Integrity Test

Interesting twitter dialog this morning about integrity. I suggested an integrity test for an Agile offering is to ask yourself, would I do this work for free? This caused a few strong reactions, Ron Jeffries going as far as calling it a stupidity test, and others balking at the idea of giving away free services to those with the ability to pay. I thought I’d explore this idea a little further.

Back in 2009/10 I was still a Certified Scrum Trainer, but unhappy with the certification model. For this and a few other reasons I began offering WelfareCSM courses, aimed at unemployed software professionals, using a pay-what-you-can model. There was a recession going on, and some people were struggling. The CSM—much as I didn’t like it—could help people find employment. I offered these courses essentially free. But “free” is a misleading word. There are always rewards. In this case I asked the attendees to bring along a friend who was engaged in work outside the IT field. I wanted to explore the idea that Scrum was a framework that could be utilized in other contexts. A few attendees of WelfareCSM went on to practice Scrum in areas such as Architecture, Legal, Curriculum Design, Scientific Research, and Organizational Development. The “Scrum Beyond Software” event was born from this period too, and from that various events spun off, including the Science Unsummit.

Rewards abounded.

Today I don’t teach any kind of certification course. Even with the idea of giving it away I couldn’t find peace with the model. It undermined my personal integrity. Instead I facilitate workshops rooted in values and principles, and I coach, guide and support organizations towards Agile change. I get paid for this work—and paid reasonably well, compared to the majority of USA citizens.

When a new client contacts me I rarely—almost never—ask myself the question, would I do this work for free? With a new client I have little idea what I am walking into, so the answer would inevitably be, I don’t know. Which isn’t yes. If I used the yes/no criteria to decide if I took work on I’d never take any work on. I need to earn a living, and I’m always curious as to what a new opportunity will bring. The initial engagement becomes a two-way assessment.

There are some clients who invite me back. Then I ask myself that question, would I do this work for free? If the answer is no, it is a warning to me that I shouldn’t take on the work. It will be painful, will lack truth, and is unlikely to make either me or the client happy. 

If the answer to my question is yes, I know that I have found a client I can truly become engaged with, and if the worse happened and they decided not to pay me, I wouldn’t be hurt. The reward is in the work, when the work is taken on with an open heart, and a true passion.

I have been much influenced recently by Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economy video. Here he talks (among other beautiful ideas) about making offers to clients without an agreed price, and letting them choose their own price after the event. Or pay nothing if they are dissatisfied. This is a gift-giving economy. My colleague Pascal Pinck has practiced a similar model with clients, and I’m hoping he’ll comment here with a few thoughts.

Do I want to work for nothing? Of course not. I want to earn a fair, living wage. And I also want to find work that is fulfilling and aligns with my life values. I don’t want to work only for money, as there are many other ideals to strive for. I plan to explore the gift economy concept further over the coming year. There is something here of great value—something that aligns beautifully with an Agile mindset.