"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Duties and Responsibilities of a 21st century employee

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)


  1. Nice post Giuseppe. I would add some words from the great one in to this context (I think all these new writers loan it from here).

    It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.
    W. Edwards Deming

  2. Great one. I will note it down in my good quotes' library :o)

  3. Nice post!

    I wish people inside organizations can understand the deep value of "learning".

  4. One answer that come to my mind is that until ones does not realize that continuos learning is an "everyday things" and it is part of a common and shared vision, people will always go back to the staff they are surrounded daily. It is like having training for all the disciplines in the Olimpic games without knowning which one to compete 4 years later. So it is in the leaders' responsibility to visualize and convey this vision and then in people in giving the focused training to win the medal.

  5. Fully agree! That's why I wrote : "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."

  6. The need to learn is directly proportional to the product that is managed. If the product is in maintenance mode, the needs are not important as for new products. Innovation is the key: new products drive new learning!

  7. This might be true for technological learning. But learning in my view has a much more generic meaning. It relates to everything you do everyday: it's about your process, your team mates, yourself.
    Everybody should ask himself before leaving home: how much did I learn or help others learn?
    Instead of how many tasks I accomplished.
    Activities do not imply progress necessarily.

  8. Good post but in my opinion, it may not work everywhere. I am referring to the culture of those countries where people have absolutely no understanding of the word "responsibility" and "freedom". Where people are infected with notions of convenience, passing the buck, accepting no mistakes but I am always right is the attitude, see corruption deeply rooted in public life and that has infected the thinking genes so badly that people just want to achieve their self-centered goals by hook or crook be in professional life or public life - in such environment thoughts expressed in this blog may not work. And believe me, I do face this every day where as an Agile coach, on one side I am big fan of preaching all good things of Agile this and on other side, I realize people are simply not fit for agile and how would they be because they are borne and brought up in an environment of lie, deception, fight for petty things, full of ego and prestige, driving rash and blaming others for accidents, show off power and money, throwing garbage anywhere on road, no moral sense and no social rules, no social responsibility.....it seems next to impossible to teach Agile to people with this kind of background

  9. Thanks for your comment. I decided to publish it even if it was anonymous, because I think you have a very good point and your reflections are really valuable.
    I do agree that what I wrote does not work everywhere.
    Responsibility is not an innate quality: it is a skill and it requires a process to build it.
    And it needs to be rooted in a proper ground of values and principles, like openness, trust or respect and continuously watered.
    One does not have to be an expert gardener to know that he cannot get cherries out of an apple tree.
    Thanks again for your contribution and hope you will sign your comment next time :o)

  10. Thanks Giuseppe for publishing my experience. This is Vinay, who posted the Anonymous comment. The problem that I see in India is it abruptly and suddenly got independence in 1947 after being ruled over for thousands of years. In 1947,people were clueless what's freedom is all about? So everyone interpreted freedom in his own way which is convenient to him. Hence social culture and moral values went for toss and results are horrible. Corruption, crime, dowry, male dominated society, Female Foeticide, drugs and alcohol, child labor, castism, riots based on cast and religion, burning public property, throwing garbage on road, no driving rules, adulteration in food items, rape, education and healthcare becoming lucrative & ugly business to loot people etc. I can go on and on. And people who work in offices see all of this this, read this, hear all of this every day. Now doing TRUE AGILE in such a society is like teaching rocket science to a bushman. Just impossible. It will take another 100 years at least for Agile to implement in true sense.