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A Critical Factor in Agile Methodology
In our current IT industry the term agile is often referenced to iterative development: delivery in small components of business value, breaking down your project in sprints, holding your daily scrum meetings, having a scrum master, etc.
But one key component is often missed in this cycle, that is the concept of self leadership. Traditional north American project management models are structured when you have certain key personnel managing resources assigned below (like a pyramid). In order for agile to work effectively, we need to start imposing the concepts of self-leadership, therefore, flatten the pyramid. This means that if your entire team took on the leadership tasks of your typical project manager, your scrum master would slowly turn into your facilitator and your team would be increasing accountability, thus driving the delivery.
What do we mean by self leadership and how do we instill it within our teams?
Think of you as a division manager. Now, the training that your would provide to your leadership team must be transcended to your entire organization.
How do we do that? How do you instill this on a larger scale ?
Consider Stephen Coveys 7 habits of highly successful people
The First Three Habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e., self mastery):
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Synopsis: Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life's principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in delivering . Take responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences that follow.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Synopsis: Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Synopsis: Plan, prioritize, and execute your week's tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you toward goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.
The next three have to do with Interdependence (i.e., working with others):
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Synopsis: Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Synopsis: Use empathetic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.
Habit 6: Synergize
Synopsis: Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.
The Last habit relates to self-rejuvenation or retrospects:
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Synopsis: Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective solutions delivery.
If you could instill these habits in each one of your team members you are in fact instilling leadership within the team. The responsibility of training the team or of coaching the team could be part of the tasks of your scrum master. Leadership training should not stop at the management level – have your scrum masters assign leadership training/coaching to their respective groups.
For example - when the team is having a conflict about business priority of certain work, it is very easy for a scrum master to jump in and clarify the priority. However, by instilling leadership in the team, the scrum master can coach the members to take ownership on certain issues and directly follow up with the product owner.
There is no magic pill to this, it definitely takes great effort and creativity to get your team on that level.
You probably are wondering what kind of benefits would you see in investing in your team on such a level? First, self leadership induces self accountability and it is known that accountability increases ownership and delivery.
Instead of your developers seeing their work as a black box, they are managing themselves, they are managing their coworkers, and managing upwards in order to reach this mutual goal of delivery for a particular sprint – as opposed to just focusing of finishing their tasks and moving on to the next project.
When they start managing upwards, key issues will start rising to the surface earlier instead of having the typical project manager constantly having to probe the team for issues, obstacles, etc. The team will raise the issues themselves.
This is a critical factor for agility – so you need to instill leadership in order to fully implement the agile approach within your project and/or organization. This involves managers holding back from taking decision that will have a direct impact on how the team will operate. Instead, he or she can ask questions to challenge the team and give opportunities to everyone to express themselves.
One of the key indicators you will observe, when your team is turning towards self leadership, is that they will be driving the daily scrums. The purpose of daily scrum is to manage dependencies and, usually, this is a project manager’s responsibility. When your team members start managing their own dependencies, you will see the difference. In fact, a Scrum Master needs to focus only on making sure team members are talking for 1-2 minutes maximum and provide assistance on a need be basis to remove impediments or roadblocks that would prevent the team from working on sprint activities.
To conclude, self leadership is when your team is taking full accountability and is driving the delivery of your projects, then you can say you are fully agile. Again, it is important to remember, there is no magic pill, but with effort and the right coaching, achieving an agile team is possible.
Shanila Karim is a special contributor in agileDSS’ BI blog and a partner at Versa Inc.
After 10 years+ of solid business analyst experience and working with agile methodologies – Shanila has learned to fuse them for implementing agile best practices to solve complex business problems.
Otherwise known as the woman with many hats – she also holds experience in various project roles as an Engineer – Software Developer – QA Tester – Team Leader – Project Manager
Versa is a consulting firm focused on helping clients with their agile data warehousing and business intelligence initiatives
Versa Delivery specializes in:
- agile delivery of DW-BI programs
- agile coaching for project managers, scrum masters and solution architects
- agile assessment studies and roadmaps
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