Do Agilists who come from a management background fare better than ones from a technical background? Many would say yes, due to the aptitude for developing their soft skills. Others say maybe if they have the ability to understand enough about the technology to relate to a technical team. Well, I had the opportunity to speak with a person this week who comes from a Behavioral Science/Social Work background. I was impressed by the conversation.
The conversation was very interesting and insightful. We discussed how a person with strong soft skills: empathy, listening and observing, influencing, etc, training and experience in social services and an interest in information technology came into an Agile career. As with all of these articles, the identities of the person will remain confidential – we will use “he” from hear on. While in Social Services roles, he excelled working with and helping people. He also showed an aptitude for information technology and was called upon to learn about IT and support the teams as necessary. Moving then into a more traditional business analyst role, he was introduced to Agile. Now, he has embraced agile, trains and coaches teams and has been involved in multiple agile transformation projects.
The approach he takes to the work is different than the traditional Business Analyst, PM or technical person. Intrinsically, he embodies the values of servant leadership acting without ego for the betterment of the team. He is an observer and listener who gains motivation from helping teams transform and become more cohesive as a unit. He has a good understanding of human behavior and motivational theory that serves him well and enables him to identify with the team and earn their trust. He is seen as an adviser and facilitator which enables him to move between the various roles on an agile team with ease.
It is not uncommon for him to act as Agile Coach and then move back into a Scrum Master role with the next job. He has experience as a Scrum Master, Agile Coach and Product Owner. We spoke about some of the challenges of Agile for Project Managers and Management and one story caught my attention. Summarizing, he was supporting a new member of the team (manager) with some reporting and training and the manager made a point to thank him and then say that he would give him full credit for his work when he presents it to the senior management team, which to many people would sound thoughtful and good. His reply was that they were a team and it should be seen as a team effort, rather than giving credit to individual team members. He was simply happy to support the team and provide the needed information to help the manager become more productive in his role. This is an agile mindset, but I think this sentiment sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and this is a good reminder of one of the reasons companies and teams embark on these agile journeys in the first place.
As you transform your organization and mature into SAFe or Nexus, do you teams still embody servant leadership? Please comment.
Written by John Todd. John is a volunteer Board member for PMI MassBay, Agile enthusiast, a Partner at Downtown Recruiting Inc, a boutique Executive Recruiting and Contract Placement agency in Boston specializing in Project and Product Management. Visit our website at downtownrecruiting.com to become a client today.