Being Agile Means Being Responsible

Harry Truman in 1959 at the recreation of the Oval Office at the Truman Library by his old desk which has the famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign.For agile teams to be really successful, like amazingly successful, I think all of the team members need to always be willing to take responsibility. It’s this concept of “the buck stops here.” It’s the mentality that, when you observe something that needs done, or needs corrected, you make sure it happens. You flag the problem, bring it to somebody’s attention and make sure it’s addressed, or take care of it yourself.

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years who, when they see something wrong, they do nothing. I’m reminded of a particular system administrator who noticed one day that a few servers were offline. They showed up in his dashboard, and they were down for hours, which had a negative impact on a number of users and services that should’ve been running. But he did nothing, and when confronted about it later, he simply replied that it wasn’t his job; those weren’t his servers.

It’s a similar problem to the accountant who, walking down the hall, sees a discarded chip bag on the floor. They don’t pick it up because that’s not their job, but seeing litter and refuse in our workplace can have a negative impact on people. Taking a few seconds, or even minutes, to make things better is pretty much always worthwhile.

In Scrum, the team takes responsibility at the start of the Sprint for the stories that they’ve committed to for the Sprint. At that point, those stories belong to them, and they have to make sure that they get done by the end of Sprint. The team has to work together, but there is no real way to pass the buck, or act surprised that the work exists. That’s one of the great things about the rituals built into Scrum: at the beginning, we make sure that we know exactly what we’re getting into, and at the end, we talk to figure out how to make the next Sprint even better. We all take responsibility for the continuous improvement of our team and our performance.

Being responsible doesn’t mean doing everything yourself, but it does mean doing what we can, and making sure that everything is taken care of. It means not ignoring what we see. It means regularly communicating with our team, and making sure that we are working together to achieve our goals.

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