Have you ever heard about the "Agile Revolution"? Leadership expert and author Alan Willett reveals a real story about a company starting an Agile Transformation that is now questioned.
What Needs to be done by Agile Development Leaders
The first thing development leaders must do is to understand the context of executive pressures. Executives are under pressure to innovative solutions in a competitive marketplace. They are under even higher pressure to deliver those solutions to customers quickly.
The executives’ greatest wish is that their companies think of the innovative idea first. They then want to develop the idea much faster and with less investment than any competitor. Anything longer than now and more expensive than free is a compromise that the executive knows they have to make.
The development leaders must show they understand these pressures. They must show that they, as leaders, and subsequently the development teams, know more, care more, and do more about the executive’s goals than the executives could themselves. The executive is paying this group of developers to be the experts. Thus, they must rise to the occasion and be the experts.
To do this, development teams must do the following four things regardless of the methodology they use.
• Focus on the value to the customer. Developers must relentlessly focus on achieving the organization’s goals for its customers. Every conversation should start by showing that understanding.
• Provide the executives every option for going faster to the value desired. The developers should consider every possible way to achieve speed to the goal. The quickest way is not always the cheapest way. If they think that buying a million Euro widget would help them go one month faster, they must present that option. They should consider all serious options whether those options are inside or outside their control.
• Make commitments they can keep or beat. We all have some friends who are almost always on time. We are likely also to have some who always show up late. Development leaders should vow to be the first kind of friend when leading projects. That means they must create realistic schedules even though they deal with uncertainty. They need to present their best estimate of the delivery date. They must provide this data even if it a hard-reality for the executive to hear.
• Deliver high-quality value to the customers. Indeed, most executives I have worked with don’t talk about quality as much as they should. Why? Because they think it doesn’t have to be said. They do expect high-quality products. They do expect teams to be customer focused. They do expect teams to build rock-solid systems with little to no technical debt.
Regardless of whether the executives explicitly ask for these things or not, development teams must take ownership of them. Doing so shows that you care more, know more, and do more about the project than anyone else could.
What Needs to be Done by Executives
When I tell executives, like Alex, about the messages that developers are receiving they are astounded. From this point of surprise, I coach executives to be very clear about their expectations of excellence.
I detailed an example of expectations of excellence in a previous article “4 Things You Must Ask of Your Development Teams”. Here is a concise summary of the expectations you must make clear to your development teams.
1. Maintain a relentless focus on value to the customers.
2. Deliver high-quality solutions.
3. Bring options for ways to go faster.
4. Make commitments you can keep or beat.
For these expectations of excellence to be known and followed through on by your development teams, you must repeat them often and emphasize them in the questions you ask. You achieve clarity through your effective communication. Before you ask for a date commitment, first ask what value the team is trying to bring to the customer. Next, ask how they are making sure the solution will be of measurable high quality. Then ask about the options and design methods they considered for going faster.
Only after you ask those excellence-focused questions is it time to ask what schedule commitment they are going to make. Note that different methodologies fit the Agile Manifesto. You should make it clear to your teams that the development methodology they choose to use is up to them.
The proper implementation of the methodology is their responsibility. Make it clear that meeting the expectations of excellence is the ultimate goal they are working to achieve with their methodologies. Be sure the methodology selected contains tools to achieve excellence. It is up to the development teams to show you that they do care more, know more, and do more about the projects than anyone else can.
Working together, Matti, Alex, and I resolved the major friction point of the communication issue in the way described in this article. To be clear, the full resolution of the problem set was not just the communication issue. Alex had to work to be clear about expectations and to follow through on those expectations. Alex had to ask more questions than about schedule, and that did take practice.
Matti’s team had work to do in making commitments they could keep. They had significant work to do in improving quality. All that work started with the recognition that the executive and the development team shared the same goal. They all wanted to deliver products they were proud of that are useful and used by their customers.
PS: I have a short booklet called “100+ Questions that Lead Teams to Build Smart, Aggressive, Project Plans”. Many executives and development leaders have found it helpful to them. They then know 99 questions to ask beyond the question, “Are you done yet?”
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