Project Management

Good Agile Teams Are Diverse Teams: How Diverse Teams Allow You To Solve Problems Early and Often

From the Sense & Respond Blog
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Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, leading tech experts and founders of the global Lean UX movement, share their insights into how organizations can grow and thrive based on their ability to sense and respond instantly to customer and employee behaviors.

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Have you ever been asked to put lipstick on a pig? If you’ve ever worked as a designer, then you know it works something like this…

Your client will come to you with with a product that’s very close to being done, almost ready to ship, and ask you to “fix the design.” They can’t exactly tell you what they want, but they know that something is wrong. Very wrong. 

Maybe the product is ugly. It probably is, but that’s probably not the real problem. The real problem is probably deeper. The product is confusing. The product doesn’t do what customers want. Or maybe it’s just… missing something. They’ve come to you, hoping that design will fix it.

But we all know how this story ends. The designer shows up, sees the pig, and complains (usually under his or her breath), they just want me to put lipstick on this pig.

Before you go complaining that some pigs are beautiful, let’s just agree right now that no amount of lipstick is going to this little guy into a movie star. Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

Why does this happen? In the design world, we understand that this is a problem caused by bringing designers into the process too late. Early in the process, designers can help identify what customers and users want, and can help define the way the product works, the problems it solves - not just how it looks. In other words, the issues that show up late in the process can often be avoided if the right people are involved early in the process. 

Now this may sound like a commercial for design, but it's not. It happens to engineers too. Even though Engineering is often involved in projects close to the beginning, every engineer can tell you a story about the time he or she was handed a set of orders from "the business", and being told to "just build it." (This isn't exactly lipstick- on-the-pig. It's more like Frankenstein's monster.)

So, this this is actually a public service announcement: every discipline needs to be at the table early in the process so they can work on the project together - for the duration of the project.

Good Agile Teams are Diverse Teams

Good agile teams tend to be diverse teams. They are diverse across a range of dimensions. From culture to race to gender to skill to roles. They possess a mix of perspectives that allow them to identify critical issues early. They possess the decision-making capability to decide how to address the problems and opportunities that they find. They possess a mix of skills that allow them to fix these issues before they become unfixable. Business, design, engineering, etc, all working in collaboration.

Sounds great, right? Well, it doesn’t always feel great. That’s because the very thing that makes teams like this effective — their diversity — can also make for a lot of conflict. Studies show that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams, but they also experience more conflict.

Build Collaborative Teams Intentionally

To handle this conflict, you want to get ahead of it. 

  • Anticipate problems by creating Team Working Agreements. Team working agreements allow teams to create a commitment to collaboration — and give teams tools to address conflict when it inevitably arrives. 

  •  Get good at interviewing your team-mates, your customers, your stakeholders. Listen not just for what they tell you, but also for what they might not be telling you.
  • Build empathy and understanding across your team by creating empathy maps. Take what you’ve learned from your listening work and model it in a structured way to gain insight about your co-workers.
  • Finally, take what you’ve learned and build better plans — plans that take advantage of everyone’s perspectives, skills, and abilities.

Sound intriguing? Want to learn more? Check out our new online course, coming soon on PMI.org.

Posted by Joshua Seiden on: November 18, 2019 10:13 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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You make some very good points Joshua - I am not into the IT field but I can definitely relate to your points in many ways.

Dear Joshua
Interesting reflection on:
- Good teams are diverse teams
- Building collaborative teams intentionaly

Thanks for sharing

Diversity in representation certainly assists in diversity of opinions.

Thank you. Diverse views always lead to a more complete picture of the situation.

Thanks for sharing! This is also a good reminder for predictive/waterfall teams that developing stakeholder register and engagement/communication plan early on in the project is critical to its success!

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing Joshua, there are good points, well analized.

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