Why Is Commitment Important to Scrum

May 14, 20134 min

Commitment is essential to Scrum since it lies at the fundamental core of Scrum – personal accountability, the drive for personal excellence and genuine connection with your peers in the workplace and the work itself.  In Scrum, participants are asked to make three commitments – commitment to deliver quality work (Sprint Planning), commitment to improve (Retrospective) and commitment to help (Daily Scrum).  These commitments (and others) lies at the center of a web of commitments that enables Scrum to function.  When the commitments to one another, the Spirit of Scrum and the framework, are weak, then entropy, decay, cynicism and oblivion begins to set in.


When I work with teams who ask to learn about Scrum, I emphasis commitments because they show if the participants are either in or out.  I need to know if participants are either going to do Scrum and commit to working together as a Team or if  they  are just cruising along in a mindset of where all that is expected from them is “to try real hard”.  My feelings are summed up by this quote from a famous mystic,

“There is no try – do or do not.”

So what do I mean by commitment?  I expect when people say they are going to do something, they will follow through and deliver.  I expect people to act as mature, thoughtful and rational adults who freely commit to things they believe in and not commit to ideas, actions or policies they do not believe in.  If they cannot commit, I expect people to tell me and explain the reasons why they feel commitment is unnecessary or impossible.  My general philosophy is I will not collude in any behavior that encourages an individual to act in a way that does not unleash the mature, thoughtful and rational adult within them.

So why am I repelled by the word “try”?  I know from my personal experience that if people want to do something in their professional or personal lives, they make it happen.  If people want something bad enough, the move Heaven and Earth to make it happen.  “Try” is a common word many people often use to absolve ourselves of the commitment to succeed.  Maybe we do not believe it is possible due to our lack of skills, knowledge, resources or necessary help, but we lack the courage to tell someone.  Sometimes we say “try”, to satisfy people in order to make them leave us alone.  “Try” allows people to tell me things they believe I want to hear, but have no intention on making real.

So let’s make this a little more real with an example from my personal life.  I have lost 20 pounds and I can tell you it is VERY hard to do.  If I were to say, “I am going to try and lose 20 pounds in four months” and I do not achieve my goal, a common response might be, “Well…I did all I could.  I tried hard, but there were so many things out of my control, so it just was not possible.”  In this situation, I was simply a passive actor at the mercy of forces beyond my control.

If I say to myself, “I will lose 20 pounds in four months”, then how I think and act in this situation is very different.  First, I am an actor in this situation committed to this outcome.  As a result, I act differently when confronted with challenges and obstacles.  Second, I will make sacrifices because I am committed to the the outcome.  You have to be truly committed to the goal of losing 20 pounds because in order to change your health in such a radical way.  A weak tea “try” is not going to sustain as you rethink all your habits around food and exercise.  These are patterns of behavior are built into us from a very young age and we respond to them like an autopilot.  You must concentrate and mindful of how you eat and exercise or you will not reach the goal of losing 20 pounds.

This is why I ask people for their commitments in Scrum.  In order to succeed with Scrum and develop real connections with your peers and your work, you must concentrate and be mindful.   When asked to make a commitment, I want people think through the consequences of their choices and act with intention.   I am completely OK with people saying “no” since if people do not have the option of saying”no” it is not a choice.  One cannot demand a commitments from others nor coerce them with pressure since whatever is offered  would not be a true commitment because it was not freely offered.

I want to thank all my partners on twitter (@tobiasmayer, @ronjeffries, @davenicolette, @adamyuret, @neil_killick and @woodyzuill) who helped me focus this topic in my mind.