Empowerment: The Agile Executive Acid Test

Israel Gat (BMC VP) and I have had a continued dialog on the interview series he’s posting at the Agile Thinkers blog. One recent comment really stuck out and I thought I’d highlight it in this post. When discussing the role of empowerment, Israel notes:

“Think once, think twice, think thrice whether you are really, really, really ready to empower in the full sense of the word. Empowerment is like an acid test – for better or worse it will give you your defining moments.”

Empowerment is an easy word to say (well, not that easy) and it’s such a positive that no executive is likely to say they don’t do it. And yet we all know just how difficult it can be to set the vision, paint a picture of success, and then sit back and let the teams figure out how to achieve it. We have to do it, because that is the fundamental underlying principle to agile if the teams are really not going to be empowered, then agile is unlikely to be very effective.

For those of who have been managers, however, we know that empowerment is not a one-sided benefit. It is not a license for chaos and uninformed decision making. Rather, we empower teams to achieve the results we need and in turn, the teams are accountable to deliver the results. An in agile, we have objective evidence of that accountability in working software every two weeks.