When we think of the term “Be Awesome” we may think of someone who went the extra mile, so to speak, to give us the perception that they cared about our personal needs. Or, we think of an event where we came away with a sense of being united or uplifted by the emotions of the moment. Whether it is exceptional service at a restaurant, or a feeling of euphoria following a concert with your favorite artist, we express these as awesome experiences.
How is this principle of “Be Awesome” applied in Disciplined Agile? If we agree that in order to “Be Awesome” we need to create a very positive emotional response to what we’re delivering, how can we do just that? For that to occur our teams need to be awesome in the way, and in what, they deliver. This means high-performing teams; in the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”. Being awesome can be seen from three separate perspectives:
Be awesome technically. The quality of our deliverables is greatly influenced by how competent we are in our chosen profession. The concept of quality can be difficult to describe, however, so we must be careful about assuming the team is on the same page about what quality means.
In Disciplined Agile we describe quality as something that results in a Delighted Customer. We will discuss this more in a coming blog, but the point here is that in order to have a product that delights, it will take teams that are awesome technically. There are two areas in which the team can reach the goal of being technically awesome:
Skills and competencies: Each team member can reach a higher degree of knowledge and understanding of their chosen profession in an Agile team. One way this is accomplished is by pairing team members of varying degrees of experience with each other. The practice called “Pair Programming” is a great example of this concept. In this practice you can put both experienced and lesser experienced people with similar skillsets together on the same tasks so that learning is infused in the work as you deliver.
Another means of accomplishing this is by cross training the team in various skill sets. Since Agile is highly collaborative, this provides an opportunity for the team to fill in for each other and goes a long way towards solving resource constraints. In Disciplined Agile we recognize that there will be contributors who are needed for specific tasks and deliverables, but we encourage and expect the team members to be dedicated to the effort. In this way, you will be able to cover your resource needs when there is a surge of need in a particular area by making a small upfront investment ensuring your team members are dedicated from the start.
Skills in being an Agile team member: Wouldn’t it be great if we had high-performing teams that could take on any work at any time? You can! But it takes some investment in training, building and coaching your team members to realize that goal.
One of the unfortunate perceptions of Agile is that it is a “free for all” — whatever the team decides to do, they can just run with it. That tends to make management uneasy and unwilling to let go of the traditional command and control mentality. When this occurs, the best value provider that can be found in Agile cannot be realized—the ability to quickly adapt in alignment with customer and organizational goals. In Disciplined Agile, the framework provides for a set of practices that, when trained, coached, and practiced, will lead to your team members being technically proficient in those practices that are appropriate for your situation and satisfy the need to implement effective project delivery controls.
Be awesome organizationally. Organizationally? Although we know we are to be contributors to our team, specifically the goals and objectives of your organizational unit, we may feel that our organization isn’t all that supportive, or even a good place to be. Is there a way we can help our organization become more effective and supportive through Disciplined Agile? We think so!
In Disciplined Agile we find that the framework often contributes to better alignment throughout the organization. One of the key concepts in Disciplined Agile is that we embrace the concept that there is no such thing as “best practice”. This may take you aback at first reading, but what we mean is that there are several “good practices” that can be leveraged for organizational success. The Disciplined Agile framework focuses on coming up with the right delivery “recipe”, or lifecycle, for your initiative, which is then followed by a number of decision trees that lead you to the most appropriate, or “best,” set of practices for your situation.
Although the team is the focus in working through the decision framework, the recognition of what the team is selecting, and how that fits into the larger strategic picture, is where the value lies. Alignment between the delivery teams, other enterprise stakeholders such as your Enterprise Architects and PMO, and senior management is a natural occurrence. And, as long as the customer is engaged at every step, there is a clearer understanding of the delivery expectations and how they can support the effort.
The value realized is two-fold; a) the decision making can be comfortably distributed to the team in order to gain the benefit of aligning decisions as closely to the problem and solution (a key tenet of Agile), and b) general awareness of the choices being made more easily travels throughout the organization and communication is thus enhanced.
Be an awesome leader. One of my favorite movie scenes is in “Hook”, the stars of which are Robin Williams as Peter Pan, and Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook. In this remake of the Peter Pan story there is a point in which Peter announces to the Lost Boys that he is going away, back to his world as an adult. There is a scene where Peter places Rufio in charge and then the Lost Boys start asking who is in charge of this and that. It gets to the youngest of the Lost Boys who asks what he is in charge of, and the answer is “Neverbugs”, the smallest of the creatures in their world.
To me, leadership is like that; everyone can be given a leadership role or function over something, so everyone must have the skills and capabilities to be a leader. This requires training and experience in a leadership role. In fact, in Agile we want everyone to be able to step in and lead in an effective way; in the purest form of Agile, the Scrum Master is a rotating role which is a good role in which to practice leadership.
We could spend much of our time discussing leadership, but in order to have strong and effective Agile leaders we can focus on two aspects:
Be an awesome servant: High-performing teams require highly serving team members. Your Agile teams are required to be empathetic to each other in order to become effective. Yes, this is not a discretionary attribute. If we practice understanding each other’s needs in non-leadership roles it should become natural to do so when asked to step into leadership. I have had the opportunity to serve on very high performing teams, both within the US Army’s Special Forces as well as in leading project teams. What is consistent in both is that knowing what is needed and when, then quickly applying that, is the key to ensuring the team gets to and remains at a high performing level. This is done by being aware of what is going on, both in the situation as well as within the team members.
Be an awesome contributor: In order to be a good leader, we must first be great at being led, giving our attention and then applying our skills and contributions in a way that enhances the team fabric. Earlier we discussed being awesome technically, which applies to being an awesome leader. The more we learn about our specialty, then also learn about the specialties of others, the more we can meaningfully contribute to the team and delivery objectives.
To “Be Awesome” in Disciplined Agile is to be the best individual you can be, both as a contributor as well as a leader, so that the team is stronger than the sum of the individual parts. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, but excellence is within our grasp as long as we keep seeking for it, and not give up when the times, teams, or organization seem incapable or incompetent.
At Projects by Design, we can help! We’d love to hear from you regarding the training and coaching you may require to help you realize the value of aligning your Agile implementation with the Disciplined Agile framework. We can set up customized training and/or consulting to help you reach those goals!