Without decision making techniques teams can wander.

Without decision making techniques teams can wander.

Leadership and decision making in Agile organizations and teams requires different processes and skills because Agile requires a shift from the classic command and control model to a team-based model in which teams self-organize and make decisions. There are four major decision making/leadership differences that must be embraced to make Agile work well. They include servant leadership, time boxes, team-focused decision-making and flexibility.

Servant leadership is a leader that puts others first. The servant leader empowers, mentors and facilitates the team. Scrum masters or coaches often find themselves playing this role on sprint teams. When the leadership mantle is taken, even if just for a specific decision, the person that is playing the role can’t revert to more old style directive models or trust and the esprit de corps of the team will be damaged.

Time boxes change the pace of decisions. The use of short, focused iterations forces decisions to be made or work may grind to a halt. Time compression changes the dynamics of the decision-making process. For example, the team will tend to rely on expertise rather than extended data gathering exercises. Decision-making processes need to feature brutal transparency and trust. Team members need to be able to openly, honestly and safely share opinions and knowledge if decisions are going to be made when they are needed.

Team-focused decision-making plays a central role in Agile. Classic project management models focus on having the project manager facilitate and make decisions either as a command and control leader or a more enlightened participatory leader. In either case the responsibility, and therefore the final decision, rested on the PM’s shoulders. Agile turns the model on its head and puts the responsibility for decision making on the team. A scrum masters, coach or someone playing that role for the discussion may well facilitate the decision making process but they don’t own it.

Decision processes need to be flexible enough to reflect that not all decisions need to be made by the entire team. In some cases subgroups or individual team members may need to make decisions which then can be adopted by the larger group. Obviously critical decisions on technical direction (for example making the architecture decisions that cloud computing or client server would require) would not be made in this manner. Another twist on flexibility is the need to have multiple decision models and know when to use them. For example, most teams use a consensus model for most decisions, however at times voting might be required to move forward.  The team needs to understand how to leverage multiple decision models and when to use them.

Agile teams are different. Agile teams make decisions differently from classic project management teams. Servant leaders facilitate and coach the team so they can make decisions within time boxes, without popping a fuse from the stress time boxes can generate. One technique never will suffice to help teams make all the decisions that are needed. The team needs to have the flexibility to pick the techniques for decision making that make sense for the specific decision that needs to be made.