Of the four agile manifesto principles, the one I find myself being drawn to over and over is valuing “individual and interactions over processes and tools”. As much as we try to pin what we do from 9-6 in a box, there’s only so much you can do without collaborating with co-workers. It also pushes me to reach out to leaders for advice and ideas instead of trying to do it by myself.
A few weeks ago, that’s exactly what I did with Jeff Sutherland. As valuable as his time is as an Agile leader, I love the fact that he values interactions enough to respond to me on Twitter. It all started with a simple question:
There wasn’t anything specific that I was dealing with at work to prompt the question. I wasn’t doubting myself, but sometimes even the simplest of questions by a team member can stir the seeds of doubt. Because these questions are constantly being posed, I just hankered for an opportunity to be proactive and prepare.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure I would get anything in response. It was on Good Friday, and many were in the middle of trying to wrap things up before the weekend. I was certainly traveling, so I understood. Thankfully, my wife was driving because before I knew it I had stirred up something. A notification first came that he retweeted the post, then his first response.
This does two things: it allowed himself a chance to ponder the best response for someone in search of answers, and brings others into the conversation. We all win when that happens, and as a result I was allowed to engage with some very thoughtful leaders.
What I think Paul means is dictating what our process “is and isn’t”. If you “require” anything of your people without first talking about it, doubt creeps in and overtakes any sort of confidence you intend to sow in those around you. He was just the first of many responses.
Philippe is pulling on the same thread. Personally, I’m not necessarily a great “people manager” because I tend to try and make everyone happy and probably waffle back and forth a lot. Instead of worrying about them, if I look at what kind of expectations are on the table and then forecast where it could leave things if left unchecked we can get out in front of any doubt that can kill productivity.
Mr. Sutherland caps things off effectively with some great parting words.
Do we have the ability to execute our goals and reach a shippable conclusion? Absolutely. Do we always know that in advance? Probably not. Question is, what kind of help do we need to get there?
- Realize you won’t get there by sitting on your hands. I was not brought up in a house with a healthy set of boundaries. We walked in on each other all the time, hugged every person that entered our four walls, and volunteered opinions without being asked. As troublesome as that was as I started dating, it comes in real handy leading Agile teams. Often, the best thing is to lock everyone in a room and rip the bandage off. Address the elephant in the room and announce if everyone wants things to change we have to start today.
- Challenge everything. If nothing is seen as sacred, you can question it in a healthy way and move towards a resolution. Easier said than done, but very possible.
- That means calling yourself out. When we suggest improvements, I will admit it’s easier to point out the flaws of others before myself. Usually, it puts others on their heels and shifts attention to others. Instead, suggest how you could help things first and announce to the team you aren’t infallible. Most agree that they aren’t perfect, but if you aren’t willing to lead with your own transparency, how is anyone to follow you when you suggest things of others?
Fortunately, all Agile practices afford us opportunities to try these things out. I’m not here to tell you that in tomorrow’s standup this kind of transparency will be met with unbridled enthusiasm. Most likely, people will wonder what you are up to and see if it continues. Try it once in every ceremony, and at the end of this cycle ask someone else on the team if your message is coming across correctly.
Doubt will never be erased until Skynet replaces all of us with T-1000s, but by showing little efforts to identify and discard any kind of untoward expectation can minimize it’s effect on you and your teams. If we are trying to improve our happiness and productivity, I can think of no better catalyst for change than erasing doubt.
Thanks to Jeff Sutherland, Paul Ralph, and Philippe Sauve for their contributions to this conversation. Gave me an amazing boost with this pot.