Let them know
An Agile Transition can be a difficult thing for those that have previously been responsible for direction or closely monitoring people’s activities. Often, new techniques and approaches need to be learned and practiced.
Even with the most co-operative person trying to make this change can be difficult. I often hear talk of uncooperative managers or middle managers and wonder if they have been given a fair chance to succeed in the new approach.
This is just one example, but you’ll see the same could apply to many situations.
I describe the situation as “Let them Know”.
Here’s a scenario...
A development manager new to Scrum in charge of 30 people “wants to do the right thing” (their words).
The manager is looking for a place to start changing his behaviour to help the team, the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster succeed. Sounds good right !?
Through coaching with the manager and with the team’s ScrumMaster and Product Owner, everyone agrees that the next Sprint, they will really change their focus and for the first time, will allow the team to make their own commitment during planning without any influence whatsoever. They also agree that they won’t push the team and assign tasks to get the stories done.
This is of course, the ideal we all have learned. The team making it’s own decision.
In this particular example, the team did not complete their work, or even have any idea of what they needed to do. Planning was inappropriate, the team devolved into complete chaos.
After careful facilitation during their retrospective, the team realized that they did not KNOW that the manager was changing their behaviour.
The resulting retrospective indicated that if they had known they suddenly had this new responsibility, they might have taken it.
There are other questions to be asked about the role of the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster and what they might have done, but for now let's focus on the specific role of the manager in this situation.
Self-organization is a wonderful thing. But, give your teams a chance (and the managers who are trying to change). Consider letting people know that you intend on changing your approach and ask them what you can do to support them in this change.
Surely, if they don’t know you changed the rules of the game on them, then it’s really not right to say afterward. “See, I told you they wouldn’t self-organize”. The problem might be, do they even know they can? In many command and control environments, people are not used to having the autonomy to make their own decisions. A sudden change to this without letting people know their new rights (and responsibilities) is just going to result in failure.
Remember, just because you change your behaviour, it doesn’t mean that next Sprint the team will miraculously do so. You can’t just flick a switch.
Consider letting people know you are changing your approach. It might not work for everyone, but some might appreciate knowing that you intend on doing so.
They might just surprise you and succeed as opposed to feeling bad because they just didn’t know your approach was changing.
Just a thought.