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Agile and Trust


by Dan Williams

In a recent TED talk, noted philosopher Baroness Onora O'Neill addressed what she considers a faulty viewpoint concerning the concept of trust. In her opinion, the claim that there has been a great decline in trust is without factual basis. Further, based on this faulty assertion, people recommend that our goal should be to have more trust.

Agile and trustMs. O’Neill went on to say that all of these ideas were misconceived, and that the claim was mere opinion and could not, as far as she knew, actually be substantiated. We seem to trust and distrust the same folks we always have. We generally distrust politicians and journalists and tend to trust nurses and librarians. Her point is that we trust others based on what we know of them. And this is entirely reasonable.

Secondly she states that the goal of having more trust is off the mark. We don’t need to simply increase trust in others, but rather find people who are trustworthy. We don’t need to trust more, we need more people in whom we can trust. Who are these people? Well they are at least competent, honest, and reliable. And they need to be all three.

So how do we establish trust? Empirically! Through observation over time. People doing what they say they will do. People delivering with prior agreed-upon quality. Trust is one of the identified values which informs an Agile approach.

Jeff Sutherland, one of the creators of Scrum and a signer on the Agile Manifesto is quoted as saying,

“To create high-performing teams, agile methodologies value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Practically speaking, all of the agile methodologies seek to increase communication and collaboration through frequent inspect-and-adapt cycles. However, these cycles work only when agile leaders encourage the positive conflict that is needed to build a solid foundation of truth, transparency, trust, respect, and commitment on their agile teams.”

I believe that Sutherland and O’Neill would agree on both the method and the goals of Agile. Vulnerability is good evidence of trustworthiness. My assertion is that Agile, as a mindset not a set of methods, succeeds or fails based on establishing our trustworthiness as individuals and teams who consistently deliver value to our clients.

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Hi Dan,  
Awesome piece of write-up. I fully agree with you that Trust is the first and the most important seed of any relatioship (team & personal). We can not do our best if we do not trust each other (team member). 
Posted @ Friday, January 10, 2014 11:05 PM by Gurpreet
Agreed! What is often overlooked at work is "encourag(ing) positive conflict that is needed to build a solid foundation.." We all like a calm work group, but effective workers who are ultimately happier workers are those who are willing and able to recognize conflict and solve it in a manner that values everyone's voice.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 14, 2014 7:49 AM by Karen Favazza Spencer
Many thanks to both Gurpreet and Karen Spencer for their affirmation of this blog posting. The building of trust through consistent delivery of value is one of those obvious though overlooked items of Agile orthodoxy.  
To Karen's point, positive conflict is, for me, an easy principal to agree with and a hard one to actually in which to participate. Like many, I don't like conflict of any type. Yet, if done in an atmosphere of trust, can have amazing rewards in incremental improvement. 
Again many thanks
Posted @ Tuesday, January 14, 2014 10:15 AM by Dan Williams
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