How a team can develop its responsibility

I had a great question come up in the comments of my post about how Handoff erodes trust:

You have a team of developers, and a large project, and you need to break up responsibility. Instead of a “hand-off” strategy for development, does each developer take responsibility for a set of features beginning-to-end? Are there other alternatives? Even if you don’t have a single “perfect answer” I’d love to see some discussion of what possible alternatives there might be to solve this problem.

– Greg Stevens

Certainly, there’s no one size fits all solution to “everybody is responsible for the final result” which was all I suggested at the conclusion of the article.

If a team truly is responsible for the final result, what I refer to as Direct Responsibility, they can decide among themselves how best to divvy up the work to achieve success. It would be helpful to have someone on the team that helps make sure the team doesn’t revert to building it’s own scheme of handoffs. It’s not just management that falls into the trap of erecting silos of handoff.

Perhaps the best way to evolve an effective strategy of direct responsibility is for the team to periodically reflect and improve upon their progress toward establishing direct responsibility. Each “investment” in improving how the team takes direct responsibility can start with a “Before Action Review” – what should happen, and why we think it’s worthwhile and will be successful. And then followed up with an “After Action Review” – what went well, what didn’t, what did we learn and what might we do different next time. Then, the AAR can feed right into the next BAR when the time is right to make the next investment in improving how the team absorbs responsibility.

Of course none of this can be shoveled upon the team, they must be given the freedom to take direct responsibility and they have to have decided themselves that taking direct responsibility is an important part of the process of effectively delivering value to customers. If team members just want to work isolated on their own slice of the pie, you can’t force them to want to take direct responsibility.

If a team is convinced, then here are some questions that might help during an BAR / AAR investment cycle to brainstorm:

  • How did the work we just complete, contribute value to our customer(s)? What value did it contribute (intangible and tangible)?
  • Who comprises our team?
  • Who else outside our team contributed toward creating the value for the customer? In other words, what hand off still exists outside our team? Either inbound with processing customer requests or outbound in delivering customer value.
  • What hand off exists within our own team? Is this inhibiting our effectiveness?
  • Do our responsibilities and incentives conflict with the responsibilities and incentives of others in our organization? If so, how can we align them and should we consider absorbing responsibility? In other words, should we grow the team?
  • Do our responsibilities and incentives conflict with interests outside our organization, within our customer’s organization? Does this conflict reduce the value we can create for our customers?