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Decisions Taking Techniques for Agile

by Ben Linders on Oct 03, 2013 |

The way that agile teams and organizations take decisions impacts the value that they can get from agile ways of working. To become agile, it can help to learn different decision making techniques, and pick the one which is most suitable for a situation.

In the blog post stop dawdling and make a decision Vin D'Amico provides ideas for decision making. He explains why decisions are important:

If your team truly wants to be agile, decisions have to be made quickly and decisively using the best available information. If the situation changes, the decision can always be revisited.

You can distinct between individual and group decisions. Individual decision taking requires strong leadership skills. They should be taken by people who are respected and trusted in the organization. This can be a product owner, scrum master or technical lead. Often decisions involve more then one person, which makes them group decisions. Vin suggests different approaches which can be used for such group decisions:

  • Consensus-driven (requires that objections be mitigated)
  • Individual voting (majority rules)
  • Range voting (people may cast multiple votes)

Vin ends his blog post with an advice on decisions:

The worst situation is one in which nobody can make a decision and items just languish — lost in a kind of decision limbo. Try pushing the authority to make decisions as far down in the organization as possible. It’s better, faster and simpler.

Jim Highsmith stated that decision taking is one of the critical elements of an effective collaborative team in his blog post effective collaboration: discussion, decision making, commitment:

Part of the reason decision making remains difficult is that it brings out the often hidden paradox between individuals and teams. There is a lingering concern that teams arrive at mediocre decisions and that “smart” individuals make better decisions (…) The paradox rises in part from Western culture, especially in North America, which seems to value rugged individualism rather than the power of community. This cultural bias gets injected into organizational decision making, creating ambivalence about how decision should be made. And, as with any paradox, it’s not a problem with a solution, but an issue that has varying resolutions depending on the timing and context—ie., some decisions may be made by individuals and others by teams depending on the circumstances.

Lance Young wrote about a decision technique from dynamic governance that organizations can use with agile teams in consent for decision-making in agile organizations. He explains the difference between consensus and consent for decision making:

Often those new to collaborative empowered teams think that all decisions must be made using consensus. Consensus is not recommended for making decisions, as it is too black and white and it takes too long to reach full agreement. Consensus often stalls or results in a stalemate.

Consent is based on just-in-time decision-making that receives lots of quick feedback that is in turn integrated into the proposal on the table until no major objections remain. Often the facilitator of the meeting makes suggested changes, rereads the proposal, and asks for objections again. The quick rounds bring up lots of useful details that round out the proposal and create buy-in from the participants.

In the blog post large decision making groups are ineffective – work around them, Tariq Ahmed gives some tips for decision making:

  • Hold a series of smaller sessions (e.g. instead of one 10 person meeting, have two separate 5 person meetings).
  • Pre-meet in advance with individuals to gather their feedback, stance, concerns, requirements to that you can factor that in and further prepare for the main meeting.
  • Instead of starting with a blank slate and trying to work with the committee to collaborative decide/plan/prioritize/etc… gather initial data and create a good starting point – e.g. a draft plan, and then let people argue/discuss over it.
  • Always make sure your management supports where you want to go so that they back you up behind the scenes.

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