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Pitfall #3: Providing Slack to Learn

By David Hawks | Oct 15, 2015 |  Agile Transformation,  Article

Part 3 in our 10 Agile Transformation Pitfalls and How to Address Them

As more IT and software organizations transition to Agile, they’re discovering Agile to be a better way to get quality work done faster. They’re also discovering that the transition can be tough to navigate. This blog discusses pitfall #3 in our blog series, 10 Agile Transformation Pitfalls and How to Address Them. Read about the previous pitfalls in our series:

Pitfall #3: Not Providing Slack to Learn

When you onboard a new hire, you likely don’t hold them to the same standard as you do everyone else. You forgive them when they fall short and expect them to do so. After all, they’re learning. They may turn out to be the most productive member of the team after they get used to the new way of doing things.

The same is true when a team adopts Agile. Do you provide slack to learn?

Crowded Highway - need slack to learnCreate slack to learn

Many managers think their job is to target 100% utilization of their workers. However, just like a crowded highway, 100% utilization, doesn’t allow the slack needed to absorb change. In our world the cars coming on or off the highway would be in the form of new urgent requests or trying new things. As a leader you need to create slack for your team so they can have the courage to take risks and try new ways of working.

Ask the right questions to prioritize learning over output

One big way to make your team culture a friendlier learning environment, is to change your questions. Typical accountability questions tend to center around output: “How many features have you built?” and “Did you deliver on time?”

We encourage you to change your questions. Your questions will show the shift in your priorities. “What are you learning?” and “How can I support you?” can go a long way in demonstrating the importance you place on learning and improvement to your team.

Be responsive

Inevitably, as teams adopt Agile, issues come up: Tasks aren’t moving like they should, or there are breaks in communication. When these issues arise, the team will raise them to leadership. What we see all too often, is leadership failing to respond quickly to these issues as they come up.

Unfortunately, lack of responsiveness communicates this isn’t important. The thought that inevitably follows in a team member, is “If this Agile change isn’t important why should I go through the pain of figuring it out?”” The team will just go back to the old way of doing things. Take time to address issues as they arise. Make the progress on these items visible. Organizational impediments tend to take time to resolve so it is important for the team to understand any progress that is being made.

Give a little, get a lot

The smoothest, most rewarding Agile adoptions we see are in teams who are given plenty of slack to learn. I hope these tips help you create a safe-to-fail culture that prioritizes learning and values responsiveness. Like your last solid new hire, the more room you give them to learn, the happier they are in the process and the more committed they’ll be to the task at hand.

If you’ve recently adopted Agile or you’re considering making the leap, give us a call. We would love to connect with you and hear about your Agile Transformation and give you more helpful tips to make the process go smoothly.

Stay tuned for the fourth common Agile transformation pitfall in our next blog, Pitfall #4: Leadership is out of Alignment.

Follow the entire series:

For more on our approach to building lasting business agility, you can check out our Transformation Services page.

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