Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Responsabilisation, Command & Control and Jira

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A big part of Agile is about giving the workers, or rather the team, authority to do their job - putting people into control of their own work. Many people talk about self-organizing and self-managing teams, I prefer to talk about distributing and devolving authority but its all about the same thing.

I recently stumbled across an article discussing an initiative at Michelin called responsabilisation giving factories and workers more authority with responsibility. This French word, responsabilisation, deserves adopting by the Agile community.

What ever we call it, it is:

  • Giving those doing the work, as individuals and as teams, the authority to organise their own work
  • Giving the workers authority to do the right thing
  • Redefining the role of “managers” to allow, and even help, workers make their own decisions
  • And giving the same workers the responsibility for the work they do and how they do it

Again and again I find that electronic work management and tracking tools get in the way of doing this. Electronic tracking tools, of which Jira is the best known, disempower workers and give power, and control, to the tool and those who control the tool.

For example, typically in a planning meeting one person will “drive” Jira. That one person has a keyboard and mouse and controls the screen. They decide what is displayed and they get to create new items, drag existing ones around and ultimately decide what is done.

The others, the rest of the team, sit facing the screen and sometimes at the Jira driver. The driver has power, the driver becomes the manager of the meeting. Rather than interact with each other they interact with the driver and the machine.

Conversely, in a similar meeting using paper and cards someone may well have authority over the cards but they can be moved by anyone. New cards can be written by anyone. People focus on the work and on each other. The conversation isn’t moderated by the Jira driver - it moves.

The Jira driver has power, they have control.

And it is not just in the meeting.

In Jira - and similar tools - someone has to set the tool up, someone has to decide board layout, someone granters access permissions, everyone has a “role” in the software, they are defined by their role.

The Jira admin has power and control.

In the worst cases teams have little power to change Jira because the organization mandates they must set it up like other teams. Again, the organization holds power back.

And since Jira controls the workflow, Jira controls the to-do list, Jira controls the reporting… he who control Jira controls the work.

Jira is not alone in this respect. All electronic tools exhibit this problem. Jira is possibly worse than some because the interface is very complex and acts as an additional barrier to worker involvement.

Tools built on and around Jira make this worse. Supplementing Jira with additional tools makes Jira more powerful and that makes the Jira admins and drivers more powerful.

While Jira produces a mass of reports most people don’t understand or use them. Worse still are those who use the reporting mechanism to forecast delivery dates into the future, because these come from a tool they perpetuate the illusion of certainty.

Electronic tools reimpose the power structures, illusions and control that the Agile movement set out to remove.