Agile Guilds

We have started the agile transformation in our company 2 years ago with dozens of agile teams and quite a few products (we didn’t start all at one, but rather product by product). One question that is being raised is “are we there yet?” (there == fully agile). We all know we will never get there, since “there” doesn’t exist — this is a never ending journey of continuous improvement, but still the way to “there” is something people look for. We decided that instead of providing people specific prescriptive step-by-step instructions on how to get there, we will provide toolbox of opportunities and teams will decide which tool to take and when. We do this decision making as part of the agile guilds we have.

We have initially built the agile guilds to include only Scrum Masters — I just gathered all Scrum Masters and informed them that starting next week we are going to meet on a weekly basis, share our pain points and work together to improve the overall agile transformation in our company. At the first few meetings, it was mainly me speaking about agile topic and techniques. As people started to know more of each other and started to trust me, the atmosphere has changed. People started to share some pain points which opened great discussions which led to great insights. The guild turned into a team that does mutual decision making. In time, I joined the Product Owners as well. After a year, I also joined the managers to this guild. This was one of the best moves, because once the managers joined the agile guild, they felt part of the process, and their attitude switched from resisting the process into supporting the process. I realized I should have done that much earlier — if I had to do it all over again, I would have joined them to the guild short after I have joined the Scrum Masers. Last, I opened the guild for everyone. I didn’t think that someone else would join, but some team members did join — they wanted to influence the process and contribute to the change.

The agile guild has a re-occurring all-hands meeting where the members of the guild get together and perform horizontal decision making (the members are peers). So, it is not about managers informing non-managers about decisions that were already made without them, but rather peers making decisions with each other. The guild operates in iterations of 2 or 3 weeks and every iteration they choose one or more tools from the toolbox and work to implement them. How do they choose? This is a free discussion that is being facilitated by an internal agile coach.

So far we saw different guilds taking different tools — sometimes they take the tool that they feel comfortable with, sometimes they take the tool that can solve them the most urgent problem, and sometimes they take the tool that will challenge them the most. From my observation so far, all the decisions were correct as it depends on the context of the product, the technology, the people, and the timing. We trust the guilds to get to the right decision for them using huddle discussion.

For more information about peers decision making, read about Management 3.0 Business Guilds.

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