Sutton’s slip

In medical field there is a term called Sutton’s slip which is used when possibilities other than the obvious are not considered. Problems are everywhere and when we try to solve them we tend go for the obvious solution. When going through the 11 laws of fifth discipline by Peter Senge I inferred that there are more problems created through easy corrective actions one takes for the problem. If we focus on the obvious solutions then as per the ‘laws of fifth discipline’ things seem to get better and then becomes worse than it was ever before.

Problem

One example I could think of ‘where going for the obvious was a wrong choice’ was at my workplace. Our software development team’s velocity was in a constant decline. Velocity directly translated to the requirements getting implemented and clients always had a close watch on it. One of us in the team decided to include a metric ‘Cost per story point’ to help bring visibility into the cost associated with building a feature which in turn he believed will drive the team to be conscious of the output and take corrective actions  much early on to reduce the cost. What followed was the inflation in the estimates, the team was using fibonacci series as the estimation scale. We had 1,2,3,5 as possible sizes for our stories, what we did not notice was that there were no new 1 point stories added to the backlog. Slowly inflation ate up the 1 point story and the two point story became the beginning size. Though it eventually led to a lower cost per story point, the value delivered was much lesser.

When you’ve got a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail

Reference – Cognitive BiasesLaw of the instrument

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Agile adoption and roles

Few years ago one of my friends suggested that I read the book “Maverick” by Ricardo Semler. In this book, the owner of Semco corporation in Brazil details out on how he transformed an ailing company which he inherited, into a successful and profitable one. He did this by redefining the rules of management and empowering employees at all levels. One of my favourite moves was to remove the traditional hierarchical designations and introduce roles which explain the nature of the job. Roles like Associates, Partners, Coordinators & Counsellors removed the perceived hierarchy and brought titles closer to what people do, instead of who is the boss of whom. Taking few leaves out of the book I tried the following in teams which were adopting agile.

  • Introducing new roles; associates, coordinators and facilitators.
  • Separating leadership and management

Roles

  • Associates: Any one part of the team who writes code, tests, creates requirements, builds & deploys is an associate. Irrespective of the experience and skill level every one who contributes to the day to day activities are associates. 
  • Coordinators: They are the representatives of a particular discipline of work and are usually the external point of contact for the team. As the name suggest they are responsible for coordinating several activities in the project. For example a technical coordinator spends some part of their time every week to ensure that the engineering practices are up to the mark and take up the task of keeping all the associates in same page. 
  • Facilitators: These are the people who help the team set their goals and makes sure they are able to achieve by collaboration. They remove the hurdles in the team and ensure smoother journey towards the goals. They also ensure traction to the plan and help the team identify and mitigate potential risks.

Both the coordinators and facilitators can be rotated from the pool of associates in the team. Each team’s associates together comprise of all the skill sets needed for achieving the goal or in the course acquire them.

Teamwork

Leadership and Management

Like a football team each team needs to have a separation of leadership and management, leadership is always on the ground working with the team; management takes care of the team’s needs, sets expectations and vision for the future. In a hierarchical setup, leadership and management either meant the same or leadership was synonymous with senior management, leaders were always seen as someone whom people report to but not as an expert who works along with the team. It is essential that there are people who can provide technical and thought leadership in the team.

What are the benefits? When people don’t perceive hierarchy within their team, they were able to own things collectively. Irrespective of the seniority & experience, I have observed healthy debates in the team which has contributed to good work. People become comfortable with each other when the perception of hierarchy is taken out which helps in easy retrospection and one to one feedback also gets better as people consider every one in the team as peers.

Introducing these roles (associates, coordinators and facilitators) in the team does not need any structural changes in the hierarchy of an organisation, these are just titles in the team for people to identify themselves with the nature of work they do and remove the perception of hierarchy.

Image courtesy of [Sweet Crisis] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net