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On Losing

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Today I did two vitally important things for my personal life: I voted and my choice lost.

First, I participated. I didn't participate only if people were nice to me, or participate because I was going to win. I participated because it was the right thing to do.

When I look at Agile teams, I watch who participates. Those are the ones I want on future teams. If you're a spectator, quite frankly you're not needed.

I know what a lot of people new to agile will say: but I don't know what to do! There aren't any instructions!

Well gee, that's kind of the deal in life in general. Even if I gave you a list of things to do, you're number one job should be engaging into your work as a thinking, rational, intelligent human being. Got nothing to do? Speak up! Got nothing to say? Get involved! Your team will live or die based on participation -- and so will your country.

The second thing I did was lose. This was probably a thousand times more important than the first thing. A lot of people seem to get the "participate" thing, but then wash out once the team votes them down. I know agile teachers and coaches that are just fine -- as long as they're never wrong.

Being part of a team means trusting in the team when they disagree. Sucks at first, but not only is it part of growing up, it's a critical part of having a truly agile team. Not everybody can be right all of the time. I've seen some really smart guys come out of college and they are completely unable to work on a team. When you say something like "be a team player", they've heard that so many times in a cynical fashion that they're unable to see that being a team player is a critical skill. Being a prima donna is passe. You gotta be wrong sometimes, or I don't want you on my team.

More critically, the team needs to be able to change tactics and strategies in response to changing conditions. Those great ideas you had a while back might not be so good any more, and while you're still defending them, the rest of the team has moved on. It's okay to be wrong.

It's also okay for the team to be wrong, quite frankly. Perhaps they are mostly mistaken about some key fact or question. You'll get voted down and the team will change, and it won't matter a hoot in heck who's actually right. It's still your job to submit to the will of majority and do the best you can. That's part of the promise you guys make to each other.

Now am I saying sit down and shut up? Hardly. In those cases where you still think you know something critical that the team does not recognize -- continue to make your point. They have an obligation to hear you, and many times it takes a while to persuade folks.

What I've found with agile teams is not where they are, it's how much they can adapt. These meta-characteristics matter much more than the current situation -- even if the team takes a turn to what I think is a bad area.

The country works the same way. I'm really glad I participated today, and I'm really glad I lost.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel published on November 4, 2008 3:09 PM.

Livin' the 20/40 Rule was the previous entry in this blog.

My Product Owner is a Robot is the next entry in this blog.

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Daniel Markham