I was on vacation last week and was working on a blog post when my 5 year old barged into my office asking me to play dominos with him. I figured I needed about 10 minutes to finish up the post so I asked him to go look at his clock and tell me what time it was. He rushed out, came back and said, “daddy, it’s 9.25” so I said, “I will play dominos with you in 10 minutes.”
At 9.35 he comes back in, grabs my arm and says “ok, its 9.35, lets go play dominos!”
“Hang on dude, I need a few more minutes…”
“NOOOOOO he says! I want to play dominos!”
The great thing about kids is how they live in the now. I set the expectation that I would play with him in 10 minutes and I broke that commitment.
So what happened?
Bad estimate finishing my post I suppose. Maybe I gave an estimate based on what I thought was a realistic time frame for a 5 year old to wait regardless of the effort left on the task. As a result that time-crunch probably led to lack of focus and it all went downhill from there.
Bottom line is I set an expectation, I broke the commitment and the consequence was the dreaded “5-year old melt-down.”
There’s a lesson here, well, a few actually.
1) Trust: When a team sets an expectation with their Sprint commitment they’ve largely said “trust us, we’ll get this stuff done in 2 weeks” If teams get into a habit of setting expectations and not delivering, that trust will be broken and that has consequences that are much more serious than “oh well, we’ll do better next time“. The product owner, stakeholders/customer or whoever, won’t believe the team when they estimate stories or when they make Sprint commitments.
Without trust you’ll end up piling more process on top of already existing dysfunctional process to account for the lack of trust. Sometimes we like to call these “gates” and mask our distrust as “accountability or responsibility”
2) Team Responsibility: When a team sets an expectation, they are responsible for living up to that expectation. If the team misses the commitment they should be pissed off they missed it. Of course, when they nail it, it feels good. It feels good to finish something and present the work to others in the organization.
Without team responsibility you’re just breaking work into 2 week chucks and not behaving any differently.
3) Personal Satisfaction: Personal satisfaction is a great motivator. Harvard Business Review posted an article on what really motivates people and progress was the number one factor. Setting an expectation in the Sprint Planning session and showing the result at the Sprint Demo shows progress which is a great way for team members to feel a sense of personal satisfaction. This is more important than managing by fear (the STICK approach) or managing with carrots (the REWARD approach).
These 3 factors are closely related.
Lack of personal satisfaction can lead to lack of team responsibility. Lack of team responsibility can lead to commitments being missed which will lead to a lack of trust between the team and the organization/customer/stakeholder.
The difference between my story of breaking my commitment with my 5 year old and a team breaking their commitment is that I can re-gain that trust easily by saying I’m sorry and by taking him out for some ice-cream.
Chances are a team only has so many ‘get out of jail free’ cards and a pattern of missing commitments isn’t only going to kill your Agile initiative, it’s going to do damage to your business.