Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Agile Culture - Are you Stepping Up?

In the traditional and waterfall world, there tends to be a more directive approach to managing the projects. A hierarchy exists where decisions get made not necessarily based on full knowledge, experience, or information, but based on position. Often times, decisions are made by a few folks and then shared with the team. Ultimately this establishes a culture where folks on the project team become timid, lack enthusiasm, and do not feel vested in the work ahead. This is problematic because we are not getting the most brain power from the team members.

Then along comes Agile. When implemented correctly, the Agile culture places a strong emphasis on team empowerment and ownership. There is little to no command-and-control from management and teams are trusted to make the decisions since they are much closer to the working knowledge and have the experience in that specific area. Team members feel invested in the work ahead because they have a say in the direction of the product.
However, transitioning to an Agile culture does not immediately gain the advantages that you desire. There must be a recognition that managers and some overly directive people need to step back. However, when they do step back, the Agile team members must step forward to fill the leadership gap. if you want to want to feel invested in your work, you must be willing to own the decisions and work ahead.  Otherwise, those people that stepped back will have a tendency (per their natural inclination to be directive) to want to step forward again.

This is where being assertive and proactive becomes important. Some engineers may come from a culture where they are relegated to “getting instructions” and being told what to do. They are not expected to be a leader. With Agile, it is now their job to become self-empowered, become leaders, and take assertive steps forward.

What does this mean in the Agile context? First, as you become part of an Agile project, you must truly internalize that you are now equally part of the team and your thoughts, experience, and opinions matter. This does not happen overnight because the dynamics of getting to an Agile culture takes time.  In some cases, there will be those working against you, to sabotage the change in order to maintain the status quo. But make no mistake, it is up to you to step up and assertively empower yourself.  Ensure you are weaving your way onto the Scrum team as an effective team member

So next time you don’t think you are appropriately involved on the project or you think you need permission to speak up, stop for a moment. Change your mindset and be assertive, speak up, get involved, become a leader, and start owning the work. Agile provides that opportunity. It is your opportunity to step up.


  1. Great Post. When first tried scrum it wasn't too difficult to get people to speak up but it took a while for the team to develop the skills to really collaborate effectively. Knowing when not to step up is also an important skill! It was hard for the more experienced team members who were used to being in an authoritative position to know when to shut up and let the rest of the team contribute but they changed and we know have a pretty harmonious team

  2. It is really encouraging and empowering.I am currently involed with transformation from traditional to agile-Scrum.This will be very helpful for the teams.Thanks for the post.

  3. My experience shows me that for this to work (and it can work really well), clear expectations need to be communicated to team members from the management team.

    Team members need to understand that they are expected to step up and take on that leadership role, it is not an option it is mandatory. With that clear expectation set, the management team can then focus on ensuring that the team members have the space and support to get on with it.

  4. I am a bit concerned about the audience. You seem to be addressing those of us who are reluctant to step forward and your message is "be assertive". I've heard it before and so have my compatriots among the introverts. Just how does one "be assertive"? Is it possible for someone to become assertive because he or she is told to do so?
    What do you do to make a quiet, introspective, reticent, withdrawn programming genius become self confident and assertive? Moreover, how is this done within the context of a self organizing team?

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  6. Scrummaster should help out here, he should be excercising and promoting a policy of quietest speak first and no criticism allowed on initial pass... Doing this for a while helps a lot