Monday, December 1, 2014

The Virtues of Agile: Courage

Agile requires courage
Beginning this week and until after New Years the blog with be covering the five virtues of agile development.  This is part 1 of five talking about courage.

As a scrum master and software professional we spend a great deal of time talking about how to “do” agile but we really do not talk about the values that act as the foundations of agile development.  I wanted to take some time at the end of the year to discuss these founding virtues of agile.  I suspect that it is easy for technical professionals to talk about the steps they need to follow rather than the feelings they need to have in order to do the job with a sense of pride.  Speaking from experience, it is very hard for software people to talk about feeling because we use reason, logic, and engineering principles to do our job.  The funny thing is that we feel stress, we have relationship problems when work goes bad, and we feel rage when treated like short order cooks instead of technical professionals.

According to Dictionary.com courage has two definitions; first, the ability to do something that frightens one and finally, strength in the face of pain or grief.  I would like to add that I consider courage to be the ability to do the right thing when no one is looking and the hard thing when everyone is watching.  This means that people on a software development team and within an organization need to be empowered to do the right thing when the situation calls for it.  Often with people worried about promotions and job security, when faced with a difficult choice they freeze and do nothing.   I feel this happens because an atmosphere of fear is created within an organization in order to keep people in line.

Melanie Greenberg in psychology today categorized six traits for courage; they are:
  • Feeling Fear Yet Choosing to Act
  • Following your Heart
  • Persevering in the Face of Adversity
  • Standing up for what is Right
  • Expanding Your Horizons; Letting Go of the Familiar
  • Facing Suffering with Dignity or Faith.

I really cannot think of a better discussion of what it takes to have more courage.

The expansion of courage begins with senior leadership.  It starts with allowing people to make decisions and then coaching them to make better decisions after the fact.  It involves coaching people to take smart calculated risks.  It involves trusting people to make choices.  It means that when a wrong decision is made you find out why it was done and then help correct that person so that they do not make a poor decision again.  It also means that when you are confronted with a choice you make a brave decision because nothing undermines courage among a team than a leader who is cowardly.

As a technology leader, I struggle with courage all the time.  I take inspiration from great leaders like Richard Winters, Colin Powell, Harvey Milk, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Adlai Stevenson.  I also count on the support and help of the people around me to do the best I can.  I am not perfect and falter like everyone else but I try to exhibit courage in my daily life.  I owe it to my agile team, the organization I work for, and the customers who depend on me.

Until next time.