Lack team autonomy might be the biggest reason why transition from traditional organisation to Agile fails. Team autonomy rather clearly stated in the Agile Manifesto, but for some reason it is often ignored or maybe just not understood. It is the heart of Agile, so it should not be ignored!
Pattern for success
Agile methodologies have been hot topic in software development for quite a while. Some people seems to have almost like religious crusade about Agile, while some just hate it. I stand behind Agile, but without religious rage. Transition to Agile is not easy and if done wrong, it will just add extra processes over old ones.
To have successful transition to Agile there is one extremely important Agile principle to follow. In my opinion, it is THE core idea behind Agile. Let’s forget Agile for a moment and I’ll tell you about my experiences in SW development work.
I’ve been working in many companies, varying from huge international corporations to single team offices. Been doing waterfall, Agile and totally unorganized coding, but sometimes my team has been very productive and sometimes not. During years I started to realize that the pattern behind successful team is the autonomy of the team.
Every independent team I have been working has been extremely productive and motivated. We were able to do given work in the way we wanted, decide about our team’s internal issues and nobody told us how to code. We were trusted as professionals and we wanted to show that we are worth the trust. Of course in situation like that, team’s responsibility is bigger than normally, but we knew that and did everything to succeed. Even the pressure was bigger, Working was fun and whole team was highly motivated.
In teams where we had some productivity issues, we were far from independent. We had to follow heavy processes, there were a lot of micro management and we were instructed even in technical details, just like we would not be able to do our jobs. Sometimes these problems were even disguised as “Agile”, but in reality those were just extra process and rituals. Lack of freedom can definitely kill motivation.
Agile and autonomy
How Agile changes things? The whole Agile Software Development has been summarized in the Agile Manifesto, which contains the core principles of Agile thinking. One of the principles is to value individuals, which has been specifically explained to contain things like self-organization and motivation. For example in Scrum methodology this is achieved by granting huge amount of freedom to the team. Basically team will get a list of work items (backlog) and the team decides how they do the actual work. Team also has agreed amount of time (sprint) and during that there cannot be any outside interventions.
For project manager used to waterfall approach, this might sound like a disaster, but it is not. Team members are professionals and they should know the best how to do their work.
I love sporting metaphors, so here’s one for example of a football (soccer) team. Players can decide themselves which kind of shoes and size of clothes they use. There might be some limitations by the rules, but team organization or coach is not forcing everyone to use same size shoes and shorts. Nobody interrupts players during their dribble and tell where they should pass the ball or how to score. Coach might try to yell something, but the real coaching is happening during the time-outs and between the matches. Managers of the team are not giving any instructions during matches, even they have been hiring players. All this is obvious for professional sports team, isn’t it? I think it should be obvious also in software development.
Now try to figure out from that example, who is Scrum Master, Product Owner and where other managers are 🙂
Leaders must be brave enough to give enough autonomy for the team to decide how they do their work – doesn’t matter is it Agile or not. This will give boost to their motivation and productivity. If Agile is used correctly, team is like a small independent company where everyone works as one of the owners – and their motivation is guaranteed to be high. Autonomy of the team is the heart of Agile.