By Applaudo Studios




Photosynthesis in the Scrum culture

Learn how the Scrum values can create a better work environment for your team.

Since my early years as a Software Engineer, I’ve always loved the feeling of being successful, of that rewarding state of mind after an accomplishment, the satisfaction of being trusted, and therefore feeling valued by having a voice at the table.

Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy. Source: Oxford Languages

As my maturity grew up out of these experiences, I’ve always been interested in understanding better all the forces that act/help behind that sweet spot. Like the sun does with flora in the photosynthesis process, it works as a “continuous source of energy”, triggering multiple internal chemical effects that fuel a transformative activity which at the edge yields a self-sustainable virtuous cycle (creating oxygen is key for water and soil that then gives-back essential minerals that later roots absorb).

In the middle of my career, I got to know about Agile and Scrum, and to me, it was enlightening how well it encompasses both the process and culture for the software industry and especially product development. It called my attention that even the 8th principle in the manifesto ‘Agile processes promote sustainable development.’ Weigh up sustainability (the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. Source: Oxford Languages) and this for me is one of the most powerful drivers out of Agility mindset. So in this article, I pretend to write some tips about how the Scrum values play a role in that energy source and sustainability.


Dave West CEO at wrote in his article ‘ SCRUM REBOOT, THIS TIME WITH THE VALUES’ – ‘It (Scrum) is a framework (the “easy to learn” part) that will not deliver on its promise unless it is exercised with its core values (the “hard to do” part).’ This statement describes a situation that has deeper roots than apparent.

Here are some numbers that put some light on this point. According to the 14th State of Agile report from 2020 by, 84% of respondents said their organizations were below a high level of competency in Agile practices.

Besides the previous, it also calls to my attention that among other valuable reasons for adoption the human factor holds the 9th / 13th position in the listing.

In contrast with the benefits where the human aspect moves to the 5th / 13th position!

So what I read from these facts is that many organizations, and let’s be honest, this is about the leaders who are at the top of the decision-making process, still demand more clarity on the software industry and why Agile is different than any other management instrument. This change should be reflected in a mentality shifting from questions like ‘How can we use Agile?’ to ‘How agile can we be here?’ as Alistair Cockburn proposed. The power of this mindset shifting is related to the act of not seeing agile as something you can turn on/off as we want but to be conscious, competent, and consequent that agile is a way of thinking so principles are the baseline and not in the negotiation.

Now, what about the hard part?

The Scrum guide states:

Values describe the personal aspects we choose to guide our actions, the manner in which we treat ourselves and others, and our interactions with the world around us.’ Pag. 4

There is a deep message in these words that in essence values are fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate our attitude and actions. Beliefs are a conscious act of acceptance, confidence, and trust. When we believe our minds automatically reflect positive consistency around optimism, conviction, and persuasion.

What this means is that we act (action) in consequence of what we think is the best option (direction & behavior).

The Scrum guide also proposes that ‘the way Scrum is used should reinforce these values, not diminish or undermine them‘ (p. 4). We can interpret that the process/framework and the culture/values both play a role together, they complement each other and the values stimulate the human component, nurturing our minds to create a personal connection with the habitat, personal connection means a relationship between a person and a goal. This is the right space where we build upon to create consistency (reduce conflicts), alignment (the best right choice for the most), and endurance (sustainability, remember the source of energy I mentioned above? ).

Ok, so what can we do to make it real?

We do not teach Values, at least not in a traditional learning paradigm. Values are part of what we are – not a guideline or procedure to follow, so this means we have to internalize it and in extended words, this is about ‘making (attitudes or behavior) part of one’s nature. There are many options out there of how to proceed on this one, but am going to focus on the two I consider are the most powerful and effective.

Values are subject to coaching and are also a clear reflection of performing.

Stephanie Ockerman – Professional Scrum trainer and coach at, says that we set the stage by enabling regular conversations ‘This conversation is not about deciding who is right and who is wrong. It is about understanding individuals and how they interpret these values. Teams need to form an identity in order to be effective. One piece of identity is understanding values.

Then, as a team, decide how these values can guide you to successfully build amazing things together and enjoy doing it.’

As in many other lessons in the Agile culture, she points out ‘then it’s easier to recover if you learn that you went in the wrong direction because you know you did it for the right reasons.’

To structure this conversation, Stephanie proposes facilitating a collaborative discussion with the following schema:

  1. Establish what the Scrum values mean to us as individuals and as a team.
  • What is important about [Scrum value]?
  • What does it look like to honor [Scrum value] in our daily work?
  • What does it look like to ignore [Scrum value] in our daily work?
  • How does it feel to be in alignment with [Scrum value]?
  1. Use the Scrum values to help guide decision-making.
  • What would [Scrum value] tell us about this decision?
  • Which Scrum value feels most important for this decision?
  1. Observe and discuss outcomes and behaviors and refine what the Scrum values mean to us.
  • How did we honor [Scrum value] this Sprint?
  • Which Scrum values helped us achieve [outcome]?
  • Which values do we want to honor more?
  • What will be possible when we honor this value?
  • In what situations does it feel most difficult to honor [Scrum value]?
  1. Identify actions for improvement.
  • When we/ you honor [Scrum value], what are we saying yes to?
  • When we/you honor [Scrum value], what are we saying no to?
  • Who do[we/ you need to be in order to do [actionable commitment]?

Coaching Tip, Ockerman suggests: Stop being so helpful! and learn how to help your team in the right way.

If you try to provide most of the answers this limits the team’s learning, the learning could be about what is important to them, what they want, how they feel, how they assess their progress, or exploring other perspectives. Let them fail if that’s needed.

In harmony with Ockerman’s idea, I found really handy the ‘The Scrum Team Charter Canvas’ suggested by Simon Kneafsey – Professional Scrum trainer and coach at The team canvas is one of those practices that should be a must in every team so that consensus, understanding, and commitment are acknowledged.

Keep in mind the canvas is just a mean not the purpose neither the end, as a Scrum master you play the show, as per the Scrum guide ‘Scrum master is accountable for establishing Scrum‘ (p. 6) so that is facilitating, and serving the Scrum team, in this case, germinate the foundational roots of a team’s habitat.

Here Miro board created by Juan Menjivar.

But do the previous does the magic?

…….No!, Consistency does!

And yeah we have to be conscious. Culture is a matter of acting, requires practice, and continual endorsement of those behavioral patterns that we agreed upon.

The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture.

Capturing the essence from Steve Trapps’ post ‘A Wet Weekend with the Scrum Values’ I loved the idea of giving life to the Values in every action we hold. As a Scrum Master don’t forget you are accountable for ‘The Scrum Team members learn and explore the values as they work with the Scrum events and artifacts.’ (p. 4)

For instance, you can do:

  • Everyday: compliment someone, say ‘hello’ to the team, talk to them, especially someone you haven’t talked in a while, try to make them laugh, help someone who is stuck
  • Every week: go for a coffee, offer a word of hope or definitely feedback, start a conversation
  • Sprint: run a value-based retrospective, promote Applaudo’s badge recognition board in your team meetings (check the Miro board above to find some handy resources)
  • Monthly: specific 101 for feedback, go out for a dinner or a beer, share kudos for achievements, mentions in huddles, share your knowledge
  • Special moments: birthday, graduation, birth, sick, wedding, people leaving

Tip: The previous are opportunities that can help to thrive a culture and we can make them part of our day-to-day, allowing an environment where values can shape real experiences.

Then you will know it’s happening because you will feel and they both evoke TRUST.

About the author

Juan Menjivar

Juan plays an Agile coach role assisting at the organizational and team level, mentoring and enabling continuous improvement with emphasis on collaborative, agile, and lean mindset. He’s currently an Agile Operations Coach at Applaudo.

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