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To use or not to use a Method - that is the question...

By:  Horia Slușanschi, Agile Coach, Hewlett Packard Company

 

MethodMethodical or Amethodological?

In an earlier blog post, Leroy Mason puts forward the idea that successful software teams are at their heart amethodological. My own experience in serving with highly effective and successful teams supports such a view, to a certain extent, depending on the precise meaning of the term "amethodological".

 

If by "amethodological" we mean "not rigidly constrained to the strictures of any given methodology", then I can fully support the statement. In this view, people feel free to vary their way of work as needed to accomplish the objectives that matter most.

 

If by "amethodological" we mean "ignoring the guidance of any specific method, acting in a random fashion", then I cannot support the statement at all. In this view, people act independently, with no coordination or consideration of the work of others.

 

In other words, I suggest that the factor that contributes most to overall success is how effective a team is in adapting its way of work based on the influences present in its current context. Also, I have not yet come across a highly effective and successful team that did not have a clear method of work, well understood by everyone, and practiced with consummate discipline.

 

The value of a method of work

There is great value to be found in an explicit method of work. People in a high-performance team are comfortable with a certain routine – they know each other’s skillsets and a natural flow of work emerges in their collaboration. Without a predictable or rapidly adaptable coordination pattern, chaos would ensue. In addition, when unexpected tasks crop up, the team members are ready to self-organize and adapt their work patterns for an optimum response. In other words, the team has specific methods for handling both routine and exceptional work items.

 

Creative Dissatisfaction

However, the team does not feel constrained in any way by its method of work. Professionals in high-performance teams cultivate as sense of creative dissatisfaction. While they are proud of the team’s accomplishments and general spirit of high performance, they maintain a sense of hunger for improvement. By choice, they are never fully satisfied with all aspects of the flow of work. This fundamental dissatisfaction drives everyone to routinely strive to illuminate the weaknesses in their work method. Then, creativity becomes a great asset in the process of identifying root causes and experimenting with suitable countermeasures.

 

In my experience, people that have worked in high-performance teams are in consistent agreement – given a choice, they would rather work in high-performance teams in the future as well. As a result, they actively influence team dynamics to create and sustain a high-performance culture.

 

Creating high-performance, self-improving teams

Is there a method for creating high-performance teams? Or do they somehow just happen? Are there ways to inspire more teams to become self-improving? How can we create high-performance experiences for people that haven’t yet had the joy of working in an amazing high-performance team?

 

One approach that works very well is to seed young teams with seasoned veterans that have previously worked in high-performance teams. Encourage the veterans to pair up with, mentor and inspire the novices, and the team will build up confidence on the path to achieving high performance.

 

Another approach is to put together skilled, creative people that respect one another and expect great things from themselves. Trust them to self-organize to achieve the objectives required by their customers, and support themselves by removing obstacles from their path.

 

Freedom from artificial constraints

One common thread in achieving and sustaining high performance is the freedom from artificial constraints, while valuing conformance to useful standards.

 

For example, high-performance teams value standard work. This is the best way that they know of right now for practicing certain skills or accomplishing certain tasks. Having uniformity and consistency in how such tasks are accomplished is conducive to mistake-proofing and sustaining high quality. Such self-imposed constraints (such as adherence to specific coding or automated testing standards) are beneficial and very valuable.

 

However, standard work is not expected to be immutable. Highly effective teams actively invest in changing the standard work gradually over time, in a disciplined and controlled way, as various improvements are uncovered through experimentation.

 

Some constraints are unavoidable and originate from customer needs or invested resources. Other constraints are voluntary, and originate from available skills and agreed-upon work methods and practices. The most effective teams find ways to delight customers (satisfying customer constraints) while overcoming any self-imposed constraints that impede the flow of value towards the customer, and taking advantage of constraints that reinforce quality and speed.

 

Adaptive methods – useful. Immutable methods – harmful

In conclusion, I propose the variation that successful software teams are at their heart adaptive. They know what to keep standardized, repeatable and predictable, and what to adjust to improve the flow of value while making work joyful.

 

See Also:

Horia Slușanschi’s blog series on Agile Systems Development:

 

Related Links: 

 

About the Author:

 

Horia Slusanschi - Profile.JPGHoria Slușanschi, Agile Coach, Hewlett Packard Company

Horia serves as the leader of the HP Agile Mentoring Office and the HP Software Engineering Profession. He is passionate about helping professionals to perfect their practice of effective habits inspired by the Agile mindset. He is trained as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt practitioner, and holds a PhD in Computer Science. Horia also serves as the Service Delivery leader of the Project Management Institute’s Agile Community of Practice. Reach him at horia@hp.com or @KiwiHoria.

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About the Author
Horia Slușanschi serves as an Agile Coach leading the HP Agile Mentoring Office and the HP Software Engineering Profession. He is passionate...


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