What makes it work: congruence, simplicity, uniqueness
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This message is not only targeted to Product Owners and their teams, but also to management and executive:
Providing with a vision is the cornerstone of self-organization.
Let’s have a look at what is expected to happen in a company:
- The CEO or the executive committee provides with a vision for the company. This enables each department to organize itself at best to meet the vision.
- Project or product provide with a vision for the project or product. Each team making up this project or product appropriates this general vision and takes decisions to achieve it.
- Product Owners provide their development teams with issues to solve, at the end of the day this is a vision of the upcoming product. The development teams take on to find the best solution to make this vision a reality.
In each of these examples, somebody shares a vision but doesn’t take over execution. The doers organize as they see fit to get it done — in fact, they organize in the best possible way because, it is proven fact, the best hierarchical level to make a decision is the lowest possible level able to make the decision. Indeed this vision is what will make it happen instead of resorting back to micro-management.
So we articulate an abstract need, a business objective to achieve or an issue to solve and we don’t point to any solution, list of tasks to do or organization to put in place.
And this is how you let self-organization foster.
For instance by providing Product Owners with objectives to achieve rather than features to specify without thinking.
Or by providing engineers with issues to solve rather than solutions to implement without thinking.
Why? It’s simple, really:
Let’s say that you provide me with a plan and instructions rather than a vision. What happens when the plan must be changed? I have to ask you what to do.
And we’re working in Agile precisely because plans eventually change or are updated — sooner or later.
Vision is a choice-making tool
On the other hand, if you provide me with a vision — in other words when you truly share the significance of what we want to achieve — then I am able to choose the action to be taken, in autonomy and at my level. I will consider the alternatives and I will choose the one that moves us the most closer to this vision.
Even better, I will make this choice while taking into account product and technical constraints, which I know better than you because I am in the action. Indeed, I am the doer, I am the expert.
Thanks to the vision, I am able to make choices, at my level.
What makes a good vision?
These are the qualities that I find vital to build a good vision:
- The vision must be congruent with actions and behaviors of the team as well as those of the management. Congruence: to do like I say and to to say like I do. Thus, what’s in the roadmap (what I do) must be aligned with the vision (what I say). Management cannot task the team with things that go against the vision. The team has the right — no, the duty — to wave the vision as a shield against requests that go against the vision.
- The vision must be a choice-making tool that enables the team to make choice without asking managers.
- The vision must be simple. If the vision is convoluted then the team will have a hard time trying to assimilate it and will resort to ask guidance to managers — in other words, the vision will not be usable as a choice-making tool. (see previous point)
- The vision must be unique, meaning that only one direction is given. If the vision gives two objectives to achieve at once, then how to settle when a topic sets these two objectives in conflict?
The power of ‘no’
During our feedback given at Agile en Seine, Richard placed considerable emphasis in knowing how to say ‘no’. I can only agree with him. These are a few consequences on the team of the previous inability to say no:
- Outrageous technical debt accumulated over time
- A theoretically simple product that ends up bloated with complexity
- Slow team, having a hard time to to deliver well, quickly and often
In short, it was not a pretty sight.
So how do you come to say ‘no’? Well, precisely with a vision!
We are not looking for super-heroes. Our focus and capabilities are limited. We need this vision to know where and how to spend our limited supply of energy.