Monday, December 15, 2014

The Virtues of Agile: Openness

Everyone should feel safe in the Sauna
This is part three of five of our series of articles about the virtues of Agile.  This week we cover the topic of openness.

When I talk to business leaders about openness, I try to relate my experiences at my local YMCA as a metaphor.  As I have gotten older I, like so many of my peers, am trying to take better care of myself which means trips to the “Y” for some exercise.  It also means I get to sit in a hot tub and spend about a half hour in the sauna.  It is in the sauna where we can learn a lesson about openness. 

Each person in the sauna is naked or warring a towel.  Someone usually is reading a newspaper or magazine, someone else is chatting about the day’s events with a friend, and everyone mentions how warm it is in the sauna.  What does not happen is violence.  The reason why is there is no way to sneak a weapon into the sauna unless you are willing to do something extreme and uncomfortable.  The worst thing which can happen in the sauna is you are embarrassed about your shape or have a tattoo or piercing you might regret.  Everyone is forced to be a little open in the sauna.

An agile team and the organization should be like a sauna.  The low dry heat represents the pressure we face every day in the business world.  Everyone should be willing to be metaphorically undressed when in the hot house of business.  This means agendas are out in the open for everyone to see.  If someone does something embarrassing the others react to it with good natured respect.  If someone feels faint or passes out they get help and provide assistance.  In the sauna, we are all a bit naked and tired.  

This does not mean you have to be totally open.  Confidential information, like salaries and trade secrets, do not have to be discussed in the sauna if someone does not want to discuss it.  Sometimes, information needs to be parceled out in small bites and that too is acceptable.  What is not acceptable is outright deceit or lying to have advantage over the others. 

This is why openness is difficult to cultivate in an agile team.  For years developers and executives have been trained that “knowledge is power” so they tend to hoard information.  In an open team, the rookie developer would know that the old hand on the team has not worked with LINQ statements over his career and might need help.  The veteran may know the business and why a certain approach is being used to fix a problem and should share that with junior developers instead of having them hacking away at code in the dark. 

Openness begins with a scrum master who lets the team know what is going on each day in the stand up and during the course of the day.  They help the developers stay focused by avoiding distractions and having them concentrate on sprint goals.  They also have to good sense to look the other way when open of the team members metaphorically drops his towel and makes themselves vulnerable.  I also make a point about joking about my lack of muscle tone to keep the team loose. 

Openness is about being safe with in your own skin and when exposed to the skin of others who are in the same situation you are in.  Without this virtue team collaboration is partial because everyone will be concerned about agendas, possible threats to their career, and lack of safety. 

Until next time.