Since I started working as Agile coach, I’ve been seeing the same pattern many times and on different levels:
- Individuals committing themselves to learn, by reading books or blogs for instance, even with a defined plan, and constantly postponing this plan
- Teams committing to dedicate time to self-learning, study groups or coding dojos and cancel these appointments many times (even cancel retrospectives) due to real or artificial urgencies and for the sake of firefighting
- Organizations not taking explicit time to reflect and learn from past experiences (btw the only procedures an Agile organization should have are the ones to allow a systematic continuous improvement)
Many times I challenged developers, ScMs, POs, teams or managers and asked what was impeding them to fulfill their commitment to study or learn and the answer I got most times was:
“You know, we have other priorities this week. We’re responsible to ensure this and this and we cannot spend time on lower importance stuff”.
Priorities, Responsibilities..., but what should we really be responsible for in an Agile organization striving in an age of dramatic changes within a tremendously dynamic environment?
Last week I got inspired by a post I read on Crisp’s blog, called Responsibility the Agile Way.
The main point of the post is that people cannot be responsible for end results, because results depend from many, sometimes not controllable, variables. But people are responsible and must be held accountable for good behaviors, because good behaviors and focus on improvement lead to good results. Here is one sentence that hit me and summarizes my thinking as well:
We are all responsible for contributing with our intelligence and senses for the best of the product and the process.
So, if we’re responsible to improve our product and process, why do people not consider that spending time on learning (retrospective, feedback, self-study, etc.) has at least the same dignity as spending time for coding, testing, reviewing documents or any damned operative meeting?
I think the answer relies partly in the modern western culture approach, but mostly in what are the expectations on employees in the 21st century.
If a bureaucratic organization demands human resources to strictly follow rules, processes and detailed plans to work, a Lean-Agile organization should demand people to continuously improve themselves, their skills, their team and their process as their main duty.
Paraphrasing Steve Denning, I would call it: Radical Responsibility.
And managers’ duty should be not only to state this very clearly, but hold themselves and people accountable for spending time to reflect on how things are going on and coming up with and implement concrete actions to make things better.
Yesterday I was joking (not too much indeed) with a colleague by saying: let’s put Learning in everyone’s Role description.
Eric Ries gives an answer: “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”
I also read an article reporting an executive saying recently "If the rate of learning outside our organization is faster than the rate of learning inside our organization, then we will prepare to die."
Are you preparing to die? Hopefully not.
I wish your people and your organization another kind of disease instead: a tremendous allergy to whatever does not work and a victimizing obsession to learn and make things better :o)