice tests. If you gave me a good explanation for why faster delivery is a benefit, I would give you credit for it.

The important thing about this quiz is not the answer but the conversation we have about it. Faster Delivery can be a benefit of agile.  Here are some relevant quotes that make this point:

“more frequent delivery of only the highest-value items.”

          Luke Walter

“shorten the time to feedback”

          Ryan Martens

“Scrum has been proven to deliver value to the end customer 30 to 40 percent faster than traditional methods.”

          Mark C. Layton

“Reduced cost of value”

          Pat Reed

If we interpret faster delivery as a shorter way of saying faster delivery of value, there is no question it is a benefit.  Perhaps not a benefit during a transition to scrum but definitely a benefit.

However, I am a debater.  Let’s turn this around. Why is Faster Delivery wrong? I’m going to give you the most obvious reason.  It just wasn’t in the article. The article mentioned three things and Faster Delivery wasn’t one of them. It was not the point the author wanted to make.

Let’s have another look at these options.

Put on your CEO hat and let’s have a look at this list:

  1. Faster delivery
  2. Communication 
  3. Transparency 
  4. Leadership

If you are the CEO, what do you have to change for faster delivery? It depends on how hands-on you are as a CEO, but it’s possible that you don’t really have to change at all. You just have to encourage the team that delivers to deliver faster.  So if you see faster delivery as the benefit of agile, you may see that as something for the delivery team.  “Off you go, deliver faster.”

“As a coach, I’m getting truly tired of talking to managers and leaders who’s sole drive to adopt agile methods is for…More, increased capacity, to go Faster! “

          Bob Galen

“A common misunderstanding of agile is that it is cheaper and faster than waterfall delivery. The truth is much less clear cut – it can be cheaper and faster, but only if it is suited to the organisation and project in question.”

          Matthew Du-Feu–1283876

If you are only looking for faster delivery, you might get that by changing some practices and processes but will you really get the benefits of agile? What about communication, transparency and leadership? If you are the CEO, are you involved with those?  I certainly hope so. If you focus on those, will you get the real benefits of agile?  Absolutely.

So that’s relatively easy to get my head around.  Faster Delivery might be a benefit of agile but ideally we focus on more than just going faster. We can probably get consensus on the fact that actually delivering value quickly is a benefit.

If we look at the other options, if you don’t pick Faster Delivery, what do you pick?


Not only do most people get the question wrong but most people who get this question ‘’wrong” – pick Leadership.  Because I asked everybody to talk through what they were thinking, I found people saying

‘’I don’t think leadership is a benefit of agile.’’



Early in our agile journey, we had one of those planning poker moments when everybody in the room had a number like 2 or 3 and one guy had an 8. The guy who had the 8 was one of those guys whose English isn’t great who never used to say a word before we started doing scrum. One of our louder members said “this is easy, we just did something in our last sprint that was exactly the same, it should be a 3.

“When we did it in our last sprint, it was an 8” the quiet guy said. “Remember, our agile coach said we shouldn’t revise our estimates for things we have done before or our velocity will not truly reflect our improvement.” Everybody else changed their numbers.  That’s leadership. When I talk about leadership, i don’t mean management. I mean the kind of leadership that comes from everyone on the team.

I am a leader because everybody is a leader. As they say in Kanban “Leadership at every level.”

Let’s see what the original article said:

3. Scrum strengthens leadership

Agile management often results in a shift in power relationships — in the best possible way, says Tom Ulrich. “One of the brilliant things about Scrum is that it removes title from the equation,” he says. “It’s not about your position, it’s about real influence.” And that influence, Ulrich says, arises from expertise, experience, and respect — especially the kind of respect that develops from a history of working together interdependently.*

When we say that Leadership isn’t a benefit of agile, I think what we are often thinking is that we aren’t getting more leadership from the top.  That’s good if we are getting it from everywhere else.  Here’s another question:

“So why do they pay me the big bucks?”

That sounds like a joke but it’s not. It’s a real soul searching thing. I spent a really long time getting to this position. As a Manager, it’s hard not to be concerned when the things you used to be responsible for are now distributed to the team.  If everybody is a leader, what am I supposed to do?

I’ll just defer to Kenny with some answers to that one.

“Traditional Leaders in Scrum organisations continue to provide leadership in their area of expertise.”

If you haven’t read Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn), by Kenny Rubin you should.  There is an excellent chapter on Managers.

Leadership is not the same as management.

In traditional management, managers tell people what to do.  That’s not the case in agile.  This is where the second quiz question often comes in:

Which of the following are scrum values? (select all of the correct ones) (Source = The Scrum Guide).

  1. focus
  2. courage
  3. openness
  4. commitment
  5. respect

It’s a trick question. Actually they are all scrum values. We are so accustomed to multiple choice that most people assume one has to be wrong.  The one they pick is courage.

Why aren’t we seeing courage? Are we not recognising it? Or is not there?

Courage also comes from every level.  Not long ago, a VP asked one of our developers to do a quick project for him. “We are working on what we agreed to work on this sprint’’ she says.  “You will have to talk to the Product Owner if you have something you think has a higher priority.” He wasn’t just her boss, he was her boss’s boss. That’s courage. It takes some courage to stick to what you know is right.

Go forth and lead with courage.


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