Use the 7 Habits to create highly effective agile teams

Project Management

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When Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s wrote his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, it was used by individuals for self-improvement but the same habits could also help teams in their journeys to greater agility.

Be Proactive®

Dr. Covey wrote “The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it.“. Just as individuals should blame everything on others, agile teams need to own the mistakes which arise from their behavior. Empowerment by senior leadership to self-organize increases a team’s sense of autonomy but with this comes the responsibility for the team’s actions. Covey’s quote also highlights the importance of transparency and ongoing learning. Whenever there is a setback, someone on the team should have the perspective to ask “What have we learned from this?”.

Begin with the End in mind®

This habit underscores the importance of knowing what we are building towards. Without that shared understanding in a project or product vision, it is easy for a team to get distracted by quick wins or by new backlog items which provide short term gratification but won’t deliver the overall value expected by stakeholders. Whether it is a vision statement, a vision board or a formal project charter, the time spent in crafting it and reviewing it regularly will give team members the confidence needed to challenge misaligned or low value work items.

Put First Things First®

There will always be more work to be done than a team’s ability to complete it. This habit reminds Product Owners and other team members to focus on what’s most important at that time which means saying “no” to lower value work. It also means that teams need to be aware of their own capacity and to not over extend themselves by working overtime or by accepting an unhealthy level of multitasking.

Think Win-Win®

When working in large organizations, there can be a natural tendency for teams to focus on their own objectives, optimizing their work but potentially sub-optimizing the whole. When they have to rely on other delivery or support teams, it can easily become a finger-pointing “us and them” situation. Success in an enterprise context requires agile teams to take a system-level view and work effectively with others to ensure organizational success. This also aligns well with the Disciplined Agile principle of Enterprise awareness which encourages teams to consider the needs of the overall organization and not just their own team’s.

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood®

This aligns well with two key ingredients of a high performing teams, effective communications and psychological safety. By missing what others within or outside of the team are saying because of our own assumptions, biases and agendas, we can erode trust and collaboration. This habit can also be a caution for those who support agile teams to truly understand why something ight be happening before providing guidance or solutions.

Synergize®

The word “synergy” comes from the Greek words “Sun” and “Ergon” meaning to work together. Agile teams need to collaborate which is making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, but this habit also encourages exploiting diversity within our teams rather than striving for conformity. Pair programming and other types of non-solo work are opportunities to put this habit into practice.

Sharpen the Saw®

This habit is about renewal and investing in one self. At a team level, we embrace it by looking out for one another, working a sustainable pace, taking the time to learn and grow as a team. Ceremonies like retrospectives are explicit opportunities to do this, but this also happens through “in the moment” support and recognition for each other.

“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.” – Dr. Stephen R. Covey