a·cu·i·ty (noun) acuity sharpness or keenness of thought, vision, or hearing.
There are three different versions of the word acuity that link back to it’s original etymology. The Middle English, Middle Latin and Old French versions all link back to the latin word acus (or acuo) that means “a needle”. The most common conjugation of the word today is acute, which is mostly used in medicine. If you were to ask me before today what the word means to me, I would describe acuity as something so refined and fine-tuned it resembled a pinpoint.
Then I saw this tweet from one of my Ogilvy brethren:
It got me thinking about my craft, helping people make things better. Was I fine-tuning myself to the point where I could notice things that most would overlook?
This is where participating in a community of practice will help, because it’s impossible for one person to catch everything. We share, cry, laugh, exhort, and implore. In the end, we have a group that truly doesn’t let things fall through the cracks. Hit me up if you want help setting one up.
The definition of acuity gives the impression that it’s just something you can fall out of bed with. After thinking upon this phrase, that’s why I’m thankful Agile discipline is a craft instead of a skill. We fail, and pass them on to each other. Some of the lessons I have learned might not be as difficult for you. Vice versa, I’m sure.
Here are a few I have come across in my search of Agile acuity:
Every team member deserves your best effort. I did not learn this lesson because I desired to play favorites. Like most leaders, I was confident I could keep a level playing field for everyone around me. The mistake on my part was looking at each team and saying to myself, “I need to nail this relationship if my team is going to make it.”
You pour yourself into certain people, thinking if you can get this right the rest will be easy. Problem is, there’s no guarantee that relationship is the keystone to productivity and completed stories. In fact, it’s the last relationship you expected to in fact be necessary. That’s because they are all important.
You can’t be afraid to make an example. Nobody likes being the bad guy, I know I don’t. I want to say yes to every OOO petition, working lunch request, and work-from-home desires. Not so with my fellow PMs. One at my office told a team member that he would have to cancel his flight, even after he bough the ticket, because he didn’t first check with others around him on a vacation request. Cruel, but his team needed it.
Making an example doesn’t mean you select someone to pick on just because. We don’t lead teams that way. Instead of squashing insurrection, you just announce the team is more important than the individual. As a pastor once put it, “I’m willing to let you hate me in order to tell you the truth.”
Winging it, regardless of the team interaction, is not allowed. I’m a bit quick on my feet. It’s what happens when you grow up speaking faster than you can think; eventually you can just come up with answers on the spot and store an incredible amount of information in the front of your brain. Problem is, it’s always apparent that you are winging it, and your team usually doesn’t respond well to this.
I always encourage new Scrum Masters to have a notepad ready for every standup. You aren’t taking notes to keep tabs and micro manage. You just want to keep track with how things progress and keep handy the things you need to focus on. Anyone who has read the Checklist Manifesto knows the true value of checking things off of lists. This goes with announcements, reminders, vacation days, roadblocks, and key milestones.
Some have said they don’t like the idea of secretive writing. Easy, just use a nearby whiteboard. The bonus of this application is added transparency to team gatherings. They see what you are writing, and there’s no hiding. Just make sure you show up early to jot down the notes you need to remember.
Deliverables are for all to hear. If design knows development was listening when they promised a comp to you by the end of the day, they are more apt to deliver if they have to look them in the face the next morning. If they aren’t afraid of that, don’t be afraid to ask them why they feel that way (see the first lesson). For the record, I have the best art directors in the business. They know they are loved.
I have sometimes neglected to make sure everyone is nodding their head at the same time when I ask for a deliverable. For some team members, you believe them when you see a nod. Others may need to verbalize what is due on what day. Even others might need to respond to a group email in the affirmative. Either way, it needs to be corporate.
Ask others if you can get them help. We’re all big kids, and true self-managing teams will know when to raise their hands when issues occur. Even the best, though, can get a case of “the hero complex.” They don’t want to burden others, or ask me to go back to the client with problems. This is when your awesome one-on-one skills come in handy. Take time to check in with everyone during the week once or twice to see if they are getting what they need.
Many will respond with, “I got this.” Which could be honest. Getting to know them in between ceremonies, however, will reveal those that are just covering up. Find a way to let them know you can lighten their load, or simply treat them to lunch, if they are feeling the weight of the world.
The lessons I am learning along the way to Agile acuity number far more than this, but hopefully they paint a picture of what that path looks like for me. I take my craft very personally, and won’t stop until I reach it. Though not in this list, one of the biggest lessons I have to remember is that my search for Nirvana can’t be more important than meeting my teams’ needs in the moment. As much fun as it is to keep my head at 30,000 feet, my team needs to get dirty with them.
I’m curious as to what lessons you have learned along the road. The only way to grow is to do this together, so now I need your stories. How have you honed your craft lately?