Autonomy and Empowerment from an Unlikely Source

Mike Griffiths is a consultant and trainer who help organizations improve performance through shared leadership, agility and (un)common sense. He maintains the blog LeadingAnswers.com.

It is well known that teams work best when they are empowered to self-direct and given freedom to self-organize. Yet striking the balance between providing this autonomy with responsible project oversight to ensure things do not go off track can be a tricky proposition. We want to create empowered teams, but we also need to know if the project is going awry and when to intervene. Unlikely as it sounds, but a great source for creating empowered team environments can be found in the prescriptive process of PRINCE2.

Edwards Deming, a major inspiration for Toyota’s lean approach, said there were two classic mistakes a manager can make. The first is intervening when common cause variation occurs. Common cause variation is the natural variance we see in process. For example, some three-day tasks will take four days to complete and this is just the way things are-- managers need to accept the odd instance of this common cause variation. The second classic manager mistake is not intervening in special cause variation, which is variation that is new, unanticipated, emergent or previously neglected. For example, if project scope changes significantly (new and unanticipated) or velocity trends indicate the project will not get done within schedule (emergent).

So what we really want is a protective bubble for the team that insulates them from micro-management and outside …

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