Why ‘Why’ Means Taking Responsibility

I don’t know if it’s me, but throughout my career in software development, I’ve seen so much wasted and unfocused effort and so many stressed people constantly pushed to capacity for ‘crucial’ developments that simply then withered away as the work became forgotten and irrelevant.

All that waste really gets my hackles up! Maybe it’s my old age… 🙂 – but increasingly these days, I first want to know ‘why‘: why are you asking for this; what is the vision; the reasons behind why this latest thing is (again) regarded as so important?

And not just ‘why’ but also ‘what‘: how is this expected to make things better; what results are expected; what things will this change; what will the impact be, and for who?

Many Agile developments, and Agile transformations, still focus, too much I feel, on the process – just the ‘how‘: how can we achieve this; what is the plan. Sometimes there’s a ‘what’, but rarely a ‘why’ – at least rarely a carefully and clearly thought out ‘why’.

‘Why’ is difficult’. ‘Why’ means knowing and analysing the organisation, the processes, the structure, it’s people, their behaviours, individuals, and yourself. It exposes flaws, disagreements, which need careful leadership (leaders, not managers), and cultural collaboration (Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” should be read by all organisations trying to be agile) – but to be successful it also usually needs an organisational mindset change to work (see Simon Powers blog).

People buy ‘why’ (Simon Sinek TED lectures), but they also buy into ‘why’, and will contribute to ‘why’ – so ‘why’ is not a fixed thing; it’s not something you can force on people, it has to be something they support; they agree with; they contribute to, and think it further forward.

Potentially, we are all leaders, not followers (David Marquet “Turn the Ship Around”), and, increasingly, maturing away from cultures of good little followers, managed into groups to obediently follow a board-appointed (or God-appointed) leader. Vive la revolution!

But in today’s internet flood of tailored and personalised information, we all seemingly exercise personal choice, and the use of our brains – and it feels good, we demand more. But is this often just a cleverly constructed illusion? If this information age is to succeed, then we must also acknowledge that open access to information also requires an additional level of responsibility, and self-discipline – for all of us, to also to demand the reasoning, and evidence behind the ‘why’, and to question whether this stacks up; is real, fake, or a sugar-coated economy of some version of the truth.

‘Why’ is all well and good, but if it’s just whatever rubbish some info bite creator cooked up, then isn’t this worse than before, worse than useless, and worse than just following blindly?

Agile is primarily about people over process. Those people are us, and we are life. So, agile is a reflection of life (and life is agile – i.e. the constant and complex turmoil of change from interaction between chaos and stasis

Life is a journey – and, in the way that reflection on the purpose of life, and the personal journey through it – the ‘why’ is the lifeblood of an Agile project journey. This then allows a focus on quality of outcome – on real benefit rather than lots of wasteful ‘look what a busy bee I am’ quantity.

By taking a personal responsibility to demand and question the ‘why’, to gain an understanding of the thinking, we also start to build trust, and engagement. As leaders realise we expect to be treated as intelligent questioning people; that engaged people are a massive asset for success; and that collaborative success builds trust, which then reinforces that trust – a virtuous circle can start to form.

This is hard since the act of asking also carries a responsibility of intent to engage, and it’s a lot easier to continue to ‘just do whatever they tell me to do’.

All AWA Consultancy engagements kick off with a workshop for leadership to identify, extract and start with the ‘why’. If you’re a leader reading this looking to discover and learn more about your organisation’s ‘why’, contact consultancy@adventureswithagile.com.

So, I extend this plea to all ‘Agilists’ – to take on the personal responsibility, in whatever project or work we are involved in – to seek out the truth… no… the reality (politely, firmly, intelligently), behind ‘why’, and the ‘what’ – before we work out the ‘how’, plus frameworks, methodology, and processes to be used.

Otherwise, we are not really agile, not really leaders, but just blind followers of an info bite illusion!

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