Agile and Trust

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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