Commitment can only emerge - it can't be demanded

· September 25, 2013

One of the things that I really love with my job is that you meet a lot of excellent people at the different clients. Some of these people are seldom heard from since they are drowned in the output of those extrovert, space-demanding people that inhabits the blogosphere and twitter. Yes, the people like me.

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Right now I’m at Tradera and meet a lot of those awesome, cloaked gems of knowledge, people everyday. One of them is called Andreas Johansson (no twitter, no blog - see what I mean) and every time I get to sit down and discuss with him I learn stuff and gain insights.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about commitment, and he said something profound:

You cannot demand commitment. It’s something that emerges in working teams.

 My translation, sorry Andreas if I didn’t made it justice.

Commitment is one of those really misused and misunderstood terms from Scrum. That is the intent of the word in Scrum is misused, there’s nothing wrong with the term itself. But you cannot:

  • Tell the team to commit to the scope of the sprint. Oh well you can, but it won’t happen. Commitment doesn’t work that way
  • Hold them accountable for a commitment you demanded from them.
  • Have them say aloud that they commit to a scope (yes, I’ve heard about things like that).

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In fact just thinking about saying “Commit!” in imperative is laughable. No… really. I’m laughing right now.

Just as it’s equally stupid to say: “Care about this! Now! Deeply!”

That’s easy enough to understand. But still we see that over and over. From people using agile. Agile. You know… people saying that they value “individuals and interactions” and “customer collaboration”.

What you, as a product owner or stakeholder, can do is to give a team freedom, support and autonomy over HOW they will work and help them understand WHY you really, really want this thing you want them to build. And answer any question they might need you for around the WHAT.

And if you do, you might, just might see commitment emerge. Commitment that could manifest itself in:

  • Delivering a better product, than even you expected
  • Building it faster, than you hoped
  • Caring about the quality and taking care of it
  • Being proud over what they/you have made. So proud that they continue to care about “our product”

In short; you might find a team that stand behind the product.

So in short: Don’t demand commitment. You can demand stuff but it’s not commitment. You can support a team to feel empowered, proud and involved. And if you’re lucky… you might see commitment emerge.  

Thanks Andy for pointing that out to me. Love talking to you!

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