All he does is state the obvious…

A few weeks into a new project and I was given the feedback that all I had been doing is stating the obvious and pointing out pretty much fundamental Agile principles and practices.

At first I was a little offended, I want to be adding value and so it was more than a little disappointing to hear what I felt like was a negative assessment of my work. And so I reflected on what I had been doing, partly to see how I could do better and partly to reassure myself that I was adding value in the right areas.

As I reflected I realised he was right. I had been stating the obvious, but what is not generally well known is that the obvious is not so obvious at all. 

If there is one criticism that could be fairly leveled at me is that I let teams flounder too long before I step in. I have the belief that if a team solves it’s own problems without help they learn far more. If the team doesn’t appear to be seeing a solution I then move on to subtle hints – dropping seeds of ideas, and if I still feel they are not seeing things and I get to the point of ‘stating’ then it is because I don’t think the team is going to solve the problem without more pain than is appropriate for the situation. 

In this case I had been challenging the team to produce working agreements and agree what their definition of done was. This is a scaled Agile project and my fear was that if the whole team did not agree ‘done’ together then one sub team’s ‘done’ would be imposed on all, or worse ‘done’ would be inconsistent between the teams. I also urged them to agree how they would integrate their work, I gave them advice on ‘Vertical Slicing’ and some advice on story writing, especially ensuring that the ‘value’ of a story was clear. All pretty obvious stuff – that is if you knew it already.

But these are new teams and some of the team are new to Agile, I suppose what is disappointing is that it was me that had to state the obvious, and not one of the more experienced team members. Self-organisation only works if the teams take the responsibility, and are then sufficiently motivated to deliver on that – more on that in my next post. 

If my advice was so obvious why did it take an outside observer to see it? Why couldn’t the team see it for themselves?  The answer of course is that solutions only become obvious when you see them,  and it often takes an outside observer to point out what should have been obvious all along. All too often we see things as obvious after they have been pointed out to us or later feel they are so obvious we don’t say anything not realizing our team mates were struggling.

Realizing that common sense is not very common and what may seem obvious to one person may not be seen at all by another is actually one of the more difficult aspects of coaching. Sometimes I ask what seems like a basic or even stupid question because I sense others in the room may be unsure. Sometimes this makes me look like an idiot but sometimes it is clear that the stupid question was not so stupid. (And for the record sometimes I ask to promt conversation or clarification but often I simply don’t know and I figure that if I don’it know maybe I am not alone.

So please, state the obvious in your teams, especially if you feel it may not be so obvious to everyone else in the room.


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