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Agile Manifesto - Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

06/24/2013 By Cecil Williams, David Kessler

Do you ever wish that companies would trust their employees and business partners instead of insulating themselves with contracts and policies?  For many companies, each discipline operates out of its own department requiring other areas to document exactly what they want and what they are going to do.  This provides a means to assign blame when projects fail.  In stark contrast, Agile suggests that we should favor shared collaborative efforts over ridged, locked-in, contractual obligations.

After a decade of leading Agile teams we can attest to the fact that companies can succeed by trusting their people.  Teams we coach become proactive and thus move away from their defensive strategies.  They become self-organizing teams that agree on practices, design, features, estimates, releases and strategy. They share the accountability for project successes and failures equally. This empowers them to focus on producing a great system rather than protecting their own interests.

We utilize several Agile practices to shift accountability from traditional black and white contractual consequences to personal accountability within the team which facilitates collaboration. We get together daily in a short face-to-face “standup” meeting. This meeting prevents anyone from getting too far behind without getting help.  It also allows the team to uncover any surprises right away and deal with them accordingly. We co-locate the team, so that all team members are together. This eliminates any delays in getting answers to questions. We use a storyboard so that our progress is public. We demonstrate any features we are working on to prompt feedback from the customer. This ensures that the customer is getting exactly what they want, rather than what the team interpreted that they wanted.

As society continues to substitute face-to-face conversations with posts, tweets, texts, and e-mails we need to carefully determine when in-person interactions are more effective and even more efficient. While written communication, including contracts, serve a valuable role, personal interactions lead to more insights and natural opportunities for clarification. We have learned that the more teams interact face-to-face the more likely they will trust each other. Trust is very powerful. It transforms good teams into great teams. It drives teams to a higher level of productivity, accountability, and commitment to shared goals. Thus, we assert that no contract or managerial edict can inspire a team like a team that collaborates with each other and the customer.

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