Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The “Holding Accountability” in Agile Philosophy

Accountability means to say what you DO, do what you SAY, no rumor-mongering, no backbiting.


Accountability is “the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.” (businessdictionary.com). To extend the definition, accountability not only means to accept the responsibility for what you DO but also what you SAY, say what you do, do what you say, no rumor-mongering, not backbiting. More specifically, how to practice the "holding accountability" in Agile philosophy?

"Holding accountable" means to overcome negative emotions and take step-wise actions. Have you seen effective agile teams hindered or rendered ineffective when leadership blames instead of practicing root cause analysis to drive continuous improvement across the organization? So "You will be held accountable" is on the face of it, not a bad thing, you have the freedom to do whatever needs to be done, and the responsibility to ensure you do your best to bring about a good outcome. Speaking philosophically about responsibility and accountability usually leads us to the conclusion that all humans should be responsible for their own communications and actions and as such, accountability is not necessary. However, in real life responsible people make mistakes or have invalid notions, many times driven by emotions rather than philosophical logic. So “holding accountable” means to overcome the negative emotions and take a step-wise approach for problem-solving in applying agile philosophy.


Management needs to be fully engaged in agile philosophy: In Agile, management now needs to be comfortable with empowering teams to own the delivery of the work after years of potentially poor delivery in the waterfall, trust is something that is missing in this scenario. Making teams 'accountable' is one way to convey that the team owns the delivery, but in reality, they always did. What's fundamentally changed is that management no longer gets to sit on the sidelines and wait for 'project updates,' rather, they need to be fully engaged in helping the team deliver the most valuable things for the organization. One can make an assessment of the work and resources needed and determine if one can commit (set up for success) and then commit to completing the work. On the other hand, if one is told they must do something and he or she knows the resources and tools are insufficient for the job (set up for failure) yet they are told they will be held accountable if the job does not complete successfully in spite of outlining the chances of success are small. Which one is accountable? Which one is blamed? No organization is 100% agile. The larger the organization, the greater the distance between the owners and the workers, and the more opportunity for the owners to feel the loss of control. Owners like to feel they are in control.


Accountability is conducted inward, and responsibility conducted outward. Responsibility is 'accountability' conducted outward, in that the team has successfully delivered sprint backlog items. Accountability is conducted inward, in that the team respects and supports all team members while successfully completing the work If one is accountable for a certain result, the individual has to be empowered. Of course, that does not happen all the time, so the onus on the individual to come up with resources and tools required. Then "negotiate" to have them in place in phases. If there is a board of directors, it needs to take responsibility for the link between corporate performance and Return on Investment. So there is a FUNDAMENTAL dichotomy between Agile as an operating philosophy and Executive Control as dictated by economic drivers.


Accountability needs to be a two-way commitment that does need to consider real empowerment levels to get the job done. The beauty of agile comes in with its incremental nature and use of empiricism. Leaders can inspire directs and teams by clearly articulating goals and explain how the teams can contribute to reaching the goals. It motivates by ensuring people how important their role is and how it matters to customers and the company. Leaders will do all she or he can to ensure people are set up to succeed and then will celebrate success with the team. Leaders provide a reason for directs to chose them as their leaders every day. Leaders know how to get out of the way and let the team determine how to reach the goals they have set. In the end, one should be accountable for one's words with no external impetus, but being human beings that are not always the case. Sometimes we have to be reminded of our agreements and obligations. most issues of accountability in which management seems to blame the employee for not fulfilling the expectation started when the employee unadvisedly accepted a task (for whatever personal or psychological reason). The accountability refrain is then: "you said you could get this done, and I depended on you doing it, and you haven't done it." We are accountable for our own words, and our own commitments. And we should be accountable to ourselves. However, sometimes we forget or get distracted or overbooked or have to answer to more than the organization, and the manager serves as a reminder or 'nagger' about our commitments to help hold us accountable.

True accountability focuses on learning as a core value in building an agile culture. It is not uncommon to confuse accountability with blame. They are actually opposites. Shared accountability or collective accountability involves shared ownership because most breakdowns stem from silo behavior where people aren't coordinating, communicating, solving problems or making decisions in a way that considers consequences to others. True accountability focuses on learning to do things differently, rather than punishment. Accepting responsibility is when we prove our values and build our trust.

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