In my recent experience, I noticed an alarming trend where many development teams are stretching the definition of a self-organized team a little too far. They believe that they can choose what they want to work on the backlog, they can tweak the framework (if they think the framework does not ‘suit their convenience’), they can decide the length of the Sprint or in Kanban choose NOT to have WIP, Cycle Time and the list goes on. Literally they feel empowered to ignore almost all the principles of agility, and fundamentals of Scrum/Kanban. Any effort to mentor them meets the common refrain – we don’t need be dogmatic, idealist, or follow Scrum by the book. But a few realize that self-organizing teams need subtle control to be functional.
The Scrum Guide says (about the development team)… “They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality.”
But what propels the development team to take the control?
It is a long list but one primary factor is organizational dysfunctions. A development team’s ultimate desire to meet the business goal doesn’t excite them to pick another battle against organizational dysfunctions. When they are not able to overcome the dysfunctions they tend to tweak the framework to accommodate the dysfunctions. Another factor is the pain of learning. Agility is a socio-technical phenomenon which requires a change in mindset. It is built upon learning and continuous improvement. Avoiding the pain of learning whether it is learning cross functional skills or value of effectiveness over efficiency, the development team often tends to follow the path of least pain and if that tempts them to tweak the framework they succumb to the temptation.
Subtle control vs empowerment?
In the The New New Product Development Game, Takeuchi and Nonaka talks about subtle control. “Although project teams are largely on their own, they are not uncontrolled….. At the same time, management avoids the kind of rigid control that impairs creativity and spontaneity. Instead, the emphasis is on “self-control,” “control through peer pressure,” and “control by love,” which collectively we call “subtle control.”