We Should Be Held Accountable
Why We Should Be Held Accountable
When I speak to people (including Agile coaches) from other companies, I tend to see and hear a lot of interesting perspectives. Many buy into the idea of Agile being this cultural shift with everyone sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya and feeling all happy. Personally, I think these people are getting the 10 principles of the Agile Manifesto confused with the 10 principles of Burning Man. In reality, we’re all under a lot of pressure to deliver something. People don’t pay LeadingAgile to just show up and do a magic trick. We dig in and get companies unstuck. We have to work hard to keep teams and organizations moving in the right direction. In order to help ensure delivery commitments are being met, I believe we should be held accountable. Empowerment without accountability becomes chaos…or at least a transformation that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Everyone is Organizationally Accountable
Employers hire people to do work. Employees (including contractors, consultants, and coaches) have skills that contribute to something valuable that employers can sell at a profit. When employers ask if we can get something done in a certain period of time, we can’t refuse to answer the question. We can either say yes unconditionally, say yes but with an alternative timeline with justifications, or just say no. Say yes, and we do everything in our power to make it a reality. In our hearts, we want to keep our commitments. We’re not doing ourselves any favors by making commitments we know we can’t keep. I believe employers respect you more if you say you can’t meet a deadline and explain why, rather than keep saying yes. If you are one of 10 or even 100 employees, and nobody can keep a commitment, I don’t see the business (or at least that employer) lasting for long. We may not feel comfortable with the deadline. We may have to push ourselves. But that’s ok! People are going to be happy, if they are forced to make commitments and then they actually get it done. Why not leverage Agile practices to help keep commitments? Don’t get confused. The goal is not to be Agile. The goal is to get stuff done by focusing attention on the right stuff at the right time, always keeping your eyes and ears focused on what is most important to the business (not you).
I am Personally Accountable
As an Agile Coach, I hold myself personally accountable to a client. We write a statement of work. I commit to do certain things on a certain timeline. I should not accept an assignment if I are unwilling to commit to the deliverables or timelines. Sound familiar? As an Agile Coach, would I ever ask a Scrum team to do less? Sometimes, as coaches, we become myopic. Coaches should understand the engagement from a high level (epic), what timelines or deliverables are valuable to the client (features), and chunk those down into manageable and measurable pieces (stories) that can be demonstrated to the customer on a regular basis. As an Agile Coach, I should be able to use the same metrics I use with client teams. What’s my completion ratio (am I meeting the commitments I recently made)? How long is it taking me to deliver something of value? If the engagement is for a few months, I should know the high level goals. If for just a few weeks, I should have a known list of deliverables with articulated acceptance criteria. Every day, I should be prepared to tell the customer what value I will deliver today and what value I delivered yesterday. Empowerment without accountability becomes chaos. Do you agree? Should we all be more accountable?
Yes. We should be held accountable for the 12 principles of the agile manifesto, along with the 4 values.
Larry, I do agree that as practitioners we should uphold the principles and values of the manifesto. But, do you believe there should there be accountability beyond that?
Hi Derek, great article, it’s made me reflect on this subject somewhat. I find it helpful to think about accountability as “being held to account for your actions”, i.e. to justify why you did what you did. So often the biggest challenge is that there is inadequate empowerment, support and backing for those being held to account. For example, developers are often told they must commit to deadlines and estimates they were not party to creating, and are then held accountable when their work is late and/or over budget; in such situations it’s clear why so many people want to shy away from accountability. It’s very much a two-way street, if managers want to hold their staff to account they too must be accountable for creating the right conditions for the staff to make good quality decisions.
Edster, thank you for reading and for your comment. Too often, we say we empower our teams. We then qualify that empowerment by saying they have to align with a commitment they didn’t initially agree to. Back in the day, I was guilty of occasionally telling a developer, “that’s great that you estimated five days. You need to have it done in three.” What I should have done was asked, “I know you said you need five days. What can you get me in three?” First, we need to ask the question. Second, we need to do a better job of respecting the answers of those we pose the questions to. Are we listening or just waiting to talk? Are we asking or dictating? It’s a failure of leadership, if the accountability only flows one way.
I agree. It seems that those ‘interesting perspectives’ you mention might come from not properly understanding the distinction between individual behavior, and system capabilities. It was Deming that called quotas and deadlines ridiculous…and suggested that we substitute leadership instead, but his was a system approach. Agile is also system-level, in which individual accountability is largely irrelevant because the system’s capability is what matters. One shouldn’t transfer values applicable to systems, to personal accountability. Its OK to hold yourself accountable as a Coach/Consultant, while still maintaining that the team should not be accountable for its ‘commitments’ – as they are completely different things.