On this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann is joined once again by Quincy Jordan, a principal transformation consultant at AgileThought. Today, they’re exploring the concept of losing control to gain value.
Though the concept of “losing control” may sound a bit frightening, it is actually the most invaluable thing you can do as a leader of a team. Oftentimes, there are habits of control that can greatly impact a team’s ability to self-organize, mature, and deliver value. With less control, the team is able to produce better value.
In this episode, Quincy outlines the many interesting facets of losing control to gain value. He shares what this loss of control is, why losing control is key to gaining value, what you can do as a leader to let go of control and support your team in creating value, and much more.
- Why is it important to lose control to gain value?
- If you’re wanting to gain/produce value, you can run into roadblocks if you have a desire or habit of control
- Oftentimes, leaders and senior leaders (especially managers, tech leaders, etc.), primarily in the context of Scrum, struggle with a habit of control which can block them from achieving their desired result of more value
- There are many habits of control that can impact the team’s ability to self-organize and deliver value
- The leader can become accustomed to controlling the team’s narrative, leading the team to build mechanical habits (which doesn’t encourage self-organization, free-thinking, or experimentation)
- Leaders are often inundated with fear that if they allow the team to self-organize, they’ll make the wrong decisions or won’t produce as much (but this needs to happen in order for the team to mature properly)
- When people want to direct and control what the team does (i.e. how they figure things out), they are hindering from producing better results or better value (your team is full of smart people that can figure things out)
- If the team only knows the objective and they don’t understand the “why”, there is the potential that they’ll begin to do stuff mechanically (because it cripples them from making decisions in line with what the expectations are)
- If you are directing your team’s day-to-day activities, you’re actually limiting/capping what they’re capable of
- Exerting control of their activities makes you the bottleneck
- What can a loss of control lead to more value?
- Shifting the focus from trying to control what people are doing to instead of trying to understand what they’re intending to do allows the team to mature
- By removing yourself as the bottleneck of your team, you’re allowing them to have room to grow and mature
- Tips for leadership in letting go of control to support the team in creating value:
- As a leader, it is important to not only understand the approach that’s being taken and where the parameters are/where the boundaries lie, but also that the team has the ability to self-organize and to figure out the best way to accomplish what is going to produce the most value
- Your team just needs to know what the objective is that they’re trying to achieve (any more control is a hindrance)
- It is critically important for teams to understand the “why” behind what the objective is (if they do, 9/10 times they’ll produce the best results and the best value that they’re capable of)
- Instead of controlling or directing the workflow, leaders should be focusing on improving the environment in which people work, closing skill gaps, and removing organizational impediments
- As a supervisor or tech lead, you should serve as a mentor or be there as a resource for the team (i.e. a go-to point for team members if they get stuck or need some direction on finding resources that will help them do their work)
- It’s important to be there as a support but not a person to direct day-to-day activities as a leader
- Leaders at a program, VP, or portfolio level need to make sure that they’re supportive of an agile ecosystem
- In David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around!, he talks about intent-based leadership (where the team comes to leaders not with a request for direction, but instead with a: “I intend to do x, y, or z,” which gives the leader a chance to inquire if appropriate. eventually, this leads to less checking as the team demonstrates competency and consistency of delivery)
- Pivoting to intent-based leadership is only possible if the leader makes it clear what the outcome is that they’re expecting
- How to balance giving your team room to grow with safety measures:
- In taking a Scrum approach, there are many benefits (because the framework gives solid boundaries that allow for a good balance of self-organization and accountability)
- Accountability to one another (and themselves) is created by having daily Scrums
- The Sprint review adds balance because nobody is going months at a time without feedback
- There is a regimen within the flexibility that the Scrum Framework provides
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Quincy Jordan
- Agile Coaches’ Corner Ep. 101: “Are Scrum Masters Expendable?”
- Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by David Marquet
Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]
Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.
Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m your host, Dan Neumann. And I’m joined again today by principal transformation consultant at AgileThought Quincy, Jordan. Thanks for joining Quincy.
Quincy Jordan: [00:28] Hey Dan, happy to be here as usual. Always a pleasure.
Dan Neumann: [00:32] Thanks and, uh, happy to have, uh, the listeners out there. So thank you for downloading and listening to this podcast. A reminder if you do have questions or areas you want us to explore, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to weave those in by the time this episode is going out, I believe episode 101’s going to be Sam Falco. And I having explored a question we got from a Scrum Master about kind of what to do when, when things are going really well. Are you effectively working yourself out of a job? So maybe folks, if they’re curious about one listener’s question can hop back in and grab that one.
Quincy Jordan: [01:09] Nice. Yeah, it sounds like a very interesting topic.
Dan Neumann: [01:12] I thought so. Today, though, what we’re going to be exploring is losing control to gain value. It’s a topic Quincy had proposed and it sounded like it had some interesting facets to it. So, um, let’s explore this loss of control and why that’s valuable to get value. It sounds scary.
Quincy Jordan: [01:32] Uh, yeah, it’s not scary, but it is something that, um, I think if, if you know, folks are not conscious about it, um, they can run into, you know, the scenario where, you know, they’re, they’re, they are wanting to gain value. They’re wanting to produce value, but their desire and really more so habit of control, um, is actually stopping or preventing the one thing that they’re really trying to do. And I find that especially a particular and, uh, that it takes place a lot with either, uh, leaders, senior leaders, um, especially those who are, uh, you know, managers, uh, like tech leads, you know, that those kind of folks, you know, oftentimes, and let’s also make sure that I’m really clear. This is primarily in the context of Scrum, probably more than any other approach.
Dan Neumann: [02:33] As you are talking through that. I think you, you, uh, flipped one of the words and for me it was a little bit of an aha moment where you talked about the habit of control. And I got to thinking of instances again in the Scrum framework where let’s say in the daily Scrum, even little things like the Scrum Masters saying, okay, you know, who’s next to, you know, okay, Sam, you talk, okay, Sally, you talk, okay, Jane, what’s your update. Those types of things they’re as much habit like you described as opposed to maybe an intentional type of control, but even subtle cues like that can impact the team’s ability to self-organize and to really deliver value as opposed to talking about activity. So that was, that was interesting.
Quincy Jordan: [03:17] And I can definitely see that where, uh, you know, where it’s sometimes becoming mechanical, uh, and, and it’s, it’s mechanically, uh, being accustomed to controlling, uh, the team’s narrative, you know, let’s say, uh, and, but those things, as you pointed out, you know, they, they’re not things that encourage, uh, self-organization um, they’re not encouraging the team to really kind of think freely about, well, what’s the best way that we can do some of these things now, does that mean they go outside the framework? No, it doesn’t mean they go outside of the framework. Um, but it does mean shifting the focus from trying to control what people are doing and to trying to understand what they’re intending to do in allowing them to mature and go through that process. Uh, that’s one of the things that, that I’ve seen probably the most is leaders are they are inundated with fear at times, fear that if they allow the team to mature that the team’s going to make the wrong decision, that they’re going to do the wrong thing, that they’re not going to produce as much. Uh, and the fact of the matter is that probably will happen, but it also needs to happen for them to mature properly.
Dan Neumann: [04:53] You made a distinction in there that I wanted to highlight as well. So this is kind of fun, like little nuggets you talked about in the Scrum context, within the Scrum framework, having freedom. And self-organization, uh, I think that’s a really important bright line for Scrum teams. If you say you’re doing Scrum, don’t do Scrum, but we’re doing Scrum, but we don’t have a Retrospective, every Sprint are we doing Scrum? But our daily Scrum is an hour long meeting, or we do Scrum. But so within that Scrum framework, there’s a ton of room for self-organize and taking your own approach. And then for non Scrum teams or for leaders, there’s a similar activity that could go on, which is to draw the boundaries within which the team can self-organize or the conditions under which they can self-organize. And then when there’s something that maybe that team isn’t, uh, appropriate to self-organize around, or is it to a level where they could safely self-organize around it, that’s when they know they have to go to outside counsel or, um, go up to somebody with more expertise or check with somebody before making a, uh, a potentially harmful decision. So I see within Scrum framework, as well as the, within good leadership, knowing where those boundaries of autonomy lie.
Quincy Jordan: [06:11] Yeah. And I think that really, so yes, definitely within Scrum, but, you know, if we think about it, uh, beyond Scrum, but still within an agile approach or an agile mindset, uh, understanding, you know, the approach that’s being taken, uh, and you know, where, where the parameters are, where the boundaries are, uh, that also allows you to know, uh, let’s say, even if it’s Kanban, or even if it’s XP, or even if it’s, DSTN like, it, it doesn’t, it kinda doesn’t matter, you know, to some degree that if you understand where the boundaries lie, then you also understand, okay, man, do you have, the team has all this space, all this room, you know, to self-organize to figure out, well, what’s the best way to accomplish this thing that is going to produce the most value. And, but it’s when others step in and they want to direct, they want to control, uh, they really want to live this illusion that by stepping in and controlling what the team does, like how they figure it out, that things are going to be better. And the only thing that may be better is they’re feeling as though things are going to be better, but it is generally not going to produce better results it’s not going to produce better value, uh, because the team, I mean, you know, generally these are going to be smart people, you know, and they know how to figure things out. They just need to know, uh, what the task is, you know, that lies in front of them, that they need to figure out the best way to accomplish. Uh, and then they need to be given, you know, really the empowerment, uh, to do so.
Dan Neumann: [08:04] Right. So you talked about making sure that the team knows what the objective is that they’re trying to achieve. So this is the objective. We are trying to deliver a capability for the system. We’re trying to build a marketing campaign that reaches this demographic where, um, we’re trying to increase subscribership to our digital newsletter, whatever that objective is, making that known to the team, so that then they can come up with the, how the tactics, the strategy, the activities they might do to support that objective.
Quincy Jordan: [08:38] Yes. And I would also add making sure that they understand why, um, so knowing the, so it brings up a really good point. So if they only know the objective, but they don’t understand why then that’s where you, you run into another aspect of teams doing things mechanically, because, you know, they’re thinking, okay, well, this is what you said, the objective is, so this is what we’re doing, but if they don’t understand the why behind it, then it actually kind of cripples them from being able to make decisions in line with, with what the expectations are, because they don’t really understand why. So making sure that they understand the why behind that objective is extremely important as well. And, you know, again, if they understand the why they understand the why, uh, you’re, you’re nine times out of 10, you’re going to get the best results and produce the best value that that particular team can produce, because it’s not the same for every team. So, uh, so you really are focusing on what this particular team in this environment can do best.
Dan Neumann: [09:48] So if we’ve got the what and the why, and the leadership, the, the, the folks who this team is trying to support with, with their outcome, understand that, and now we’ve asked leadership to, um, really not be too, too far into the controlling or the directing of the work. Then I think it begs the question of what does, what do leaders focus on so that teams can self-organize or with the extra time they’re not trying to status track or task manage, et cetera, where else might they spend their time? And for me, one of those areas is improving the environment in which people work, you know, whether it’s, um, skill gaps that maybe if the team learned or had exposure to some new technologies or some new capabilities personally, they could, they could deal with, maybe there are other organizational impediments that are in the way that could allow this team to deliver much more value sooner. Like, those are a couple of things that come to mind for me as a, if I’m not doing the control, what am I doing?
Quincy Jordan: [10:53] Sure. And, you know, so I think it depends on the type of leader. And, and when I say the type of leader, really, I mean, the level of leader. So let’s say if this person is a supervisor, technically, you know, that, um, level of leader, uh, and especially in that case, oftentimes you’re, they’re accustomed to assigning everything to everyone. Um, which, you know, as we know, in, in a Scrum framework, like no one assigns anything to someone. Um, and so in that case, uh, what I believe to be effective is for that person to mentor, um, to be there as a resource, um, as a go-to point, uh, for team members, if they get stuck, if they need to talk through something, if they need some direction, not on doing their work, but direction on finding resources to help them do their work. Uh, so at that level, that’s what I find to be, uh, really the most helpful. I also find that level to be probably the most challenging, um, as well, is that supervisor tech lead manager kind of level, you know, for Scrum teams. Um, and so that’s one of the things that they can really focus on a lot, you know, and, and what are the other things that, you know, people may need, you know, whether it’s additional training or, uh, really just being there as a support, but not as a person to, to direct day to day activities.
Dan Neumann: [12:36] If they are the day-to-day director of activities, now you’ve kept the performance of that team or that individual at whatever that manager knows. So if you’re going to that manager for technical direction, now you’ve taken what could be a really smart group with a lot of diverse ways of doing it. And maybe people are learning new, better, faster ways, and you go to the supervisor and they’re going to go to the approach that they know which may or may not be the best one for that situation.
Quincy Jordan: [13:06] Which, which inadvertently also causes them to become the bottleneck as well. And so now the team is not producing value. Why? Because there’s, there’s a leader, that’s a bottleneck, um, in place. Uh, and once that leader can understand that, Hey, I am actually the bottleneck that is preventing the value from being produced, then they can remove themselves from that. And some of that also goes back to allowing the team to, um, have the room to grow and mature.
Dan Neumann: [14:01] Lets explore that giving the team room to grow and mature and balanced that with the safety, not to really screw things up, because I think that’s, I think there’s a little bit of, of potential concern there.
Quincy Jordan: [14:15] And it does take that balance, right? So, which is one of the things, you know, we all know there are many other approaches than just Scrum. Scrum is not the only one, um, for an agile approach. You know, many of us know that. Um, however, I do believe that is one of the true benefits in taking a Scrum approach, because since it is a nice framework, it gives really good boundaries that allows for good balance, um, in particular, when done, you know, uh, appropriately, you know, that, that, that balance is there. So you allow the teams to be self-organizing, uh, you know, but at the same time, you know, they’re collaborating with their teammates every day, you know, so there is, uh, no, it’s not a status, you know, report, you know, every day or anything like that. But there is a bit of accountability that is being shared, uh, by having that daily Scrum, um, it’s helping them to be accountable to one another. And really more importantly, it’s helping them to be accountable to what they themselves themselves said, hey, this is what I intend to do, you know, over the next 24 hours. Um, and so no one’s dictating that to them, but that accountability is there, which helps with that balance, uh, in the same thing, really for almost any of the events. Um, you know, we think about the Sprint review. Well, that’s part of that balance there because they’re not going months at a time before, uh, they’re getting that feedback. So those events really help things not to go off the rails, uh, in many ways.
Dan Neumann: [16:06] And as you were saying that I think of the time boxes, like I said, every couple of weeks, if that’s your Sprint cadence, there’s a Sprint review. And that’s one of the reasons I prefer personally, oftentimes these shorter, the two week ish, um, time box, as opposed to a month, you’ve now cut in half the, uh, the duration until you get feedback as part of the Sprint review, you’ve doubled the team’s opportunity than compared to a month long Sprint to inspect and adapt. And if you’re using the complimentary practice of user stories, and there are many user stories that are happening in a Sprint, you can only go so far off of maybe what somebody else had intended to communicate in. You’ve really limited the investment in that. And so you, you might be wrong, but you’re not very wrong because it’s a slice of the team’s capacity for two weeks and your exact feedback in that Sprint review.
Quincy Jordan: [17:03] Exactly. Yeah. I couldn’t couldn’t agree more. Couldn’t agree more
Dan Neumann: [17:06] Interestingly, that, that really, if we, if you do have a crappy Sprint and you don’t get to your Sprint goal, or you don’t have the increment, that is not the time to cancel the Sprint review, that’s the time to go, Hey, stakeholders, here’s some of the challenges we ran into and get feedback on that. Like, so yeah, when things aren’t going well, that’s often an excellent time to get some feedback and just stop the process, quit making more bad, stop, step back, and look at what’s happening and get a chance to address that collectively.
Quincy Jordan: [17:38] Yeah. And, and I think that is brings up another interesting point in my mind, which is the, the interesting thing of there being a regimen within the flexibility. So, you know, as we know, often times, you know, when people think of in particular leaders, when they think of agile, they’re, they’re kind of afraid of it because they’re like, well, you know, people just do whatever they want to do. Like that’s what’s happening and, you know, no, but building that regimen, uh, which I know what it’s, it’s almost heresy to say, you know, in the agile community sometimes. Um, but having that regimen in place that something like a Scrum framework, you know, provides, uh, it provides, you know, some of that safety that as you said, if you do, if you get it wrong, you’re only getting it wrong so much, you know, not too much. Um, but I also want it to go back to something else that you had asked me, um, earlier about, uh, the different about what leaders can do. Uh, and I mentioned about that there, you know, depends on what level of leader. And we talked about the leader, that’s like the supervisor manager, uh, technically kind of level. Uh, but the leaders that are, let’s say at a higher level, maybe a program level or portfolio level or VP level, uh, you know, what they can do is they need to make sure that they are supportive of an agile ecosystem. That’s where they can really focus. They can focus on making sure that the organization is accommodating to working in this way, uh, which means how they keep track of what value is being produced also needs to change, but they don’t need to step in and try to encourage control among the, uh, supervisor ranks, let’s say, uh, because sometimes that’s where that comes from. So, you know, I mentioned about that first layer of leadership that is, you know, has that habit of control, but sometimes that habit it’s there for a reason it’s there because those who they report to have those same type of control issues that they’re pushing down, you know, towards them. So, uh, so in some cases, the more senior leaders need to focus on the organization and focus on providing, uh, a culture that is accommodating for learning, for improving for continuous improvement, uh, as opposed to only being focused on making sure that the boxes are checked.
Dan Neumann: [20:47] That, that culture of learning and improving versus box checking. So I think I’ve, I see sometimes, Hey, we need to, we need to know what all the estimates are for the team. And we need to know where, where everybody’s spending their time, and we need to track that back up and roll it up. And it is valuable to know how organizational energy and dollars are being spent. And it’s even more important to know if we’re getting any value for all that time and energy. So if I can, um, get five times the value for, for some increase in the time spent that that might be excellent value, but just kind of the tracking of the activity versus the tracking of the learning or the tracking of the outcomes is probably, uh, an opportunity then for, for folks to look at that agile organization.
Quincy Jordan: [21:34] Yeah. I agree. Completely agree.
Dan Neumann: [21:37] You talked about, I got to kind of jagged my little memory here. Um, Oh, you’re talking about the leadership and it reminded me of a book that, uh, several of us in the practice of read, perhaps all, uh, which was, uh, David Marquet’s book turned this ship around. And in that he talked about intent based leadership, um, being where people come to those leaders, uh, not with a request for direction. Tell me what to do next boss, but with a, Hey, uh, I intend to do X, Y or Z, which has really I’ve looked at the situation. I believe I know what’s the next thing that should be done. And I intend to do it. And it gives that leader then a chance to, uh, inquire if appropriate, Hey, have you made sure that you’ve done all the preceded activities, especially with a less mature team, you, you don’t want somebody to say, Hey, I’m going to go do this thing and you go, great. And you’re derelict in your duties if they don’t have the skills or the knowledge or the context to do it. Um, and then that can become less checking as the team demonstrates competence and consistency of delivery.
Quincy Jordan: [22:49] Yeah. And so, as you were saying that it sparked a couple of things for me and, uh, yes, they, so the team is, is accustomed to saying, Hey, what’s the next thing you want me to do? Uh, then you asked that prevents that it keeps that control in place that is not really healthy for the team. Um, if they pivot to intent-based leadership, well, that’s good, but they can only pivot to that. If that leader makes it clear what the outcome is that they’re expecting. So they need to be really clear about this is the outcome that I’m expecting. This is the vision. This is, you know, whatever that is. Um, and then that way, the team now knows, uh, what the end for that small period of time should look like now, how they get there, how they figure it out. That’s where allowing the team to grow and mature and, and, and more so allow them to figure it out, uh, and determine the, how, you know, comes into place. Uh, but I have seen where you have leaders who they’re fully on board with doing things in an agile way. Um, they’re fully onboard with encouraging an agile ecosystem. Uh, but they don’t quite understand yet. They still need to be clear about the vision. They still need to be clear about the outcome that they’re expecting, not go do this next, but this is the next thing that I am looking for.
Dan Neumann: [24:35] Yeah. I think of, of David Marquet’s example, you know, he, he, at one point the submarine is in, in the Bay for some kind of maintenance and repair. Well, if your team doesn’t know if it’s in the Bay for repair, or if you’re getting ready to sail out, you’re going to get some really messed up intentions. If somebody thinks they should be taking the boat out and somebody else is like, wait, the boat’s supposed to be getting repaired. You’re going to have a lack of alignment. And similarly then in the, in the software world or with companies, if people don’t know what the intent of a particular platform or project is, you’re going to end up with lots of, lots of thrashing, lots of competing ideas that aren’t aligned with each other and with the outcome that, that people are trying to achieve. Cool. So Quincy today, you know, we talked about the losing control to gain value. We talked about the boundaries of self-organization within the Scrum framework and in other boundaries that leaders might put in place, uh, we just talked about intent-based leadership as one of those approaches, um, as well as really focusing on the environment versus the activities and the role that different leaders, whether you’re kind of a, a line or a tech leader, somebody closer to, uh, the software team or whether you are farther up in the organization, who’s at the program, the portfolio, the VP, whatever that level of folk is, uh, looking at opportunities to, um, loosen some control up there as well. Any, any last word?
Quincy Jordan: [26:10] Um, just, you know, appreciating that teams need, they need to be given the opportunity to grow. They need to be given the opportunity to mature. Uh, don’t compare, you know, one team to another team. I think, you know, use this analogy often, but it’s like, children know you don’t want to compare one child to the other child. Um, each person is unique and each team is unique, uh, and, you know, allow those teams to develop, you know, as they do, don’t try to write the narrative for them, allow them to create that themselves and support them.
Dan Neumann: [26:49] That’s wonderful. Good words. Thank you for joining Quincy. Appreciate it.
Quincy Jordan: [26:52] Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Dan,
Outro: [26:55] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.