You might not expect to encounter the "delegation" concept in a blog post about agile software
development. After all, agile is all about the "self governing team." But in the
real world, if you are in a company which is transitioning to agile, and you are the project manager of
a newly created agile team, you may well need to consider how to create a situation around your team
that allows self-governance to emerge without making you completely crazy. In real life, your
first few weeks with your agile team can seem like your worst nightmare. This is not because there
is something wrong with you. This is completely predictable. Stop blaming
If your team is used to having you, as a project manager, take all the responsibility, and you suddenly stop telling people what to do, (along with not setting up their meetings, not taking their notes, and not getting them a projector every single time for every single meeting), you should not expect them to do what is needed, no matter what the Agile Founding Fathers say. Instead, your team members, being humans, will go ahead and take advantage of you and do whatever they feel like doing. And remember, they are under a bunch of stress themselves with this whole "agile transformation" thing, so you're not seeing them at their best.
As William Godwin argued more than 200 years ago in his anarchist treatise Political Justice, your team is inevitably the product of its enterprise environment--it took years to get them to be the way they are, and they aren't going to morph into self-governing team members in ten seconds. You can't throw a group of micromanaged developers into a team room and expect them to divide into pairs and start offering to help the testers.
It is beyond all controversy that men who live in a state of equality, or that approaches equality, will be frank, ingenuous and intrepid in their carriage; while those who inhabit where a great disparity of ranks has prevailed will be distinguished by coldness, irresoluteness, timidity and caution. (Chapter IV)
He has quite the way with words, doesn't he? Anyway, the point is that the first steps of an
agile transition may be experienced by a project manager as a time where people keep telling her to STOP
DOING EVERYTHING HERSELF, and yet the work isn't getting done. That's not the PM's
fault, but the PM is in a position to gradually bring the team around, especially if they have a coach
hanging around to help.
I realized this week that this "you need to let go" message isn't something new. This is a special case of the age-old problem of "delegation." New managers are always taken to task for "doing everything themselves" and not "delegating" as though you should just fecklessly throw your responsibilities out there and hope for the best. That never made sense, and it doesn't make sense now that you're a newly minted agile project manager. So what do you do?
I have had the privilege of participating in a leadership training program headed up by Brian McDonald at MOR and Associates, and during this program we addressed the issue of delegation head-on. In this training, we distinguished between the end goal, which is indeed to have the people responsible for their own actions (or by extension, those of their team), and the MEANS to that end goal, which have a particular shape. Here are the phases:
Like everything else in this world that has any value at all, a self-governing team is carefully cultivated and grown. It cannot be created by fiat. Your goal should be that you no longer have to supply all of the passion and all the accountability, but please don't blame yourself if the team isn't able to step up immediately the first time you try it.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.