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The Director that loved to shuffle his Agile Team

At a multi-national entertainment company that had adopted Agile at a large scale ($1 billion USD program, with ~500 developers plus shared services teams) I worked with the Director of a group that was adopting Agile.  The Director was a huge proponent of Agile which really helped with adoption within the team.  Our team actually used a Kanban variant (actually “Scrumban” aligned with the cadence of the other team’s on the project which used Scrum – why we chose a Kanban variant is a story for another time) to deliver.  From an Agile practices perspective the team and the organisation overall were becoming quite mature.

However, this is not an Agile process story, but rather a story about Agile leadership and people.  You see even though this Director (we will call him Ed) was a great supporter of Agile within his team and his group he had one leadership habit that often sabotaged our efforts.  Ed loved to switch his team members from project to project.  He would spend the day “wheeling and dealing” with the other managers, Directors, and VPs at the company about who would work on what project.  I think this was one of his greatest joys.

In one example of how this affected the team, Ed  came merrily into the office one morning as our team was headed toward an important delivery milestone.  Different aspects of the included stories had been in-progress for some time in the continuous flow and we were nearing completion.  Ed then decided that day that he would move a key team member (we will call her Mary) who had been dedicated to this particular project.  Mary came to let me know that she was being moved to another project, which I immediately checked with Ed.  He confirmed that he had other “Important Work” that he needed Mary to do, and someone else would need to to backfill for Mary.

Now Ed and I were both aware that using an Agile approach whether Scrum, Kanban, or “Scrumban” it is not desirable to move team members frequently, and especially not mid-sprint / mid-strory.  The features based on the stories that Mary had been working on languished, as no one had the background that she did to ensure completion.  Mary also seemed very demoralised at being removed from the project and team at such a key point just before we could finally deliver.

Subsequently about one to two months later Mary left the company to pursue another opportunity.  While she never told me if this was in part due to being moved from project to project like a “cog-in-the-system”, I suspect that this was a large part of her decision to leave.  Mary had shared with the team that she had been on the fence about leaving for some time.  It is likely that the demoralising move and not being treated as a person, but rather a “resource” to be shuffled on a whim contributed to her decision.  The Agile moral of the the story is that in Agile leaders need to have the respect for team members and teams to let them complete their work, and to treat team members as people instead of replaceable “resources”.

Signing off from Singapore.


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