Define Agile Behaviors We Want to Reinforce in an Agile Career Ladder, Part 2

Part 1 discussed a typical career ladder. I said that when we focus on individual achievements and deliverables, we ignore the agile system of work.

Worse, when we reward individual achievements we prevent an agile culture. That's because agile teams learn together as they create the product. We need career ladders that reward working together.

There's an interesting reinforcing feedback loop here:

  • The team learns by working together.
  • The team works by learning together.

That reinforcing loop has a large implication:

The more a team learns and works together, the less anyone outside the team can understand what one person contributes alone.

The team's learning and working are invisible to other people. The only thing external people can see is the duration of the team's feedback loops. (See Multiple Short Feedback Loops Support Innovation for more information.)

However, we can see evidence of several kinds of behaviors that encourage agility.

Agile Behaviors for Learning and Working Together

I hesitate to call these “agile” behaviors, but I don't have a better word. I think, in terms of the Modern Management Made Easy books, these behaviors support how a team can work for an overarching goal. (See the Modern Management Made Easy Principles.)

People use a variety of these “agile” behaviors:

  • Collaboration to learn and deliver together
  • Receiving and offering feedback and coaching of peers to create psychological safety
  • Ability to ask for help (which might be related to feedback)
  • Experimentation (to increase the speed of learning and the feedback loops)
  • Adaptability
  • Influence for the betterment of the team, product, and organization (not coercion)

That means that managers—and anyone else—needs to assess behaviors differently. We move “from achievement” to “behaviors that encourage agility.”

When we look at those behaviors, we can create a more agile career ladder.

A Possible Agile Career Ladder

AgileCareerLadderHere's my overall take on what an agile career ladder might look like.

Notice that instead of individual achievements, we change the criteria for moving “up” to be that of influence.

On the left-hand column, we see a more traditional technical ladder. However, we don't assess people on their achievements. We move from achievements to influence. And on the left-most column, a person's influence mostly spans the team and the product. (I have a deeper dive for this in Part 3.)

In the middle column, people still work via influence. However, we look at the various kinds of influence: team, product, and organization. The farther up the column a person works, the more extensive that person's influence.

This middle column creates a bridge for people to experiment with “management” and “technical work.” The middle column can still be technical—you've probably seen product leaders who work closely with architects and program managers. (I wrote about that in Agile and Lean Program Management.)

I added a column in the middle where people might experiment with team-, product-, and organization-based influence. That flexibility offers people a way to move sideways, not just “up.”

The right-hand column also creates a bridge. If a manager doesn't use influence (and collaboration, etc) the manager can't get very far. And, because we focus on influence, the right-hand column allows a person to bridge “back” to technical work.

I'll talk more about what that influence might look like in Part 3.

This is a series:

4 Replies to “Define Agile Behaviors We Want to Reinforce in an Agile Career Ladder, Part 2”

  1. This is incredibly timely for me as in my new gig (company moving out of startup phase and beginning to grow). We’re moving from “we think we’re agile but we’re really not” to a fairly classic scrum. I’m also starting to think about career progression paths. So: thanks!

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