jcfausto

Technology and People

Month: October 2018

Decentralized Decision-Making

“Everything you do for the group is one less thing they know they can do for themselves”

Chris Corrigan: The Tao of Holding Space

This Sunday I was reviewing some notes and found one where I captured the quote above.

When reading the quote I remembered a chat I had with a former colleague last Friday where we talked about something related to the quote:

How to act more as a facilitator instead of a decision maker even if you are in a position or have a title that implies that you’re the one in charge of making final decisions.

My colleague told me a story about a meeting he had with one of his teams about how to improve collaboration. While listening to the story, I noticed that the team didn’t have a clear idea of what types of decisions they could make. Questions such as “Can we make this types of decision?” was a clear evidence of that.

Imaginary limitations can hinder the ability to achieve a decentralized decision-making environment. My colleague’s team had so many imaginary limitations in their heads that they’re not seeing which types of decisions they could make. Someone else was deciding for them because they didn’t know they could do it themselves. They thought their bosses were the ones in charge to make decisions.

After listening to the story, I shared my thoughts.

You create more damage than benefit when you decide for someone else or a team. The benefit is that you help to keep things moving and avoid paralysis. Things move faster and towards the direction you want. It looks good at first sight. But if you look at what you’re taking from them you’ll see the big damages you’re creating. You’re preventing them to have a saying on commitments that they’ll have to make. You’re taking from them the opportunity to decide and learn from mistakes. And, you’re hindering their opportunities to improve their decision-making abilities.

I’m not saying you’ll never have to decide on something and that everything can be a team decision. There are for sure certain types of decisions that you will not be able to delegate. Having a clear decision-making framework in place at moments like this would be handy.

Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein argue in the article “Why Managers Still Matter” that “In today’s knowledge-based economy, managerial authority is supposedly in decline. But there is still a strong need for someone to define and implement the organizational rules of the game.”

Source: https://hbr.org/2017/12/when-to-decentralize-decision-making-and-when-not-to

There are many ways to let clear the “rules of the game” and create a decision-making framework. The one I always refer as a good example is the Delegation Board by Management 3.0.

Centralized decision making makes things very slow and bureaucratic. It doesn’t scale and doesn’t allow for self-management inside teams. The establishment of a clear decision-making process will create the necessary conditions to achieve decentralization and increase people’s autonomy. Speaking of self-management, I’d like to share this quote below:

Self-management is self-management of decisions! if there’s no change in who makes decisions and how decisions are made, there’s no self-management of anything and therefore no lasting transformation of anything at tall. And all gains are temporary.

Daniel Mezick.

If you want to create a learning organization you have to provide the right environment for that. Making decisions for others all the time and assuming they don’t have enough capacity to that that is not a good way to establish such conditions and an indicator that the level of trust is very low amongst peers.

When you decide on behalf of other you take from this person the chance to learn because the decision-making process is also a learning process. To make a decision one have to understand variables, explore topics you didn’t know before, have a better of how the business work. This thought process helps people to increase their frame of reference and making better decisions over time. Also, they’ll get a better of how their decisions contribute to the organization’s results.

The level of commitment to the decision is also affected. When you make a decision, it’s your commitment not other’s people commitment. If the team make a decision, it’s their commitment.

Sometimes we have to “learn to hold space”. We have to learn how to be patient and how to prompt discussions that will help people to realize what they have to. Some might argue that this takes much more time when compared to telling people what to do. You can do this for a while, but when you turn our attention to your people, all you’ll see is demotivation, low morale, bad mood. Everything we don’t want to have inside our teams and organizations.

When Scrum Becomes Toxic

Scrum is without any doubt the most known Agile framework nowadays. It became very popular as the easiest way to introduce Agile to organisations and especially, as an easy and efficient tool to start an Agile transition inside organizations. I had my first contact with Scrum in 2009 and it was exactly in this context: as a way to start a transition from a traditional model of software development to an Agile one.

The danger of this approach relies on how people are being taught about the framework and its origins, which I think didn’t change too much in this 9 years. It’s common to see in Scrum training an introduction to the Agile Values and Principles, that were written down and published in 2001 in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. During the training, many correlations will be made between the Agile values and principles and Scrum practices and ceremonies as a way to justify the framework, its practices and structures, and make people believe that Scrum is the silver bullet they need.

What most people don’t realise is that Scrum is indeed a good agile management framework as it can provide a very good way to organise teams, structure roles that are needed to have a more customer-focused development approach, organize backlogs, support decision making, estimations, continuous improvement, etc. It’s fantastic on that matter, but it lacks severely one of the key components of Agile: Technical Practices.

There’s no Agile without Technical Practices. A team cannot achieve agility if they just use Agile frameworks as a means to improve how the work is managed. This is an illusion and will over time create demotivation and make people believe that Agile does not work. Yes, it does not work, and will never work, if you believe that it’s just about management practices.

There is no agile without technical practices

I saw many big fans of Scrum over my career, and just a few really understood how it could help the organization to become better. It took me some years to really understand how Scrum could help organisations, when it’s applicable and when it’s time to move from Scrum to something else more appropriate. It’s hard to think this way when people that teach you don’t have such vision and just follow or repeat the same lessons that they’ve learned during their certification course. That’s I’d highly recommend you to be very careful when choosing any training on Agile. Do some research and figure out if the person giving the training has actual experience instead of just theoretical experience. That’s important because some theories are beautiful, but they don’t quite work very well on the battlefield, and this you only learn if you have fought one this battles.

Getting back to the point of this article, the Technical Practices, the best way I see nowadays for any organization to become better at Technical Practices, apart from recruiting the right people, is to use eXtreme Programming practices, that somehow were forgotten after Scrum took over the market with its promises and the modern DevOps practices as well. Those two combined with any other Agile framework are the real recipe for creating the right culture that will generate the conditions to move organizations from low to high performance over time.

It won’t happen in days, weeks, or months, maybe it’ll take your organization years to become a high performer, but from my experience, and the experience of many other people much more experienced than me that’s the best way we know at the moment on how to enable business agility inside organizations and transform them into high performers.

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