Friday, June 27, 2008

Bahá'í Consultation model and decision making

We are making decisions all the time, either by ourselves or by collaborating with others. There are times where it is easier to make decisions and sometimes tough. One of the classic example is performance moderation session that all supervisors and their teams have to go through in their career, one time or the other. Have you ever attended such meetings in larger organizations ?, if not, here is a preview.
Each supervisor/manager brings the data about their team members and each of these supervisors would have come to the meeting with their own agenda i.e. to get promotions/good hikes to their team members. Most of the time, there are more candidates than the allocated budget and this is a tough situation as only a few, can be chosen for hike/promotions. In situations like this where each one is pursuing their own goal and not a common one, decision making becomes even more difficult.

Above example is an extreme one which may not happen daily, however we commonly come across group meetings where collective decision has to be taken.

How do you make decisions in such situations ?
In such situations one of the best suited techniques would be to apply the Baha'is consultation model". As you might be aware, Baha's is a religion. The goal of consultation the Bahá'í way is to discover the best course of action to take for the well-being of all.

Here are the 4 steps in Bahá'ís consultation technique:

      1. Establish the full facts;
      2. Decide on the principles to be applied;
      3. Discuss the matter;
      4. Make a decision.
In this technique, each participant would be given an opportunity to express their opinions, and everybody has to vote for all the ideas shared by the participants. This in turn results in ideas becoming "group's" property rather than individual's. People who would have come with malafide intentions cannot push their ideas as the rest of the crowd has to be in agreement. Respect for people and ideas are given highest priority in Baha'is consultation model.

Here are some good resources throwing more light on this model

This technique could be applied during Estimation and retrospective sessions in Scrum.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Self Organizing team and its limit

There is a limit to everything and including the limit, a self organizing team can reach.

Self Organizing teams are characterized by the following features
  • The team members share a common goal
  • They collaborate to accomplish their goals
  • Each team member shares the responsibility while managing the tasks
  • They make their own decisions to achieve the necessary goal
  • They take responsibility of both success and failure

Self organizing teams are considered to be powerful and productive as compared to teams managed by a manager. However the question arises, can the team make decisions which could possible go against the company's goals ? if so, is it all right for self organizing teams to make such decisions ?

For example, a company might want the team to attend the CEO's biweekly presentation, however the team does not want to do so. Can such decisions be allowed ?

Even though self organizing teams can make their own decision to achieve the goal, the team cannot do whatever they want to do. There are certain limitations and framework within which they have to operate.

For example, the decisions made by self organizing teams should
  • be in line with organizational goals
  • Customers goals
  • Goals of the project
  • be Socially acceptable
If the team does not want to follow one or more of the above framework parameters, the stakeholders of the projects have all the rights to take necessary action. It is also important for the stakeholders to understand the root cause of the problem by applying Five Whys or any other techniques.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

When would you not apply Agile methods ?

I have been applying Agile methods from so many years and been interacting with many Agile experts. So far I have not seen/heard stories about the projects where it had been felt that Agile cannot be applied. Agile methods should be looked more like a risk mitigation strategy on software projects rather than a "software development process". Agile promotes continuous improvement through learn and adapt cycles.

Following are the possible characteristics of a project where Agile need not be applied:
  • The project carries no risks
  • The stakeholders are not interested in continuous improvement of project quality.
  • The stakeholders are confident that the project would go as per the project plan without any deviation. Even if it deviates, stakeholders/teams are fine with it.

Here is Ken Schwaber's take on "not" applying Scrum on projects:

I wouldn’t use Scrum if I were embarking on work in which there was absolutely no possibility of change or the unexpected. I would then confidently plan the project and await the predicted results on the day when it was due for the cost that was estimated. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful world ?

Stakeholders and management team keep coming across situations to make decisions around complex and debatable subjects, similar to the one we are discussing now(Agile - Not Agile). In such situations Ralph Stacey's Agreement & Certainty Matrix might come handy.