What Pixar movies can teach us about Scrum values

and how to spot when they are missing

Lilla Szulyovszky
Apr 27 · 5 min read
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Animation credit: Eszter Balogh

Pixar movies have a magical way of capturing the importance of life and its many obstacles. And, perhaps the best part: an admirable protagonist always finds a way to overcome them.

What fascinates me is their success is based on their actions and the values they represent. The same values Scrum is built on and make it work. The same values that a lot of us forget to follow and blame Scrum when it doesn’t deliver.

The five Scrum values according to the Scrum guide are: commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect. Let’s see how Pixar can help us master them.

Commitment — Up

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Commitment — UP

When you feel committed, you will do your best to make it a success.

In the heartwarming movie Up, a grumpy old man named Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house to honour his wife’s wish and fulfil his childhood dream: to visit South America’s longest waterfall.

Commitment towards a goal is based on intrinsic motivation. It’s a lot stronger when it’s your choice rather than when you are dictated to do so. Unless your team is working towards their own goal which they agreed to meet together, you won’t likely see astonishing results.

Lack of commitment will show immediately in missed Sprint Goals, Definition of Done & Ready or a missed Sprint Review to name a few.

(P.S: If you are bit like me and Carl’s mission sounds physically impossible, Wired calculated how many balloons does it take to actually fly a house. You’re welcome.)

Courage — Bugs Life

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Courage — Bugs life

Plato once said courage was the “science of knowing what we have to fear and what we need not to.”

Pixar did a great job showcasing how powerful courage can be when Flik gets beaten up by Hopper but refuses to be broken. He stands up against the antagonist and shouts the truth to help his peers snap out of their generations-long coma of submission.

Challenging the process, and standing up for what you believe in, takes courage. But it inspires it too. When Flik stands up, he motivates first the Queen, then the rest of the colony, to do the same.

Likewise in Scrum, unless people speak up about mistakes or share their opinion about poor decisions, change will never happen. You’ll notice the lack of courage in the team when the Retrospective is not actively challenging the current (probably not beneficial) processes or behaviours.

Focus — Finding Dory

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Focus — Finding Dory

“It means you can do whatever you put your mind to.” — Jenny (Dory’s Mom)

In the movie, Dory’s parents laid out a track of shells so that Dory would be able to find her way home. And even though Dory quickly forgets everything, she succeeded to remain focused on the sea shells long enough to get back home.

She had multiple other options, but the sea shells helped her to focus. So even if there seem to be plenty of obstacles in your way, (insert your most disturbed Sprint here) if you have the tools that help you focus, there is nothing that can stop you. Maybe only a Sprint Backlog with no priorities.

A lack of focus is going to be a huge impediment to a team achieving the Sprint Goals and Product Increments each sprint.

Openness — Finding Nemo

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Openness — Finding Nemo

I love the fact that being transparent will always lead you to the best possible outcome.

Finding Nemo aims to depict the same lesson in two steps.

Firstly, Marlin’s one-sided parenting method is only making Nemo find his own way of doing things without help, including swimming to dangerous waters. Open and honest dialogue, no matter the age gap, will always be your best take.

Secondly, his only chance to find Nemo is to share his plan with everyone hence he ventures to places he would have never even thought of and receives support from all kind.

Being transparent is an opportunity to open doors which you never thought existed and align people with your plan. Good teamwork can always achieve more than an individual effort.

Here is my all time favourite to demonstrate.

You can only determine if you are on the right path (i.e., delivering value) if you show your product to the stakeholders and users and get their feedback. Otherwise you are just one more feature factory.

Respect — The Incredibles

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Respect — The Incredibles

Respect is completely fundamental to not just Scrum but any form of collaborative teamwork.

The Incredibles is all about teamwork. Well, perhaps not in the beginning.

In the first half of the movie, the Incredibles are your typical disorganised, dysfunctional, low-performance team.

But soon Mr Incredible and his family learn to respect each other’s capabilities and differences to create a dynamic team by building on their individual powers and are able to save the city in a perfectly assembled scene.

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Harmony is created by each role syncing and thereby creating a development rhythm.

A team without respect will work in silos thus a lot less efficiently. So give unity a try in your squads at work, you’re in for an incredible ride.

Conclusion

These values provide the environment for the Scrum teams to be successful. When ignored, Scrum will likely become a desperate attempt to improve productivity, without understanding the changes required for it to work properly.

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