04 February 2009

MVP of your Agile Team

I engaged four Agile and Scrum discussion groups with the question:

Which person is more valuable to an Agile team?

One with SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE of software systems and architecture
-- or --
One with AVERAGE KNOWLEDGE capable of admitting what he doesn't know

And, who would you rather work with?

Many in the Scrum Practitioners Group and Agile Alliance Group misunderstood the gist of my question. Probably because the question is "Bobtuse". Among the Scrum crowd, it sparked a somewhat embarrassing thread about Product Owner versus ScrumMaster. Not my intent. I blamed myself for misleading them, then offered further explanation that I'm entertaining a thesis that the sublimation of ego is a crucial ingredient to team success.

I coined the aphorism

"Humility is the WD-40 of teamwork"
I did get many thoughtful responses. Management consultant Steve McGee fed me:
"..a passion for knowing the truth, contrasted to a passion for being right..."
from something he noticed while reading about gender communication differences. He said,
“… men are stereotyped as always competing to be right. I was offended by that, and after thinking about it, it seemed this distinction had been missed. In both cases there will likely be an argument or at least debate. But the goals and therefore the results will be totally different.
Steve agreed that to get an honest evaluation and transparency, team members need to subjugate their egos. He went on to say,
"If a person is willing to trade certainty (accept ambiguity) so they will not miss any potential information, he or she will get closer to understanding what's really going on and can respond more effectively.”

Thanks Steve.

My Agile mentor, David Hussman said,

I feed on environments where people are proud to say they don't know. Some of the smartest people I know, know when to say they don't know, and when to shut up and listen.

Thanks David.

Regarding who he'd like to work with, Agile coach Paul Ellarby said,

“...it all depends upon their personality. I have worked with individuals who freely admit they are "not experts", yet try to dominate all discussions around their area of responsibility. Similarly, I have worked with folks who clearly are highly valuable experts, yet listen carefully to the teams dialog, and respond in clear, concise, and respectful tones.”

Paul also reminded me of the aphorism “Two ears, one mouth - use them in proportion...”.

Thanks Paul.

Was it Socrates or Epictetus who said

"we have two ears and one mouth so we listen twice as much as we speak”?