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Agile: "Politically" Correct

24 July 2017

In a project-based organization, every project is led by the project manager. He (or she) is entirely responsible for the project, from start to finish. He is responsible for managing project constraints, scope, quality, time, cost, stakeholders, risk, resources, and customer satisfaction. He is also responsible for following a defined process. The project manager usually follows an authoritative leadership style (command and control) — it is almost like a monarchy.

Some organizations evolved to a matrix style, and one of the many reasons for this is that the project manager can then concentrate more on project management practices than on people management.

The latest buzz has been Agile practices, specifically Scrum, which is based on a concept of servant leadership, where power lies with the team. The team is responsible for committing to the tasks and to the quality of the delivery. To carry on with a political metaphor, it is more of a democratic way of working.

Historically, we have been ruled by monarchs and dictators, and now many countries are tending toward democracy. This change is not an easy path; it presents many challenges. Moving power from one person to many can be disruptive.

The analogy here is that the software industry has been transforming from project-based (monarchy) to Agile (democracy) styles. Agile has moved power from the project manager (a single person) to a group: the product owner, ScrumMaster, engineer(s), architect(s), team, and so forth.

The team is an extremely important part of the larger group, because they enjoy the highest power and responsibility in delivering the final project. The product owner is an outward-looking servant leader, watching project requirements and customer satisfaction. The architect is an inward- and outward-looking servant leader, watching the technical aspects of the project and providing technical guidance to the team. The engineering manager is responsible for the team’s well-being and for ensuring that engineering practices are not compromised. The ScrumMaster is an inward-looking servant leader who champions the process and safeguards the team from external “noise” and impediments.

Democracy is defined[] as (a) "government by the people; especially: rule of the majority; (b) "a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections."

In Agile as well, power lies with the team rather than with one person. The team is responsible for committing to stories for the sprint and for delivering on them. The leadership team (PO, architect, EM, SM) work as a support team to help the team achieve their goals. The team holds the rough equivalent of “elections” to choose the top-priority stories for the sprint.

Democracy can also be considered a form of political collectivism: It is defined as a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in lawmaking. Collectivism is the outlook (social, moral, political, etc.) that puts the significance on group identities, goals, rights, and outcomes. Again, in Agile, collectivism is shown in the team coming together, growing together, learning together, achieving together, and having fun together.

Pluralism as a political philosophy is the recognition and affirmation of diversity within a political body, which permits the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions, and lifestyles. In Agile, the software team is usually composed of at least one programmer, quality engineer, analyst, and UI designer, which permits peaceful coexistence of different interests to work as a team toward a common goal.

We have also heard of of the chicken-and-pig concept in Agile. Pigs are Scrum teams; others (the product owner and ScrumMaster) are chickens. Pig roles are considered core team members. Performers. People who do work. A chicken is someone who has something to gain by the pigs performing but, in the end, really does not contribute day-to-day. They are people who assist in completion of work.

In my opinion, Agile is the way to go — but, like everything else, it requires a change in mindset, and it too has to evolve.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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