Decision Making and Informal Leadership

One cornerstones of Agile transformation is People Empowerment. In the past decisions were usually made by managers who base their decisions on discussions with the formal and informal leaders at all levels of the organization. With Agile we would like to have an organization where individuals, teams and communities take more initiative and organize itself. At the beginning of the transformation decision making often falls to non-existence. Here is couple of thoughts about it.

Many Scrum and Agile books and unfortunately also consultants propose voting for making decisions in Scrum teams and in the communities of practise. In his blog William Gill opens up the pitfalls of voting in Product Management context claiming that it leads to mediocre products. I fully agree and I would like to expand this to the team’s work also.

Abuse of decision making by voting in Scrum teams lead to mediocre decisions on architecture, interfaces, tools, test strategy, and so on. Voting can be justified for some decisions, but technical decisions must be done based on competence and knowledge. Before, this was done with formal technical expert roles that are authorized to make the decisions. The pitfall is that formal roles seldom follow the changes of individual competence. In addition, the expertise is often so diverse that formal roles cannot ever match one-to-one with the needs of decision making. Removal of formal roles gives room to informal leadership to flourish. Informal leadership is something that the management must encourage and give room to emerge.

At the heart of informal leadership is the common understanding and silent recognition of individual’s competences. This can easily be achieved in a team context and in small organizations. In large organizations, especially in multi-site projects, decision making based on informal leadership often fails in misunderstandings. Even though Scrum quite often emphasizes the team context, cross-organizational and cross-site communication and even personal relationships are of great importance.

Janne Irmola

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