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I was listening to a political talk show a while back, and the guest happened to be a newly elected U.S. congressman who came to Washington D.C. to shake things up.

He was determined to hold his ground when a subject or vote encroached upon his core values and convictions, even if it meant not falling in line with the mainstream agenda and popular opinion. This put a target on his back with his opposing party and the house majority leader. He told the talk show host about an incident that happened to him that very morning. Right before an important bill was being rushed to the floor for a vote, this young congressman stood up and reminded everyone that a written protocol had been skipped, and insisted it be reconsidered and carried out before the vote. The Speaker of the House shot him such a vicious, piercing stare that it would have burned a hole right through his finely tailored suit if she held such a superpower. He started his story with the talk show host by saying, ‘Well Jim, I committed candor today up on the Hill!”  

I don’t know why more agile teams within a company fail to commit more candor when a bad process or practice is thrusted upon them. Teams should be the most respected and listened to because they are the ones ultimately responsible for developing and delivering value to the customer. They are not victims, but many act like they are. Whatever the reason is for this submissive response, we can agree that it’s often because they likely live within a low-trust, low-transparency environment.

The toxicity is ratcheted up even more when leadership uses agile metrics like a sledgehammer to censure a team for underperforming, sandbagging or just not giving it their all. The result is a demoralized and deflated group of teams that quickly moves from water-cooler talk to attrition. 

As a defensive tactic to deflect organizational pressure, teams are known to play the deception and diversionary game of LMS tactics to keep the heat off their backs. I read a post out on social media from a scrum master who was praising his team for meeting 100% of their user story commitments for 30 straight sprints.

Who’s going to argue with that? The team is predictable with zero carryover stories, meets their sprint goals and they receive very little negative feedback during sprint review. Who’s going to call this team into question when they seemingly are performing so well? 

Could it be that the team was under-committing and never truly pushing themselves to see whether even higher predictability could be achieved? No matter what LMS tool an organization is using, a team has the capability of ‘cooking the metrics’ to make their sprint performance look good to keep the light from shining on the team.

We need a new culture to emerge from both leaders and teams, willing to commit ‘candor’ and be more transparent about where the true struggles are, when help is needed, and how improvements can be made. We need more teams to stand up when they are being handed poor and incomplete requirements that lack great solutions and under-whelm the customer.

Like the young congressman in Washington D.C., Hummingbird Agile crews are autonomous, confident, and out-spoken, willing and unafraid to stand up and fight for what is right. These kinds of teams are required to effectively execute a perpetual discovery, continual delivery model that not only strives for incremental efficiency, but in the kind of outcomes that delight the customer, stabilize the system, and promote technical health.

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