The essence of Agile Methodology is the Agile Team. Agile Teams are flexible, cross functional, self-managing, and self-organizing.
When introducing Agile concepts to development teams, I am often asked: how can our team be self-organizing?
Our custom of Bayanihan proves that Filipinos are capable of self-organizing. Bayanihan refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal. Our self-organizing nature is very evident, especially during times of calamities, emergency situations and non-profit organizations. Teams are built from several volunteers from non-profit and religious organizations working for a common good.
However, there are opposing Filipino habits that hinder adoption of agile (Scrum) values of courage, openness, honesty, commitment, and focus. These habits make it difficult for Filipinos to self-organize and self-manage. Here are some of them, bato-bato sa langit, tamaan ‘wag magagalit (throwing stones in the air, if anyone gets hit, don’t get angry).
- Makasarili (Selfishness), have you experienced someone cutting lines? Strives to be the first at the expense of others? Agile team members are collaborative, cooperative, and team-oriented. Team members are willing to “take one for the team”.
- Mañana Habit (procrastination), have you ever crammed in school or on your release deadlines? Instead of working on important things, while there is time, we wait for the deadline because we are either lazy to do it or that there are more enjoyable activities to do. In contrast, Agile teams work on priorities, they do first things first.
- Makapal ang mukha pero manipis ang balat (shameless but onion-skinned), it is important for self-organizing team members to proactively seek work and not make excuses to transfer or avoid work (kapal!). Agile team members are open to criticism and do not take them personally. Filipinos are sensitive to criticism. We can get very emotional. We hold grudges and even take a lifetime to forgive someone.
- Bahala na (come what may), we tend to leave the outcome of things to faith or luck. Agile teams work on achieving goals. They define each step, assume responsibility and take the needed action to meet the goals.
- Reklamador (complains but lacks initiative to change) we keep complaining on our difficult situations and struggles, often blaming others for our mistakes and misfortunes but we do not do anything about them. Agile teams inspect and adapt through regular retrospective. They take initiative to make the next sprint better.
- Ningas cogon (flaming grass) it is a Filipino trait to starting something with enthusiasm (flame) but the enthusiasm easily dies down without finishing what has been started. Agile teams should work on product backlog items until they are DONE.
- Talangkaan (Crab Mentality), instead of helping each other to be successful, we find ways to pull down and discourage people who have initiative to take more responsibilities or opportunities. In contrast, agile teams complement each other’s weakness and build on each other’s strength.
- Tsismisan at kampihan (gossiping and taking sides) create conflicts within the team. It hinders collaboration and cooperation. Agile teams resolve conflicts head-on and avoid this behavior.
- Filipino Time (Tardiness), have you ever been invited to an event when the call time is actually 1 hour later than the time in the invitation? This is set for Filipino Buffer. There is too much time wasted on waiting. Synchronization is very important in an Agile team. Time boxes are followed and respected. When Daily Scrum is set to be at 10:00AM, and time boxed within 15 minutes, it should start and end promptly to respect other members in the meeting.
- Pasaway (do not follow simple rules/stubborn), it seems that street signs are just suggestions here. Developers are checking in codes that are not unit tested. Following agreed team ground rules and good development discipline/practice is fundamental to Agility.
The list can go on and on as we most of us make a lot of palusot (excuses).
In the Philippines, there is a high power distance index as defined in Hoftstede’s cultural dimensions theory. Power distance is “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” In the Philippines, hierarchies are established and respected even small organizations. A command and control leadership is mostly acceptable.
We don’t have to be told in order to move! Self-organizing is not new to us Filipinos. We experience this when we join JOLLIBEE parlor games. In this game, the participants are grouped into 2 or more teams. The teams are asked to self-arrange (self-organize) based on certain category such as AGE, waistline, or number of ex’s. The quickest team to arrange and shout-out a greeting to the celebrator gets the point. Compare 2 teams where one team uses command and control (1 leader will arrange each member) and the other team self-organizes, who do you think will be faster?
Cultivating the team to be Self-organizing has the following advantages:
- Improve efficiency
- Improve processes by themselves
- Pull work from the backlogs (not waiting for instructions)
- Facilitate learning and sharing of knowledge
- Reduce management overhead as they are not dictated by managers
- Improve decision-making: Generally, those with authority has no idea on how the work should be done, and those who has the knowledge on how the work should be done has no authority
- Cooperate and help each other to achieve a common goal
- Improve Motivation
- Increase sense of ownership because they decide how to do the work
- Increase autonomy which reduces stress, people who have no authority over the outcome of their work experience more stress.
- Have a sense of decision-making
- Are allowed to adjust work-levels to some degree. Planning of activities will consider availability and capacity of the team members.
- Increase communication and visibility
How to Encourage and Establish Bayanihan?
Empowering employees to self-organize is a management responsibility. For management, it is not about relinquishing authority. Management role in Agile is changed from directing to supporting by setting the team up for success, removing organizational impediments, providing opportunities to experiment and allowing room for mistakes or failures. In the Scrum Framework, Scrum Masters are management positions. These servant-leader managers coach the team and guide them in their self-organization.
Management shall lead the changes on following dimensions:
- Environment that is Safe-to-Fail. People are afraid to take risks and responsibilities because of the perceived consequences of these failures. Blaming and negative criticisms will further reinforce the Onion-Skinned nature of Filipinos. Organizations innovate by running experiments. Software development is an empirical process where more is known as development progresses. The earlier people experiment-fail-learn, the higher the success factor the projects will have later on. Members should be allowed to experiment and fail. Learn from theirs and others’ mistakes.
- Environment that encourages collaboration. Collaborative teams are productive and innovative. Management should support and create a sense of community within the organization. Model a collaborative behavior of open communication, consensus-building, and cohesion in the organization by avoiding and not condoning Makasarili, Tsismisan, Kampihan, Talangkaan behaviors. Leverage each person’s strengths and have other members complement each person’s weaknesses.
- Environment of trust. Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust claims that trust affects Speed and Cost. When Trust goes up, Speed goes up and Cost goes down. When Trust goes down, Speed goes down and Cost goes up. To build trust, one must be trustworthy. Leaders should model trust by communicating clearly and declaring one’s intent, creating transparency, demonstrating integrity, making and keeping commitments.
- Environment that facilitates continuous communication. Open communication channels across the organization. Increase face-to-face communication by providing the technology that enables virtual collaboration or by simply co-locating people. Initiate events such as Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning, Sprint Reviews, and Sprint Retrospectives that encourage everyone to communicate with each other.
- Environment that facilitates learning and knowledge sharing. Teams become more flexible when members are multi-skilled. They can easily support one another. Pair programming, code walkthroughs and reviews improve knowledge dissemination. Information radiators such as Kanban boards, burndown charts, backlogs improve visibility and knowledge on how the project is going. Encouraging self-learning and sharing through project wikis and knowledge base systems.
- Leaders as coaches and facilitators. People in management position should facilitate team decision rather than direct, control or micro-manage. They provide room for their trainees to experiment and learn; they ensure knowledge is shared; and they encourage self-organizing behaviors. Leaders should suggest and not direct, more selling than telling.
- Leaders as servants. According to Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay The Servant as Leader, “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Servant-first leaders make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” In a typical organizational structure, the leader is on top of the pyramid. For organizations led by servant leaders, the pyramid is inverted. The top leader empowers the organization to expand outwardly.
- Leaders as impediment removers. Impediments block progress. This can be interruptions and distractions outside and inside the team. Team members make impediments visible; usually these are indicated in the ScrumBoard. Leaders should look ahead or look deeply for factors that make it difficult for the team to deliver and perform at their best. Leaders should help remove the impediments and not become impediments themselves.
- Leaders set challenging shared goals. Vision drives collaboration. It is very frustrating to be under a leader with no sense of direction and priority. A good common and shared vision is when individual can identify and align with the vision. Each product should have a vision. It is the overarching goal the team is aiming for, it is the reason for creating the product. When the team understands and associates with the vision, ownership and creativity increases.
- Teams are Cross-functional. A cross-functional team has all the necessary skills to create a product increment. To enable continuous flow of value, management should break the traditional functional silos (having separate DEV, QA, BA, UX teams). It is difficult to self-organize when the necessary skill/authority are not within the team.
- Teams are small, 3-9 members for development team. The bigger the team, the more communication overhead and communication channels to maintain. It is important for the team to have consensus and be able to discuss daily as a team. Having fewer individuals who work on daily basis will facilitate familiarity and bonding. This should eliminate/reduce Talangkaan, Makasarili, Tsismisan at Kampihan, mga Reklamador and Pasaway.
- Team composition is stable. There should be continuity in assignment. When members are brought in and pulled out frequently, productivity suffers. The team shall go through the stages of team development (Tuckman Ladder) every time there is a change in team composition. It is difficult to self-organize when people do not know how to work with each other.
- Teams are focused. When a team is Agile, it does not mean that stakeholders can go on changing the priorities, add more scope (changes), and introduce disruptions anytime and expect the team to handle it. Teams are guided by sprint goals and decide how things should be carried out with the guidance of the Scrum Master and the Product Owner. Disruptions and changing priorities will reduce ability of the team to self-manage and self-organize. It is the function of the Scrum Master to make sure that the team is free from disruptions, while it is the Product Owner who ensures that the team is working on the highest possible value.
- Team members transition from Independence to Inter-dependent paradigms. Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, explains effective habits when working with others. (1) Think Win-Win — always aim for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements, (2) Seek first to understand, then to be understood — emphatic listening to genuinely understand a person, (3) Synergize — combine the strengths of people so as to achieve goals that no one could have done alone. Members should be willing to work in a team, be a team player first.
- Teams establish ground rules. Ground rules help in ensuring order. Ground rules can be fun. You may consider adding penalties to the Pasaway. As an example, people who broke the build from the previous day will treat everyone a Banana Q.
- Teams, at regular intervals, reflect on how to be more effective. Retrospectives provide opportunity for the team to inspect itself, how the last iteration went with regards to people, relationships, processes and tools. Team members can be open in sharing difficulties in working with one another in a positive and productive manner.
- Members are focused. Similar to Teams are Focused, members should be focused and avoid multi-tasking and multiple assignments. Similar to computer systems, task switching has costs of up to 40% productivity lost. When members are focused, they can commit and take ownership of their tasks.
- Members are open to criticism, they are introspective. Walang personalan, trabaho lang (nothing personal just work). Members should focus on the situation and outputs when providing criticism and not on the person’s personality. Criticisms are specific and can be acted upon. Instead of blaming, members should discern on what they can do to improve on the situation for the next iteration.
- Members are courageous. Courage facilitates empiricism and collaborative teamwork. Developers are very proud people. It takes courage for us to ask for help and to admit that we do not know how to do something. It takes courage to admit our mistakes. It takes courage to say NO: No to cutting corners and undermine quality to deliver under pressure, NO to features and requests that do not value to the product.
- Members continuously improve their skills. Multi-skilled engineers with at least one specialization, often called as “T-Engineers”, are more flexible. In traditional team structures, tasks are assigned based on roles/titles/specialization. QA Engineers are limited to testing and review. They are not given design and coding tasks. To self-organize, members should be able to continuously learn to take on most of the required tasks to complete a product backlog item. The team can easily adapt when there are sudden changes in personnel availability or sudden increase in tasks involving particular areas and the like.
Again, the essence of Agile Methodology is the Agile Team. Agile Teams are flexible, cross functional, self-managing, and self-organizing teams. It is the duty of the servant leaders of the organization to facilitate changes in the environment, leadership, team and individual to build self-organizing Agile teams. Despite our natural tendencies and habits, (and our relatively young Developers) we can be self-organizing Pinoy Teams!