The Agile Project Manager—Listen to your Spider Sense, part-2

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This is a continuation post. I want to finish the idea of trusting yourself–your instincts and your “gut feel” when it comes to agile projects.


Product Organization Dysfunction

Too often organizations expect teams to simply “suck it up” and give it their all for a paycheck and for the company. Today’s brilliant technologist and engineers are not motivated solely by the money. They want to work on compelling products that delight their customers. They are attracted to product visionaries that are inclusive of their teams. They want to work on great products and they want to be part of the organizations overall success. In a word, they want to work on things that…matter.

In this case your spider sense should focus on how compelling the business is within your teams. If they’re treating your teams like commodities, then you must challenge this complacency and pull someone in to inspire the team by explaining why what they’re doing is important.

One aspect of this sense is looking inside yourself as the measure. Are you excited about your projects, the potential, the meaning, and the impact they will make within your company? Are you excited about the difference they will make to you customers? Do you find yourself jumping out of bed in the morning and impatient to get to work? If your answers to these questions are less than stellar, then use your own feelings as a guide on what needs to be done.

Management Dysfunction or They’re not listening…

One of the more insidious patterns that I’ve seen in teams is that leadership is not effectively listening to the team nor taking action. It is perfectly feasible in my entry example, that team members early on shared their compensation concerns with management.  But what did management do with that information? If they didn’t respond quickly enough or significantly enough, then the teams would feel that “leadership” wasn’t taking their concerns seriously.

You see, it’s not just about effective listening. Nor is it about taking small actions or providing excuses. It’s really about those and then taking “appropriate action – fast, timely, well-apportioned, and impactful” that tells your teams that you are truly listening to their concerns AND that it’s worthwhile top them taking the risk to communicate them.

So you’ll want to pay attention to how leadership ‘listens’ to your teams and across the organization. Do they truly listen deeply? Do they plan actions to address impediments and concerns with the team? And do their actions, by and large, align with the needs of the team? Meaning they’re appropriately significant.

I’m not implying that every team-raised issue needs to be attended to. But by and large, your teams need to feel as if the organization cares and is listening—or they will simply stop telling you the truth.

Trust your “Gut” & your “Common Sense”

These final two areas are my guiding light when it comes to my spider sense.

I often go with my gut feelings in decision-making. They’re based on my experience and pattern matching abilities to team and project dynamics that I’ve seen before. They often focus what I’ve been observing and condense it into a singular sense or feeling.

For example, I’ve made three catastrophic hiring decisions in my career. And in all three cases, my ‘gut’ was telling me no, but my head was caught up in bringing them aboard to ease my burden. In all three cases, I ignored my gut feelings. I’ve never done that again.

And then there’s common sense.

There’s an expression in the southern United States regarding pigs. I’ll paraphrase it—if it looks like, sounds like, and smells like a pig…it’s probably a pig. Too often we complicate things. We try to gather too much data and create a too complex landscape. The company I alluded to in my opening was doing that. When they analyzed their attrition, they thought they had between 10-15 factors that were driving it. And that the factors were independent or unrelated.

But when you peeled through the data and got to an honest root cause, there were only 3 primary factors that were driving attrition—money, the technical challenge of the work, and the company’s product vision. And I strongly suspect their common sense and gut feelings aligned with those three areas.

Wrapping Up

As an agile project manager, I want you to start leveraging your instincts, experience and skill in gathering the ‘smells’ within your teams. Just because they’re self-directed, it doesn’t mean they don’t need your experience and help in guiding them through challenges.

Quite often you’re in a unique position to see the forest for the trees and sort of pull things together.

But as I alluded to earlier, it will often be risky and take courage. Everyone will be off barking in the direction of obvious challenges, while you’re guiding them to look in another direction. But don’t be deterred. As that old “Web Slinger” learned long ago…you need to trust your Spider Sense!

Stay agile my friends,


Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. Contact: [email protected]