The Problem with Expectations for Agile Teams

What should managers expect from their agile teams? Should they expect perfect code, or on-time delivery, or cheaper projects?

Too many people sell agile as a way to get better, faster, cheaper. The problem is that you can get better code, faster projects, and cheaper results as an outcome of agile across the organization.

We can get better code (and tests) because we work in an iterative and incremental way, making sure we complete one feature before starting another. If you define “done” and then live up to it, you see better technical outcomes.

We get faster projects because our customers or product owners often realize the team doesn’t need to deliver all the anticipated work. And when a team doesn’t start all the features—just the ones they need to complete for now—it’s much easier to deliver a finished project on time or early.

Projects cost less because we don’t spend time or, as a consequence, money on waste—features we don’t really need, or endless defect fixing at the end of a project. That’s because we finish features, iterating through an entire feature set, one small feature at a time.

I have a little problem with expectations for agile teams because we too often neglect the roles of and expectations for agile managers. Managers create the environment in which people can deliver great work, regardless of whether the teams use agile.

I have expectations for agile managers: that they stop the multitasking and the expectations of multitasking, that they help the teams become self-directed and self-managing, and that they address what it really means to work as a team, from the hiring through the reward structure.

Yes, I have big expectations for agile managers. They can do it. They have the power.

Managers control multitasking by managing the project portfolio, the sequence of projects through a team. When managers concentrate on flow efficiency instead of resource efficiency, they help the team succeed by finishing just the work the team needs to deliver now.

Feedback and coaching are no longer wholly in the purview of the manager. Team members need to learn how to give and receive feedback, too. The more they can help themselves learn to work together, where they are able to discuss problems and ask for help, the more they will become a collaborative team.

Managers might start the hiring process, but the team needs to be involved and committed to hiring people who fit their team culture. The more the team works together to hire, the easier it will be for them to fulfill agile expectations.

Let’s make sure that in our discussion of agile expectations, we discuss what our managers must do to help the team realize the possible agile expectations.

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