Success in an Agile setting is more dependent on a high-performing team than it is on individual performance. Well-operated, collaborative teams are innovative, efficient, and produce better results for their clients.
One ingredient for success in high performing teams is the ability to make high quality decisions quickly. Yet, many teams fall short when it comes to effective decision making. Here are the secrets to success that many of us are missing out on.
Secret #1: The customer is the priority
This may seem obvious, but many teams miss the mark here.
Often, Agile teams equate empowerment and flexibility with independence. The result is an ‘every man for himself’ attitude. This is the kind of team where the designer's ego bruises when a developer suggests the proposed wireframe is ridiculously impractical. The kind of team where the business analyst thinks stakeholders will not approve of the end result. This is the kind of team where absolutely no effective decisions are made because no team member is truly engaged collectively in the product outcome.
Instead, collectivity must focus around one primary goal. That goal is to satisfy the customer. In fact, the highest priority of the The Agile Manifesto is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
During times of confusion and conflict, high performing teams know how to bring everyone back to this main priority. Each decision is made with the aim of pleasing the customer. Satisfying the team and the shareholders is secondary.
Secret #2: Making a decision is better than not making one
Sound decisions are made based on quantitative evidence. However, in an agile environment with fast moving changes, quantitative evidence might not be gathered in time. What's a team to do when they have to make a decision without reliable metrics?
The worst thing for a team to do is to wait or remain indecisive. Making a decision is better than not making one. The idea that "if the situation changes, the decision can always be revisited" is popular and effective.
Dan Greening, Managing Director of Senex Rex and Enterprise Transformation Consultant at LeadingAgile has this to say about making a decision with limited information: “You can’t be waiting for a measurement to emerge later down the road. By that time, you’ll be run over by a train.”
Additionally, Daniel Wagner, author of "Global Risk Agility and Decision Making," has a similar line of thinking. He writes that teams have "the obligation to choose."
Self-governing teams must understand that part of their collective obligation is to make choices, even when those choices are risky.
Secret #3: The majority rules, but not always
Democracy is ingrained into our decision-making early on. This means that when decisions are difficult we often default to taking a vote. But an outcome based on majority decision does not usually result in customer satisfaction, which is the priority of decision-making.
Many agile practitioners agree that majority voting is not a successful decision-making strategy. It leads to mediocre results in which no one is satisfied. This dissatisfaction shows up in the form of an ineffective or inefficient end product.
But, if majority vote isn't the way successful teams conduct business, what do these teams do? It depends.
In some situations a consensus vote can resolve an issue. In this type of vote objections are mitigated and made less severe. If you are part of a team that is capable of reaching a decision through discussion then this type of decision-making might be effective. Critics of this method say that it can lead to a stalemate.
To break out of a stalemate situation, your team can use consent decision-making. This is a rapid technique that involves a series of rounds with every team member contributing until an agreement is made.
The biggest secret that high performing teams know is that there is no formula to successful decision-making. Teams are dynamic, situations are fluid. But when a team is collectively engaged, owns their obligations and is prepared to throw democracy to the wind, then they are able to customize their own decision-making strategy.
If you want your Agile team to consistently produce great work, improving inter-team communication is a great first step. Our free guide highlights 5 proven steps you can use today that will help restore effective communication in your team.
*Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2011 and has been completely revamped and updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.