A light touch at the reigns
There are two ways to get from a starting point to the end. Well, I guess reality provides more than two ways. Hell. There is probably an entire continuum of ways to get from point A to point B. That’s why life is so interesting and varied. But that’s beside the point. I like dealing in duality since it is so much easier to handle. Deal with it.
Let’s say that your job as a courier is to take some cargo from one location to it’s destination. The in-between that you travel is a maze. And your cargo is constantly changing size and shape. More importantly you have to rely on the knowledge and communication of others in order to safely get to the destination with the cargo intact.
The first option is allowing yourself to be blindfolded and directed in each step that you take. So you, the courier, are blindfolded and you are receiving directions on what to do and how to do it at every step of the way. Your guide is explaining what needs to be done. Turn left, step over the obstacle, hold the cargo upright. You do not have control. Like a ridiculous party game you are really just the tool the guide operates to accomplish what they want to achieve. You are always reactionary and any step outside of the guide’s directions is seen as slowing things down or impeding progress.
You are given cargo. You agree to deliver the agreed upon cargo to the proper destination on time. You are given a map and told to determine a course for your delivery. With the course mostly agreed upon you decide to take a detour midway since you can see the traffic backup ahead. No one on the team blinks because they trust you are making the right decision and you can objectively back up your decision. You are in control and personally accountable for getting the cargo delivered on time.
Which one of those scenarios would you rather be the courier? I know I would prefer the second option. When given the chance most people would want to be the master of their own future. Giving people accountability and responsibility is scary. They might let you down or not live up to your expectations. The alternative is taking control and using them as you would a shovel. Just don’t expect the shovel to take initiative or step up when you need it.
Well that was a crappy metaphor
If you see through the thinly veiled metaphor you see that the courier is a software developer, the cargo is a feature, and the guides are the business stakeholders, analysts, architects, and project managers.
Believe it or not some people choose option one. They believe they are controlling the process and getting the results they want but if they asked the people they manage to take responsibility for the results they would not be happy when everyone points the finger and passes the blame to the person that told them what to do. How do you guide a team to be self-accountable. That’s another topic entirely.