One Side Or The Other!

One Side Or The Other!

As organizations transition to Agile, teams often ask about how to change from classic command and control project management methods into self-organizing teams. Self-organizing and self-managing teams do not just appear magically. Both the project teams and the organization have baggage that needs to be rationalized and unlearned to progress from needing to be lead to leading themselves. The concepts which have to be learned include the following: measuring business value, team decision-making and sharing the real goals of projects.

Classic command and control project management (which I would classify as minimally collaborative) is based on the premise that the project manager has both unique knowledge and a unique set of skills not held by members of the team.  These skills are thought to revolve around project planning, controlling the people, office politics and status reporting. Certifications, like the PMP®, have been used to encourage these belief.  In this environment the measures of success for projects are often delivering on-time, on-budget and on-scope.

In Agile projects, as discussed in Project Management is Dead, the roles of the classic project manager in Scrum are spread across the three basic roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team). A fourth role, the Agile Program Manager (known as a Release Train Engineer in SAFe), is needed when multiple projects are joined together to become a coordinated program.  The primary measures of success in Agile projects are delivered business value and customer satisfaction.  These attributes subsume the classic topics of on-time, on-budget and on-scope. (Note: Delivered value and customer satisfaction should be the primary measure of success in ALL types of projects, however these are not generally how project teams are held accountable.)

As teams learn to embrace and use Agile principles, they need to learn how to make decisions as a team. The decisions that teams need to learn how to make for themselves always have consequences, and sometimes those consequences will be negative. To accomplish this learning process in the least risky manner, the team should use techniques like delaying decisions as late as is practical and delivering completed work within short time boxes. These techniques reduce risk by increasing the time the team has to gather knowledge and by getting the team feedback quickly. The organization also must learn how to encourage the team to make good decisions while giving them the latitude to mess up. This requires the organization to accept some level of explicit initial ambiguity that is caused by delaying decisions, rather than implicit ambiguity of making decisions early that later turn out to be wrong. The organization must also learn to evaluate teams and individuals less on the outcome of a single decision and more on the outcome of the value the team delivered.

Teams, on the other hand, have to unlearn bad habits. For example, teams need to unlearn the habit of relying on others to plan for them. In order to do that, all leaders and teams must have an understanding of the true goals of the project (listen to my interview with David Marquet) and how the project fits into the strategic goals of the organization.

Teams make decisions daily that affect the direction of the sprint and project. The faster these decisions are made the higher the team’s velocity or productivity, and having a solid understanding of the real goals of the project helps the team make decisions more effectively. Organizations need to learn how share knowledge that today is generally compartmentalized between developers, testers or analysts.

The process of learning and unlearning occurs on a continuum as teams push toward a type of collective self-actualization. As any team moves toward its full potential, the organization’s need to control planning and decisions falls away. If the organization doesn’t back away from the tenants of command and control and move towards the Agile principles, the ability of any team to continue to grow will be constrained.  The tipping point generally occurs when an organization realizes that self-managing and self-organizing teams deliver superior value and higher customer satisfaction and that in the long run is what keeps CIOs employed.