The Responsibility Process in Agile Transformation

While looking and listening to some great archived Agile Amped interviews, I came across one by my colleague, SolutionsIQ consultant Michael Tardiff, interviewing Christopher Avery about the Responsibility Process. As I was listening, I became aware of how little time we spend during Agile Transformation efforts helping people learn how to change their behavior, in my experience. We tend to spend most of the time training and talking about the process and honing our Agile ceremonies. This is often measured by some kind of Agile Assessment Tool that focuses on how well the teams do these ceremonies and follow the process. Very little time is spent training people how to behave in this new reality where you are thrown into a self-organizing team or you are the manager responsible for these teams. People suddenly realize their own performance, and thus possibly even their paycheck or bonus, now depends on how the team performs. What makes this even more complicated is that you are not the boss of them and they are not the boss of you. It can leave you feeling powerless and confused.

Now imagine you are a leader in this environment. In the process of introducing Agile to your workforce, you learn that you yourself have to change how you interact with the people that you lead. You wonder how one even becomes a leader in such an environment. A common aggravator to the confusion that leadership feels stems from the gaps between roles, departments and teams. While nobody seems to be responsible for these gaps, we end up spending a lot of time in meetings trying to find out who’s at fault, rather than actually solving the problem. Unfortunately, there is only a handful of training courses that address this. Christopher Avery’s Responsibility Process is one.

I am going to make the claim that this type of training is essential for success in Agile transformation. For the sake of transparency, I’ll divulge that I have been an accredited coach and member of his leadership program since 2009, and I am a licensed trainer for his workshops. It goes without saying that I may have some bias. However, I do believe in the power of the Responsibility Process, especially how it helps leaders lead more effectively. I am not going to go into great detail on how this process works, all I know for sure is it works the same in all of us. If you wish to learn more about it, there is plenty of information on Chris Avery’s website and

Responsibility ProcessIf we consider the Responsibility Process, we can only expect results when people are operating with Responsibility and none of the other responses. For any team or organization to move forward, there has to be an environment of shared responsibility. The Responsibility Process workshops are designed to teach people how to be responsible.

I recently learned how much hunger organizations have for this type of workshops and training in addition to the traditional Agile workshops provided by most consulting companies and coaches. Yet we don’t offer this type of training to our clients enough. The good news is that Scrum Alliance now offers a new certification for Agile Leadership. My hope is that this will create a demand for Agile trainers to start delivering more of this type of training. Perhaps the introduction of the core values into the Scrum guide is also a sign of the need to do more than process training.

Bringing the Responsibility Process to Agile Transformation

During my recent engagement, I was part of a large-scale enterprise Agile transformation with a large financial institute. As my engagement was coming to end, there was one thing I wanted to do before I left: teach a half-day Responsibility Process workshop. I was able to secure the budget and funding to do so. We carefully selected three teams to attend and the response was much better than I could have ever imagined. The initial survey gave very high marks and what surprised me even more was the amount of attendees that went to their managers and suggested everyone should take this training. This triggered a landslide of request from directors, managers and ScrumMasters to get their reports and teams into this training. During my last two months we managed to schedule eight more half-day training sessions and each one received great reviews. I don’t consider myself to be a great speaker or trainer but I think the material and the exercises during these classes inspire people. One ScrumMaster came to me the day after the training and asked what I had done to the team. Apparently, the team had booked a meeting to address an issue that had been an impediment for a long time and decided to resolve it once and for all. The team had used this impediment as an excuse for a long time but they finally decided to take ownership of it and fix it. This is just one of many stories I have on how this training has helped teams and individuals.

Now how does this all help with Agile transformation? This type of material and training helps create a shared responsibility mindset. As organizations become aware of the way they respond to problems, it helps them quickly find solutions to the root causes. Agile is very good at bringing transparency to all the things wrong within the organizations but doesn’t provide any guidance about how to solve them. If we can get organizations to operate from the mindset of responsibility, a few things will happen.

  • Happy People: Establishing a culture of shared responsibility builds incredible trust within the organization and teams, which leads to happier employees. A culture of coping, blaming and finger-pointing leads to the opposite: resigned employees.
  • Welcoming Change: Teams that share responsibility also tend to welcome change. They are equipped with the tools to deal with any problem. People that don’t operate from a standpoint of shared responsibility tend to resist change. They are usually scared of failing and being punished so maintain the status quo because it feels safer.
  • Growth: With this mindset, people are willing and able to grow. They feel empowered to step outside their accountability and roles for the greater good of the organization or team. The alternative is a defensive culture, where people are afraid to speak up or act. They’d rather defend bad decisions to a fault.
  • Value: In a culture of shared responsibility, people tend biased toward adding value. Alternative to this is creating waste: when we encounter problems, a large amount of time and money is spent in meetings trying to find someone or something at fault. This is all waste as we usually don’t address the real issues but rather look for quick, short-term fixes to reduce anxiety.
  • Learning: If people aren’t afraid to fail, they can embrace failing fast to learn. In the alternative culture, the only option is to cope with the situation as it is, because failing is a bad.

When we teach people the skills and tools to learn how to take responsibility the above merges, happy employees that welcome change while they grow. Learning becomes the norm and adding incredible value to the teams around us. If we achieve a high performing team that operates from true responsibility, we often don’t need accountability. To learn more about this topic, please see my blog “Accountability ≠ Responsibility“.