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Rearranging the Deck Chairs

I’m in a couple of “Agile” groups on LinkedIn. Every day, I read articles and polls about various topics:

  • Which is more important: Cycle Time or Velocity?

  • What’s the best outcome for a good retrospective?

  • Who is the “real” leader of an agile team?

  • Which role should be responsible for <task name here>?

These topics miss the point. The nature of agility dictates the answer -- IT DEPENDS!

Agile practitioners get paid well for what they do. If they are playing the role as a member of an Agile team, facilitating meetings and coaching Agile practices isn’t the reason for the hefty paycheck. It’s critical thinking skills!

Agile professionals not only need to use critical thinking skills, they must teach them. The power of well-timed questions must be employed whenever a learning opportunity presents itself. Agile professionals earn their big paychecks when they employ their knowledge and skills to grow the team.

Suppose you are in a planning meeting. The team is discussing a new feature they want to build based on feedback they’ve received from users. As you listen, the conversation centers around a specific group of users. You interject, “What about this other group of users?” Whether you asked the question because you know the other users have different needs or not doesn’t matter. You asked the question so that the whole team could think about it.

One of two outcomes is likely: the team decides there’s no impact and moves on or decides to expand their thinking about the feature. You have demonstrated critical thinking and encouraged others to ask such questions.

The skills needed to pull this off are considerable. You must understand a little about every aspect of the product team’s work. You must be a strong coach. You must have courage in the face of personal risk. I’ve been mowed down hard for “derailing the team” in meetings. For every time that has happened, I can count dozens of situations in which I expanded the team’s thinking. I usually don’t get credit for it. That’s fine. I take satisfaction in watching the team generate better ideas based on my innocuous question.

Far too many Agile professionals lack the skills, experience, knowledge, and courage to do the job well. The various certification programs do little to ameliorate this situation. If you are an Agile professional, study how to coach, study how to facilitate, and be curious about everyone’s job. Take time to shadow the developers, QA engineers, UX designers, and product leaders. Read articles about your industry. Always look for new and different ways of approaching value for stakeholders and customers.

Change is hard, and people resist it. Agile professionals are change agents. Expect to meet with resistance. Expect to get mowed down occasionally. It’s part of the job and is why you get the big bucks!

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