What is Professionalism in ProKanban

Dave West’s recent post on the Scrum.org blog about the core values of Professionalism in the Scrum community got me thinking about why the word appears in our title too. When we put the Pro in front of the name ProKanban, it meant far more to us than showing up in an office.  But the word itself can feel cold.  Like nothing more than a check box on an HR screening. In my mind, it’s much more complicated and much more intentional than that. 

To me, the root of professionalism is respect. Respect is different than admiration however.  And that difference is built through genuine relationships. If you’re thinking- wait there tons of people that I “respect” that I don’t actually know, I invite you to pause and think of how many of them have let you down by being garbage human beings (and here is where I started to make a list, but that got depressing so please insert your own because I know you have at least *one*).  

That feeling that we have of being disappointed by someone we held respect for is perhaps because we didn’t really know them at all.  We are let down by something we believed to be true or a picture they painted so well that we are sincerely let down when the curtains are pulled back to reveal something different.  In many ways, we all want to have a hero and are continuously destroyed when we have to pack up our bags and go find a new one. 

Professional respect is different than the kind you can build through big action or bold heroics. It takes effort and connection. It takes empathy and sincerity.  Building respect requires humility and without respect, professionalism is an act that will always be easily dismantled. 

My husband shared a quote recently that rings so true here:

“The way that you actually build trust is to smoke a joint with somebody and go for a hike, or go camping, or hang out, or open up about the stuff that you suck at, and doing the reference checks, and really grilling the person, and getting out of the office, and having date nights, you work at that stuff. And the companies that really do are the ones that win.” —Cameron Herold 

When I think about the most impactful professional relationships I have built it’s because we took the time to get to know each other enough to trust each other.  And this doesn’t mean years of working together or hanging outside of work- this can mean two minutes of asking about each other’s kids or weekends before digging into a call or pausing to be curious about what someone else is going through right now.  This means understanding where someone is starting from so that you can trust their intention and respect their contribution. 

A few years ago, I flew to Columbus, Georgia to teach Kanban classes.  I arrived with my suitcase full of Kanban games in a red pant suit (if you know me, you know the one) and was ready to get down to flow metrics. But if you know Columbus, Georgia you also know that this is not the pace there. It took until lunch time when the Mike & Ed’s BBQ arrived and I asked the room, “What the heck is Brunswick stew??” for us to really build a relationship.  

I learned about them as people- not just students… who had kids at Fort Benning, who was close to retirement, who had a penchant for purse shopping, and what was really in Brunswick stew. And they learned about me, that even though I loved that pantsuit, I came from a town of 75 people in the woods in Colorado and grew up raising sheep by a river.  And the rest of that class was different. 

We don’t need to be the same to respect each other. In fact, we don’t even have to agree to respect each other.  By approaching our differences from a place of empathy and curiosity, we are showing professionalism. We are showing respect for the journey that brought another person to this place, this view, and this time and that we are open to understanding it.

Curiosity is what allows us to learn from each other.  To sincerely start from a place of working together instead of putting up walls. To look at each other with an open mind and know that we can’t grow by having the same conversations with the same people.  

While professionalism may sound cold, sterile, and informal- to have it, give it, and get it in return requires all the opposite things- an open mind, respect, and sincerity. For ProKanban, this is fundamental to our belief that we can all grow more by challenging our assumptions and welcoming diversity of thought. We are intentional about seeking new voices, building trust, and treating everyone with respect. 

“Respect is a language the whole word understands.”– Grace Johnson

2 thoughts on “What is Professionalism in ProKanban”

  1. Brandon Barski

    Thank you for these thoughts, Colleen. They are helpful and inspiring as I continue my learning journey and strive to become more of an Agile professional!

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