How much of a risk do traditional managers face if they don’t embrace agility?
I can give you an example that I heard the other day.
I spoke to a member of a scrum team, who worked with a product owner that was quite dictatorial.
Actively telling people what to do and attempting to micro-manage members of the team.
There was a specific member of the team who had recently lost their father, only 2 days previously, and the team were battling to pick up the slack given the rigid and unrealistic timelines demanded by the product owner.
After the deadline had passed, the product owner made a point of humiliating and embarrassing the whole team, showing no compassion for the team member who was still grieving his father, and zero gratitude for the team going the extra mile to pick up the slack and attempt to deliver against an unrealistic deadline.
The product owner demonstrated:
- A lack of empathy
- A lack of self-awareness
- Misalignment with agile values and principles
- A disregard for people, especially in their most trying moments, and their challenges.
- A disregard for the challenges of working through complexity and uncertainty.
- A lack of respect for the scrum roles, and a misunderstanding of their role within scrum.
In essence, they viewed themselves as a project manager who drives outcomes and presumed that product development in a complex, uncertain environment is no different to a simple application, such as moving bricks from the truck to the warehouse.
The impact on the scrum team
- Team morale takes a significant dive when people are humiliated despite giving their best.
- People hide mistakes because they fear public humiliation and embarrassment.
- The focus shifts from producing great work to getting work out the door to hit a deadline.
- People take shortcuts to ship something with no regard to customer satisfaction.
- The focus shifts from creating the most valuable product and producing the most valuable work to ensuring that the product owner gets what they demand.
In short, performance drops significantly and the focus shifts to satisfying a single autocratic leader rather than creating and capturing value for the organization and its customers.
Problems that ensue:
- A single person develops a belief in magic. That anything is possible, within the timeframes they demand, regardless of what the reality of the situation is.
- Executives, leaders, customers, and stakeholders experience constant disappointment and frustration because the promises being made by the product owner can not be delivered by the team.
- A significant drop in the quality of the work being produced.
- A significant drop in the degree and quality of innovation within the organization.
- A significant drop in customer satisfaction, leading to decreasing customer retention.
- A significant increase in the vulnerability of the organization from competitor disruption.
- At the extreme end, a significant drop in revenue and loss of market share.
And so forth.
The purpose of agility in product development.
We operate in a complex environment, filled with uncertainty, and our work is not predictable.
The problem has never been solved before and the solution has never been built before.
Even if we bring a group of experts and specialists together, there are no guarantees that we will solve the problem or create the solution.
We need people to be inspired, filled with a sense of purpose, and motivated to achieve the product vision and goal. We need them to dig deep and create products, features, and services that truly delight our customers. We need them to solve the most compelling customer and organizational problems.
You don’t achieve this by cracking a whip.
You achieve it by creating an environment where agility, excellence, creativity, and collaboration can thrive. You achieve it by removing impediments that block progress and solving internal, organizational problems that prevent the team from producing their best work.
The product owner in this example simply won’t survive the outcomes associated with their behaviour. A significant drop in productivity, quality, and morale is immediately attributable to that person and the metrics will bear witness to that.
A savvy leader or executive will see the drop in performance and eliminate the cause of the problem.
In the unlikely event that nobody does anything, it is simply a matter of time before customers leave and turn to competitors for the product quality and standards they need. In this scenario, the product and organization simply get deleted and everyone loses their jobs.
So, either way, somebody will lose their job, or everyone will lose their jobs.
A lack of agility leads to organizations being crushed by competitors or being starved of innovation and competitive advantage because the best people leave the toxic environment.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #organizationalagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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