Monday, February 17, 2014

Who says we are not high-performing?

"Let me help you to achieve high-performance" the coach says.

"Who said we are not high-performing?" is the response.

Since 1989 when I started to build my first team, I have experienced some huge variations in performance and quality. I mention these two factors specifically for a reason; Having one without the other isn't really high-performance is it? This is of course my take on it.

When we determine if a Agile team is high-performing or not, are we clouding that decision based on our own view of the world?  Is it appropriate?  On the other hand, Is it appropriate to ignore our past experiences?

With almost every transformation or adoption comes a point where a team starts to declare. "We are high-performing". Others in the company do not agree.

The difficulty is related to the reality that people see through different "lenses". We all have experiences that shape our vision of the truth.

Stephen Covey writes in his book "The 7 habits of highly effective people",
Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy-the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people. And to key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.
I have worked with teams who truly feel that in their context, they are high-performing, while others see "mediocre". Who are we to take that away from them?  Perhaps they worked hard to get where they are.

I believe that motivated people can truly accomplish great things. To me, helping them find that extended reality is part of my job. My experience tells me it's possible.

The thing is... That is "my vision" of the world. I admit that as a person I can have pretty high-expectations of people. It's partly my upbringing and skills. It's part of my driving personality toward excellence.

My view of the world is also biased by the fact that I have worked with some truly exceptional people. Because of that, I tend to see unlimited potential in others. I feel blessed to have seen what can be done with the right mindset.

Consider; What happens if the people I am working with are already 200% or 300% more effective than they were a year ago, or simply since I started working with them.

What if they already have gone well beyond what they knew in the past and are consistently delivering value? When do those people have the right to call themselves "high-performing"?

Is it when some chart says so?  Is it when some manager says so?  Or worse... is it when I say so.  Gees...  I hope not.

I believe that high-performance is an attitude, not a number.

 It is a desire to improve,
a desire to push oneself beyond your abilities, 
to constantly learn new things,
 and to work toward mastery in the delivery
of value to the customer.

The following principles clearly state what is important in an Agile context and should be factored into the determination of high-performance for an Agile Team.
  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

If a team is delivering large amounts of code but is not addressing the above concepts, are they high-performing? 

If the team cannot "continually deliver valuable software" because the code is so badly written that even the smallest changes make the team fear any changes, are they high-performing?

If the team works fast but never pays attention to "technical excellence and good design", are they high-performing?

Too often, I see a quest for Story Points or a manager pushing to meet a "fixed schedule" without the most important discussion taking place.  "Are we delivering real or lasting quality to the customer"?

Realize that the concept of "high-performance" depends entirely on the people, organization, culture and how much "Agility" is embraced.

For me at least, no Agile team can call themselves high-performing if what they create doesn't serve the client's current and future needs. That to me is just "doing work quickly"... A sad substitute for actual high-performance.

Remember, in some cases; your teams may already consider themselves high-performing.  They likely see through a different "lens" than you do.  Treat them like human beings and realize they may have already achieved what they consider to be their nirvana. 

I have experienced some extremely technical team members who are masters at their skills... Yet, what they deliver to the customer is just horrible. I have also worked with what would be called a "mediocre" skill set but what they have delivered, the customer truly enjoys. I ask you... Who is the better performer?

Double check your determinations about "high-performance" and ensure you are not factoring your own "view" before determining if a team is a high-performing Agile team. 

Keep it simple; use the manifesto. It may show you which teams truly are high-performing and which ones are not. The results may surprise you and show that your "personal lens" is skewing your decision.

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile


The 7 habits of highly effective people 
The Agile Manifesto