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How to know you are in an Agile Limbo…

Are you using an established Agile framework in your company, but you feel things got stuck and you cannot improve your teams? Sprint by sprint you think things got mechanic, and no real WOW? — Here are the questions to ask to check to diagnose if you are in an Agile Limbo, and how to avoid it.

First of all, let me introduce myself, my name is Eduardo Martins and I am a project manager with more than 15 years of consulting experience delivering projects/programs to all kinds of companies worldwide. I am also an Agilist by heart, passionate about empowering and improving teams. This is the first, of hopefully a series of articles, I intend to write. This comes from the desire to share and enhance knowledge, and as everything in life, comes from my experience of many years living these situations, and may not be your case.

Regardless many years of the Agile manifesto, I still see awkward situations in corporate environment, from startups to big companies, regardless what method they use: SCRUM, KANBAN, SCRUMBAN, etc. — all seem to be compelled to reproduce a single repeatable process, with a lot of set timeboxes and ceremonies, and from there… nothing!

So no more delays, here are the questions you need to ask your teams:

  1. Do you know WHY we are doing this? — If the answer starts with… Because I was told, Because you are boss or Because this is what I am here for, you are in the wrong path. Any of these combinations tells your team really does not know the reason they are doing something, so imagine improving it… NEVER underestimate the power of WHY, it is in the root of everything we do, we always are motivated BECAUSE of something, so if you or someone in your team is motivated JUST by money, something is wrong here… Make sure the motivation is CLEAR for everyone, and that everyone can be motivated by this company goal. Sometimes, it is better to have a smaller team of motivated people than a big team, what can I say… in a Limbo…
  2. Do you know what you are accountable for? — If the answer starts with… I just do my JIRA tickets or I just code/test my stuff, you are in the wrong path again… ACCOUNTABILITY is one of the elements to unleash the power of your teams, and if people do not know what they are accountable for, you are in trouble. Majority of the issues I encountered in companies came from the fact that everyone thought they were just accountable for that part of the process… True, someone would say, but accountability on an Agile perspective is much more than that, for Agile this means OWNERSHIP. Own some part of the product, the feature, the improvement, whatever you are delivering here. To improve something, people need to be given the power to do so. Start with something simple, as you guys are accountable for this little part of XYZ and will not just build, test and deploy. Everything happening with XYZ is your responsibility, this is transforming for the teams!
  3. Do you think you are safe to FAIL here? — If the answer starts with Yes, but I avoid it, or No, we always do it right, not the correct answer again… Teams need to be able to fail safely, otherwise they will never improve… How we can improve something if you are afraid of doing it wrong? Enhance and Celebrate FAILURES, this is the only way to make sure your team is learning. And focus on the LEARNING part of it.
  4. Do you think you have the necessary AUTONOMY to do your job? — If the answer starts with Yes, sure, I have everything I need to keep things right here, or Yes, followed normally with a long pause, you are in trouble again… If you get any No with an explanation, you might be in the right path… Again this comes from the source of Agility. Agile is a PDCA cycle right? And the CHECK act can only happen if people are allowed to try different things. If you contain your team in a series of steps and mandatory processes, frameworks and code standards they will NEVER try something different, and paraphrasing a popular saying, you cannot expect different results doing the exactly same thing, right? Someone would say… Come on, these guys do not even know how to setup the DEV environment, how I can give them freedom? Well, I just have to say, if this is your situation… One of two, either you need to invest on training for your team, or you need to invest on a lot of training for yourself! Good leaders are the ones that let go, that TRUST and GUIDE the teams, and DO NOT confine them into a box. Of course, there are different levels of maturity and learning curves here, but in all levels you can build this kind of trust and give autonomy.

Well, I think this covers the basics, and can give you understanding of why your teams are not improving, and you are not being able to deliver the Agility promise, get better and better over time. In the next articles, I will dive deep on each of the Agile values, and how to make them happen for your teams.

So, are you on in Agile Limbo? — Share your thoughts and comments bellow.



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Eduardo Martins is a servant leader, specialist in Agile and Digital Transformation that enable companies, teams and clients to realize their full potential.