Who Am I?

Ramana Maharshi (1869-1950), a great teacher in the yogic tradition, used to say that to attain inner freedom one must continuously and sincerely ask the question ‘Who am I?’ He taught that this was more important than reading books, learning mantras, or going to holy places.

– Michael A. Singer

Our experiences define who we are and who we become as if by osmosis. Like a warm soft morsel of freshly baked bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, experience transforms and colours our perception of what is and what is not.

Experience is a double-edged sword. Along one edge, it can lead to enlightened wisdom when applied judiciously. Along the other edge, it can lead to dogmatic rigidity when clung to as gospel.

It’s The Same!

A senior technology manager recently asked:

What role and responsibility do designers, analysts and testers have during Agile sprints?

My response was:

The roles and responsibilities are the same as what they are now.

The manager listened, paused and then, as if not hearing or accepting what I had said, asked again:

What role and responsibility do designers, analysts and testers have during Agile sprints?

It was as if my response did not register or compute in his mind.

And so, I repeated, slower this time:

The roles and responsibilities are the same as what they are now.

Then added:

The core skills, responsibilities and contributions for each of these roles on a Scrum team remain the same as on a traditional software project team.

There’s no need to create new HR job descriptions.

There was a stony silence.

Sensing a continued lack of comprehension, I went on to elaborate on what is different with these roles on a Scrum team:

  1. The way they work
  2. How and when they deliver their contributions
  3. Each team member looks beyond their formal role to help the team in any way possible

I wish I could say that a lightbulb appeared above the manager’s head and he finally understood. But he didn’t. His mental model and filters about those roles and responsibilities were so entrenched and rigid that any new ideas would have had trouble catching the light of day or breaking free.

Unlearning is hard just like unseeing something once seen is difficult if not, impossible.

So What Is Different?

The roles and responsibilities are the same yet different.

Everything looks the same from the outside yet everything has changed on the inside.

The “what” is the same, yet the “how” is different.

  • From individual contributors innovating in silent isolation to team members collaborating and co-creating within a common space filled with an exhilarating cacophony of different perspectives. For people who love working in sterile cubicles, this will be hell.
  • From work planned and assigned by others to work planned and volunteered by the team members. Rather than waiting to be told what to do, team members decide what work needs to be done, by when and then one by one, they just do it.
  • From up-front sequential delivery of big batch artifacts to incremental overlapping delivery of small batches of value. Rather than spending silo’ed efforts inventorying, accumulating, preening, perfecting and handing off individual components one at a time to each other to assemble one final monolithic product to be tested and then finally released; team effort is spent frequently releasing multiple components integrated and built into imperfect but “good enough” customer recognizable slices of value to get frequent feedback from all stakeholders to continuously improve.
  • From “My job is my title” to “Our job as a team is…”. Team members think beyond their own aspirations to the benefit of the team at large. Suboptimal behaviour is frowned upon. Doing what’s best for the team is applauded. Team members willingly help each other despite not having the necessary skills or credentials.
  • From pockets of specialized knowledge to continuous learning as a team. Cross-training is encouraged. T-shaped people emerge. Empathy develops for each other’s craft.

Impediments To Being Different

Experience is a great teacher. I’ve learned much from both my failures and my successes. However, experiencing too much success or perceived success can be a bane to our desire for change. It can create complacency with the status quo and a false sense of certainty. A dig-in-our-heels sentiment of “We’ve always done it this way” and it’s cousin “Not in my back yard” can be felt.

In the course of responding to this manager’s questions regarding roles and responsibilities on an Agile team, I’ve spotted 3 impediments to change.

  1. The medium has replaced the message. Anything else is unrecognizable. Customer requirements become synonymous with a 400 page business requirements document (BRD) delivered in one fell swoop. Project plans are represented by Gantt charts and traffic light status reports. Communication is done via PowerPoint slide decks. Introducing requirements as user stories, project plans as a story map and communication via Mural and Confluence is kinda like introducing the automobile to horse and buggy advocates. If it doesn’t look a duck or sound like a duck then it can’t be a duck. Unless the duck thinks it’s a dog.
  2. People parrot their leaders. In traditional hierarchies, we’re conditioned to do what we’re told. Imitating our managers is the path to career success. Doing otherwise is career limiting. Change in leaders permits and begets change in their people.
  3. Roles are limiting. Defined roles provide clarity on one hand and box us in on the other hand. What if we left our titles and roles at the door when joining a team? What if we chose capabilities over roles?#Don’tBoxMeIn #NoRoles #CapabilitiesOverRoles

So, let’s ask ourselves “Who am I?” continuously and sincerely to uncover the unfettered core of our capabilities that lies underneath the heavy armour of our traditional titles, roles and responsibilities.

This is a seismic shift in what and when!”

– Business Analyst

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