Do Your Managers Really Want Agility?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a leader in a startup to say that software should be more rigid, that cycles are too fast, or that the trend towards agility is terrible. You’re likely thinking, “that’s crazy!” After all, we all know that quick iteration and the ability to change our minds are essential for moving fast.

However, I regularly see companies complaining about the way things are working and trying to work with Product in a non-cooperative manner. When managers say that what they’re getting from Product isn’t detailed enough, is missing details, or changes between iterations, you might feel these are all legitimate complaints. You hear these things, and you think the yourself that it makes sense that engineers aren’t as productive as you hoped they’d be, or that quality isn’t where it should be.

Unfortunately, these complaints don’t hold up once you give it more thought. They say they want tasks to be pre-chewed so their teams can easily swallow them. They don’t want to come back to Product for clarifications that “delay” them. They would like to minimize changes. It might sound familiar. After all, this approach has been tried quite extensively. It has a name.

If you follow along on what R&D are genuinely asking for, you realize that what they’re effectively looking for is *gasp* Waterfall!

We shouldn’t expect Product to be able to know everything beforehand. Doing so would set a bar so high that nothing will get done. Sanctifying your existing features and code to reduce changes means that whatever you happened to think of earlier is also the one true way. It most definitely isn’t.

Embracing the executive mindset and pushing for Autonomy, you, as a tech executive, need to accept the fact that there will always be plenty of excuses, yet they are not show stoppers. They mean that everyone in the team needs to work together. It’s not “Product passes well-defined tasks to Engineering.” In an actual cross-functional organization, cooperation along the whole development cycle, start to finish, is the magic gravy.

After all, what makes a great engineering organization is having an innovation mindset (versus a cost-center mindset). Innovation, by its very nature, cannot happen in a linear, well-defined manner. Rarely can a single visionary articulate the whole work start-to-finish and pass it along.

It’s your job, therefore, to guide your managers to let go of their false hopes of ever getting Product to be omniscient. Instead of trying to be spoon-fed, they and their people have a spot at the table and in the kitchen. Real autonomy empowers the entire team to solve these problems together, in an iterative manner. Get to it.