Fertile Soil*

… people are coming together out of The Mist to make something great, and want to collaborate in the spirit of Scrum (The Spirit of the Game).

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It is the moment by moment interactions of people working together on a product that build and sustain product organizations. Interaction qualities both reflect and define organization qualities.

We often conceive organizations in terms of the artifacts that their people create, such as: legal documents, buildings, logos, policies and procedures. With respect to the all-important role of process, it is more useful to view an organization as a patterning of human interactions. We can better understand the nature of the organization through the nature of these interactions; see “Leadership and the role of conflict in processes of mutual recognition: the emergence of ethics.” in [1]. To realize any of Scrum’s benefits, the nature of these interactions must change. If people mechanically follow Scrum rules while keeping their usual patterns of interaction they will not realize the framework’s real value.

Organizational values are the norms that touch every aspect of the workplace. [2] When these serve as more than corporate wall decorations the corporate culture might employ these to extract conformance in staff behavior. Values need to be enabling and motivating rather than controlling. Values must provide ways both to evaluate and justify actions.

Whenever we are in a position where we depend on others, there is a non-zero probability that the other people won’t complete their part of the work, causing everyone to fail. While the chances of it happening may be extremely small, it still creates a level of uneasiness. If the uneasiness is sufficiently large, even if it is unwarranted, people take defensive measures, such as frequently checking on progress, and giving advice on how to work. People may even try to take over the work.

To build a product that approaches the Greatest Value requires producers to work in a way that Greatest Value can be recognized and supported. Where our interactions focus on our own concerns or control others we limit the opportunity for growth: for others, ourselves and the organization we are working in.


Demonstrate the values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect and Courage in your day to day behaviors and interactions. [3] This helps create a virtuous circle that supports transparency, and that makes it possible to build on the inspection and adaptation at the core of effective Scrum efforts. Explicitly enacting these values encourages others to improve their qualities of behavior and interaction as well. Fertile Soil allows for both Kaizen and Kaikaku that will move you towards the Greatest Value.

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The quality of the plant depends on the quality of the soil it grows in. The quality of the organization is dependent on the interactions of the individuals in the organization. [4] Where the organization requires transparency to inspect and adapt there needs to be transparency, inspection and adaptation demonstrated by the people in the organization. It is only by acting in this way that you can create the interactions needed to create and sustain your Scrum organization. Within Toyota they say, “build people, not just cars.” [5] To describe their belief in people they use the analogy of a garden: The soil is tended and prepared, the seeds are watered, and when the seeds grow, the soil is maintained, weeded, and watered again until finally the fruit is ready. [5] The first statement in the values of the Agile Manifesto underscores the importance of people and their interactions: “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” [6]

The Fertile Soil for Scrum requires you to commit to a goal, this maybe your immediate work or the creation of something larger such as a Value Stream. Show your commitment to be complete and encompassing, commitment is all or nothing. Focus your efforts to meet your commitments. Be open about your work, show the successes, the failures and the impediments. Respect the people who work with you. Have the courage to do all this. [3]

This pattern provides the medium in which to grow the organization's structure. The structures that grows from Fertile Soil will be your implementation of Scrum. Conway’s Law will give you guidance on how to create an adaptable organization where teams are decoupled from product architecture to allow crucial communication at the right time between the right people about the right thing. Other patterns provide other structures and refinements for your organization.

[1] Douglas Griffin. “Leadership and the role of conflict in processes of mutual recognition: the emergence of ethics.” In Douglas Griffin and Ralph D. Stacey (eds.), Complexity and the Experience of Leading Organizations. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005, p. 208.

[2] Ralph D. Stacey. “Values, spirituality and organisations: a complex responsive process perspective.” In Douglas Griffin and Ralph D. Stacey (eds.), Complexity and the Experience of Leading Organizations. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005, p. 208.

[3] Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle. Agile Software Development with Scrum (Series in Agile Software Development). London: Pearson, Oct. 2001, Chapter 9.

[4] Ralph D. Stacey. “Understanding Organizing Activities as the Game.” In Ralph D. Stacey (ed.), Tools and techniques of leadership and management: meeting the challenge of complexity. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012, p. 180.

[5] Jeffrey Liker and David Meier. The Toyota Way Fieldbook: A practical guide for implementing Toyota’s 4P’s. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2005, p. 242.

[6] —, Manifesto for Agile Software Development, http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html , 2001, (accessed 12 December 2017).

Image from: Pixabay (under CC0 license).