Digesting the big bites “Self-organization” and “Empiricism”


As the new century reveals new challenges and more complex problems, Agility becomes more and more essential in our Product Development and Innovation cycles. Since the Agile Manifesto first declared in early 2001’s, we had a consensus that complex problems can most effectively be solved by complex adaptive systems which refer to self-organized teams of individuals. Agile teams have their front seat to response constantly changing requirements and handle Time to Market pressure with delivering Value as early and effective as possible.

Complex Systems: “Consisting of many diverse and autonomous but interrelated and interdependent components or parts linked through many (dense) interconnections. Complex systems cannot be described by a single rule and their characteristics are not reducible to one level of description. They exhibit properties that emerge from the interaction of their parts and which cannot be predicted from the properties of the parts.” (See http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/complex-system.html)

Scrum teams of our new age are perfect examples of Complex Adaptive Systems. Two things are really crucial to grow the adaptiveness. Self-organization and Empiricism. Being fully in charge of how to do the self-committed work can really push the team to organize, learn and adapt by experiments.

What about our decision makers and “wise” managers? Are they ready to give up their “toe the line” teams which are not challenging or taking any decision? Are they truly embracing the teams of individuals which organize themselves and experiments new things, which may and surely will fail and fail again until they learn?  Or these managers just got the hype and found themselves in a BIG Agile Transformation projects in their company?

Management : Collaborating with the others to reach the organizations objectives by using limited resources efficiently in a changing environment.

With the given responsibility of the definition above, Can our experienced managers leave their “obsessions” on Measuring and Monitoring in order to achieve Maximum Utilization of the “resources”?

Do they hundred-percent realize that Self-organizing teams can decide the best methods to improve their efficiency and effectiveness? At least can they frankly encourage their teams in that direction?

Or are they keeping tracks of (resource count * weekly labor hour) and immediately called the team to account for after a low-score sprint ended in terms of that calculations?

Or even Worse, Do they tell the team “Ok, you do it your way, but management will track these metrics ( which ultimately aiming for personal productivity and utilization)”. And do they desperately analyze the Individual Story Point Production and expect those individuals to be a Team running on a single shared goal?

Do our Scrum Masters chat with a manager who really concerns about the team, looking at the Physical Board near them and share something about his vision and passion face to face? Or do our desperate Scrum Masters read a mail from his managers saying “I want to be able to see the Team’s burn-down chart right from my laptop.”?

Finally, we speak highly of Empiricism and tell our teams not afraid of failures. Nevertheless, do our managers care most about the sprint deliveries and lessons learned on broadly participated Sprint Reviews or do they ask for the slides showing how many teams had Failed to predict(Delivered/Committed rate) on the first order?

We can add many questions like this and those kinds of questions can make you think I am looking from just one sides perspective. But, I had also shared my humble challenges to the team members as well before.

To sum up, in my own words, a self-organized team is a group that can do everything by themselves which a “manager” should do to make them produce Value.

e.g. measuring, monitoring, assessing, adapting, forecasting, improving..etc..

As an experienced and wise leader, you should just;

  • Tell them your expectations clearly
  • Set them inspiring goals and dreams
  • Support them when they ask
  • Let them fail
  • Let them fail again.
  • Let them face the results they achieved and learn from their mistakes,

So that, this team of individuals can solve complex problems and create innovations to get better.

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About the Author:

Sinan Oz
Sinan Oz is an experienced IT professional who has a big passion on software science and algorithms since he attended International Olympiads in Informatics in his early ages. He finished Istanbul Technical University Computer Engineering Department. He worked at Garanti Technology, one of the biggest technology centres in the country for about 5 years. After that, he started Kariyer.net and takes some serious projects as a Lead Architect and he promoted as a Software Development Manager. Currently, he is working at Movie Star Planet Kopenhagen office as a Senior Backend Game Developer.

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