27 December 2017

Smart people can't be told what to do

Sometimes in conversations I tell other people that if I, the CEO of Wunder, tell my staff to do things, people refuse. They won't obey. They won't necessarily rebel openly –  at least immediately – but if I tell them to do something and check up on that later, nothing has happened.

Sometimes people look at me with pity. What a weak leader! What anarchy of an organisation! I smile with content.

When people neglect to do what they're told, they're doing exactly what they're supposed to. You shouldn't tell smart people to do things, but to explain what needs to be accomplished, why and then get buy-in for doing the thing. If my board would tell me to report what our utilisation rate is on Tuesdays, I'd rebel as well and ask then why on Earth would they be interested. 

Why should I expect anything different from my staff?


We're an agile company in how we deliver and lead projects for our customers. In the most popular agile development method, Scrum, all tasks are written in story format. The format is simple:

As <role>, I want to <accomplish something>, so that I can <achieve something>

The last bit of the story format is the most commonly forgotten. Sometimes inexperienced Scrum teams write stories that just say stuff like "As a site visitor I want to see a list of most recent articles". While that may seem like a small thing, what's actually missing is what we're trying to achieve by doing that thing. What if – when explained what the goal was – the software developer or designer would have had a better idea for presenting the most recent articles than just a list? Without explaining what needs to be achieved we're not getting the best out of people.

Smart people shouldn't be expected to do things unless they understand why they're done. With that understanding, the tasks are meaningful and the smart person can decide how the goal is best accomplished.

As a smart person I want to be explained why things are to be done so that I can find the task meaningful and ensure the best possible end result.


Always ask why.


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