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.