New to agile? Remember to respect people

norespectOne of the Lean Principles is “Respect People.”  I think it may be the most important lean principle.  When I teach a course and get to this principle I tell people I have yet to see any organization which does this really well.  They are all shocked to hear this so I go on to tell them why.  First of all, respect of people is not all about making sure employees have sufficient compensation and benefits.  In fact most salary surveys show being able to take pride in their work as the number one job satisfaction criteria.  In other words, respect the employee’s contribution and it will mean more than a few extra dollars!  But lack of respect is much deeper than just job satisfaction.

I ask groups about how their development process dovetails with release.  Almost every organization ends up cutting corners in testing in order to meet an arbitrary date.  Is that respectful of the people who do the testing?  Is it being respectful of the customer who pays for the product?  Is it even being respectful of the developers who rely on testing in the process to ensure the quality of their software?  What about when we give unrealistic delivery dates?  Is that being respectful of everyone on the team?  I sometimes hear managers tell me things like “If I didn’t give them an unrealistic date then they wouldn’t work as hard.”  Really?  What is going on in software development when we have to give unachievable goals in order to hit some other unknown date?  Clearly we aren’t respecting our teams enough to trust them to deliver.

As I said earlier, respecting people is vitally important.  One exercise I do in my courses is to have the attendees break into small groups and imagine they have the magic wand that spreads respect wherever they wave it.  The group then discusses where they would wave the wand immediately and what results they would expect after the wand did its magic.  The results are often startling discoveries of significant team and organizational improvements which can be easily achieved just by working differently!

At your next iteration retrospective you might want to suggest improving in the area of respecting people.  Use the group exercise above to uncover hidden areas for improvement.  Below are some examples from real classes:

  • Wave the wand at the developers so they would understand the need for them to truly support acceptance test-driven development.  Without their support the testers are left to do manual testing which is inefficient and not a good use of time.  With developer support we could do far more testing and we would be working more closely with developers to ensure quality of the product.
  • Wave the wand at the product council so they would understand the need for overall portfolio management with clear priorities.  Using the priority 1, 2, 3 system is not working because we always work on priority 1 items and we never know their relative importance to each other.
  • Wave the wand at our team because we sometimes forget how hard it is to get real answers from our customers.  Once we start regularly delivering on our commitments our product people can build trust with our customer base and we can all start to work in a way which is much more agile.
  • Wave the wand at our project managers who continue to try command and control in an agile environment.  Command and control doesn’t work in agile because of the speed and need for the team to be empowered to make reasonable decisions and solve difficult problems with guideance rather than interference.

As you can see, respect issues are everywhere.  Most teams would benefit from trying to improve respect over the course of a few iterations.  Try it and see where you end up.  I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

Until next time I’ll be respecting people because it is a big part of Making Agile a Reality®!

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