Choice is a Gift

 In traditional development methodology, tasks are assigned to the developer, usually by their manager or by the project manager.  In an Agile environment, the team is self-organizing.  Managers accustomed to hierarchical or command and control cultures find this unsettling, almost heretical. But repeated studies (e.g., Forrester) have shown Agile teams to be more productive.  Within the Agile community, one even discusses a team becoming hyper-productive, as though achieving an elevated state of awareness, transcendent.

 My assertion is that giving the developers the ability to choose is a major contributing factor in that increased productivity; furthermore, that this can be applied in non-Agile environments.

 It is not just the selection among different options that is empowering, but the detailed involvement in the decision process.  With that involvement comes a commitment of mental energy, an increased degree of being invested in the outcome.  The ability to choose is by itself a reward. 

 Effective choosing cannot be done in a vacuum.  As a manager, part of your role in giving a team the ability to choose is to make sure that they have correct information, as rich a context as possible for their decision;  where this fits within a larger view.  Your ability to communicate your vision is an essential ingredient in the outcome. 

 One must factor in the nature of the team:  how experienced they are; their knowledge of both subject and technology; their interaction with each other.  The degree of guidance you provide is part of your art as a manager. 

 Trust is key: bi-directional trust. You trust them, but they also need to feel that you have their back covered. Do you trust them enough so that YOU take responsibility for their choice?  If your boss comes asking, it’s still your responsibility.

 Choice can also inspire creativity, options as a gateway to innovation.  You believed the options were A, B or C, but once the team got actively involved in the decision process, they came up with a supersonic rainbow that did it faster, more reliably, and made the users happier.

 As a manager, it takes courage to trust your people and give them the gift of choice.  Reward them with this, do it wisely and well, and don’t be surprised if their excellence exceeds your expectations.

 

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