Elite Agile Teams Have Buckled Up

In this excellent article in DevOps.com, the author calls out the “Move Fast And Break Things Fallacy” and makes a superb point in terms of how it can be applied as an unexamined, blanked statement that does little to discriminate between blindly trying for speed and measuredly laying the foundations for it.

She goes on to accuse some companies of cherry-picking parts of the Accelerate: State of DevOps report and ignoring the fundamentals. Chief among those fundamentals: Psychological Safety.

The report -which remains to this day one of my favourite publications of all times!- not only states its importance under no uncertain terms but ensures that in every visual representation of excellence in software delivery and achieving the same results as the coveted “digital elite”, having a “culture of Psychological Safety” is in a box of its own as the starting point of each and every diagram. It doesn’t get clearer and more spelt out than that. 

If it’s avoided it isn’t for lack of clarity in the report, but because by and large, even the best-intentioned of us who are clear on its sine qua non character, are left scratching our heads as to what to do to diagnose and get more of the stuff.

The author of the article makes the point that in its absence, there won’t be anyone to pull alarm signals or generally speak up and be the voice of reason when necessary, and that is unquestionably true, but I would say it’s even deeper than that. 

In our work, we regard the list of components of Psychological Safety and the algorithm we use to measure it, as a living record of what we learn from engaging with more and more organisations many of which make software and are Agile and it is always being researched, examined and re-designed. We eat our own dog food, so we can’t proclaim we found the end-all, be-all answer to how to check and increase Psychological Safety, (and I hope we never think we did!) but what we do know, is that our current six components are unavoidably fundamental. 

Courage and Openness, Morale, Learning and Flexibility and Resilience. To increase them, we need EQed team leaders armed with inspirational leadership, positivity and empathy to power their servant leadership mindset, who are eternally keeping an eye on the PS compass of their guys, who are preventing Impression Management from taking a hold of their team and are open to coaching for themselves and their teammates. We believe all these elements to have to come together like in a perfect storm of awesome before we can hope to see and create (more) Psychological Safety. 

All that to say that it is a lot more complex than simply speaking up although of course, that’s the undeniable cornerstone of Psychological Safety. Teams that have all of these components, aka Psychological Safety, can sustainably have speed. A marathon for speed if you wish. Teams that don’t, can only sprint towards it for a while but will not go the distance in a way that makes it worthwhile. 

In a sense, we can think of Psychological Safety as the blessed effect of all of the above and the umbrella term to describe them. 

The author continues by saying that aside from the culture we need to have the right tools in place to enable the speed – mandatory are tools for monitoring (and the author may not even know this as she is likely unaware it is even a possibility and was referring to the way we keep an eye on code, not humans, but that includes our software as it raises the alarm when things start going wrong in the team); incident management and feature management. 

Refreshingly she goes on to also propose a series of ideas that will enable experimentation and garner the force of teams with the aforementioned basics in place so read her article.

The beauty of the State of DevOps Report is that you either believe it or you don’t. You either aspire to be one of the elite digital performers or you don’t. And if you do, then you can’t ignore the big elephant-sized box in the middle that says it all starts with a family-like-team-bubble who makes magic fast, because it is Psychologically Safe.

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