Scrum Gathering – Agile and Ethics

I’ll be presenting two talks at the November Scrum Gathering.

One of them is dear to my heart. I’ll be using this blog over the next few months to work up my ideas and document conversations I have around this topic.

The Ethics of Scrum and Agile Software Development.

Here’s what I proposed:

Presentation Description

Are Scrum and XP inherently ethical?

In the face of contradictory beliefs over what we do and how we do it, we software developers, agile or not, experience pressure to compromise our work and our due care for others. Meanwhile, as our products become more beneficial, more pervasive and inter-connected our potential to harm grows.

Attempts by the ACM and IEEE to engage us in a dialog on norms of conduct has resulted in a controversial code of ethics that borrows heavily from established engineering disciplines – mandating specifications to ensure effective software.

We, agile software developers are making an under-appreciated contribution to ethical practice in our field.

Whether our work is a profession or craft, we need to engage the larger community in a conversation about how our day to day actions affect our employers, our peers, and our society. This presentation will attempt to frame professional ethics in the context of agile values and practices.

Why is this topic of interest to Scrum Gathering attendees?

The discussion over norms of ethical conduct happens outside the earshot of most working developers. The day to day experience of Scrum practitioners is at a distance from those who concern themselves with software ethics.

As a Scrum community, we have a responsibility to help shape the expectations placed upon us by others. We cannot delegate our integrity. Nor can we defer concerns over negligence, recklessness, or intent to harm the human beings who use the systems we create. We openly discuss our projects, our working conditions, and our advancement but to protect those very interests we often deal with issues of conscience privately.

Yet the passion behind Scrum is, in part, an idealistic one – a hope that by dealing openly and responsively with our stakeholders we will build something of real value. We need to harness this idealism to encourage each other make better decisions in the interests of stakeholders who do not pay us and do not always have a seat at the project table.

Given the downstream effect ethical lapses large and small have on society, we need to engage in this discussion or have the wrong solutions imposed upon us by employers, institutions, and regulatory agencies.

Presentation Objectives

  1. Is it important for us to establish a shared commitment to ethical conduct?
  2. What obligations a software developer should feel beyond fulfilling the requirements of their employer?
  3. How the Agile Manifesto and Scrum/XP practices suggest a partial set of norms of ethical conduct.
  4. How agile organizations have started to provide their own statements of principles to extend agile values and encompass conduct towards our peers and society.