Five Color Highligher

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Reciprocity is a social norm across societies and in all age cohorts, where a recipient responds to a positive action with another positive action. The concept of reciprocal agreements is part of our socialization that teaches us to share, take turns and give back to those who give to us.  Reciprocal agreements are part of working and playing well with others that we begin learning on the playground and then bring to the office with us. There are many types of reciprocal agreements in a typical agile project. Agreements between the development portion of the team and the product owner(s), between a scrum master and the product owner, between the scrum master and the development portion of the team and finally between the whole team and the stakeholders.  Most of these agreements are informal or are inherited from the twelve principles in the Agile Manifesto. Reciprocal agreements impact how every member of the team and the broader organization interact. There are five common examples of reciprocal agreements that illustrate how important the idea of reciprocal agreements is to a Scrumy version of agile.

Agreements between the developers (broad definition) and the product owner.

  • The team commits to deliver what they accept and the product owner agrees to not change what the team is working on in the sprint/iteration.  Earlier in the evolution of agile this agreement was a more public and forceful attestation; however, it is still an important agreement because it establishes trust and allows the developers to focus and avoid context switching.
  • The team agrees to deliver what the product owner and stakeholders need and ask for rather than an arm’s length interpretation and the product owner and other stakeholders agree to be available to interact with the team as needed.

Agreements between the whole team and the organization

  • The team agrees to reflect on how they are doing their work periodically and the greater organization agrees to allow, and at least tacitly, fund the evolution of how the team works.  Evolutionary change is at the core of agile. Retrospectives are a tool so the team inspects the work they deliver, how they deliver that work and then adapts so they can deliver more effectively.
  • The team will self-organize and self-manage to deliver value effectively and efficiently and the product owner or product management will provide a vision and goal to guide the team.  Giving the team flexibility to better organize based on the context of the work only makes sense if the team understands where the organization wants them to go.

Agreements between the team the non-technical stakeholders.

  • The stakeholders will decide what they want and need and the team will decide how to technically solve the problem.  The agreement is critical and often broken. Super users tell the team how to technically address the problem. I once watched a sales executive tell a project team which coding language they should use for a plug-in.  Equally as harmful, I have seen coders and testers who believe they understand the market better than product owners. In most cases, breaking this agreement is a sign of hubris and destroys trust.

The goal of these reciprocal agreements and the others that teams establish is to lay out behavioral norms and boundaries so that everyone can do their job in an atmosphere of trust.  In the end, trust is key to getting what you want when you need it and when people start to color outside the lines that the team can understand without overreacting.

Essays on reciprocity:

Reciprocity and Reciprocal Agreements In Action

Five Reciprocal Agreements In Agile

Reciprocity or Manipulation? Seven Simple Questions

Negative and Unhealthy Reciprocity