The Limits of Informed Consent

Informed Consent — “the right of each individual potentially affected by a project to participate to an appropriate degree in decision making concerning that project” (Gail D. Baura, Engineering Ethics: An Industrial perspective)

Space Shuttle

“(T)he astronauts should have been informed of the possibility of O-ring failure before the Challenger launch…” — G. Baura

Often the people asked to pay down a risk are not the ones who suffer if the risk plays out. For Challenger, this distance contributed to the sacrifice of innocents.

As developers, we must never hide risk for which others suffer the consequences. This is core to Scrum. The team tells the Product Owner anything that may affect the business outcome of a project.

Scrum’s focus on self-directed teams instills the courage informed consent asks of us. Frequent opportunities to inspect and adapt gives it voice.

However, an ethical view obligates us to more than delivering business value and we cannot entirely cede our conscience to our product owners. We have an obligation to each other, our collective reputation, the people who use or indirectly benefit from our systems, and the public good. For the most part, these interests have no informed consent on our projects.

As Agile practitioners and Scrum advocates, how can we expand our conversation and help each other exercise due care?

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.