Accountability to enable your teams to get out of the Agile limbo…

For those who have been following me, it is time to talk about the second most important Agile value that is liberating to get your teams out of the Agile Limbo —ACCOUNTABILITY! If you still do not know what I am talking about here, this means you might be inside it! So, I recommend you to check my original article in this series, Are you in an Agile Limbo, that gives you a first clue on diagnosing why your teams are not performing.

OK, getting back to today’s topic, all starts with the answers to the questions we ask our teams here, right? — Do you know what you are accountable for? If the answer points you to a routine, any routine like I am accountable for my tickets inside my sprint… This means you need to work hard to get out of it! And WHY it is important for everyone in your team to feel accountable? Because in Agile, Accountability means OWNERSHIP, means that giving something for someone to own is the only way to make them outperform, to make them think out of the box, to make them want that so badly, that they care, and when they start caring for things that are tied to a company goal via MOTIVATION, then magic happens! 

Some would say OK Eduardo, again nice words, magic clicks… But feels a little abstract to me. How I can give something for these guys to own if they do not know what I am talking about. Here we go, pointing in the right direction... Start from the top, do you know what are YOU accountable for in the company? You as an Agile leader, really know what you OWN inside the company? You do not own just a team, just a process, just a formal structure, you need to own WHAT transform your company VISION into achievable goals. Remember the links we talked about in the MOTIVATION article? So start with that… STOP saying I am responsible for a team of 24 people that runs bi-weekly sprints, and START saying I OWN my company app/service/whatever that enables my customers to REALIZE my company vision! When you and your leadership start to understand that, and they give you the necessary AUTHORITY and FREEDOM to really own it, you are in the right track… You need to OWN what makes your customers happy, and makes them realize the COMPANY vision. And in Agility, this is called the VALUE stream.

Oh, nice! I know I am accountable for the company app/service, and not just a bunch of people, so what? How can I translate that to my teams? I would say that, if you really sorted that out, you are lucky, as the majority of the Agile leaders I saw out there lacked this... You know why? Because this requires TRUST, as trust and AUTHORITY couples together, you can only OWN something if your leadership trusts you to do so, and this is also true for your teams. So, if you think you do not trust your team for getting that far, work on that! Maybe you need better people, maybe you need to train your people to be able to trust them, maybe you just need to let it go! But do it, because only with TRUST you can give people real ownership, and true accountability happens.

If you got here, 80% percent of the work is done! Because just in that state, you are ready to translate that down to your teams. Now start decomposing your teams, give them AUTHORITY to own little parts of the value stream to your customer. In DEV teams, this would mean creating squads/people accountable for parts of the app, but in other areas could be I own customer service, or I own orders delivery. You do not even need to have a decoupled architecture/process for that. Give people power, make clear to the teams exactly what they own! You will see that automatically people will start to improve it, willing to make that happen so badly, they will start to really own it. And not just that little part of it. They will start to understand that they own the results. They own all the parts of the value stream, including the iteration between the teams, what happens with that when this goes live, what happens when a customer complains, and so on… And when you have teams after teams, really owning their things, yes man, I will say it again, magic happens!

So, are you ready to use Accountability to enable your teams, and get them out of the Agile Limbo? — Let me know in the comments below.

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Eduardo Martins is an Agile leader with more than 15 years of consulting experience delivering projects/programs to all kinds of companies worldwide. Agilist by heart, he is passionate about empowering and improving teams. Eduardo holds a bachelor and post graduations in Information Technology, and is certified in a series of Agile methods, holding certifications like PMP, Scrum Master, Six Sigma Black Belt, and more recently he was recognized as one of the firsts PMI Disciplined Agile Lean Scrum Masters in the world. An Agility writer he publishes in specialized media as Medium and PMLink.com. He also hosts AgilityTalks in Youtube where he invite practice leaders to talk Agility.

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