Why is the Responsibility Process So Essential For the Success of an Agile Team?

The Agile method is one of the most applicable methodologies in IT industry. Some companies have already implemented it; others are in the process of transformation. Though numerous experts regard Agile as the best way to manage projects, the process of its implementation is not an easy task. There are a lot of things that should be done before you can say that your company has implemented Agile successfully. If you’re not already familiar with the basics of Agile, the Agile Alliance provides an excellent resource.

One of the common mistakes companies make during Agile transformation is that they think more about processes than people. They spend most of the time training people to implement new processes and talking about specific steps, like the daily stand-up, planning, retro, demo and more. Managers split employees into teams, and then use tools to measure how well these new teams follow processes.

What they often forget is that it is important to help employees adapt to the new reality. Striving to follow best practices, companies skip the explanations on becoming self-organizing and cross-functional, as the Scrum guide states.

After the implementation of Agile, quite often the employees realize that their performance and bonuses depend on the performance of the whole team. What is more interesting is the fact that there is no boss in the team who is responsible for potential low performance of the team. Who is in charge then?

The team is responsible

The whole team is in charge and responsible for its performance. This means that each team member is responsible for the overall team’s results and the requirements for the Agile team members are very high. They should be skilled, very disciplined and motivated. In addition to that, they should understand what the responsibility means and how to build the relationships within the team, the entire organization or a group of partner companies. If your team members don’t understand how to be responsible, you would spend a lot of time in meetings trying to find out who’s at fault, rather solving the problems.

Therefore, we should train the people to be responsible. One of the ways to do it is the Responsibility Process.

What is the Responsibility Process?

The concept was invented by Cristopher Avery. The Responsibility Process shows how the mind processes thoughts about taking or avoiding responsibility. This approach could become the tool to understanding, taking and teaching personal responsibility.

According to this model, we all could be on the several levels of the “responsibility scale.”


Here is a good example that explains it.

A critical team member forgot to do some important task that had been assigned to him.

Denial. This is the level of refusing that something has happened. “No, I couldn’t forget it!”

Lay Blame. This is the state when you try to blame someone else. “You hadn’t sent me the meeting notes, so I forgot about the task.

Justify. This is an attempt to lay blame on all natural or even supernatural powers we can imagine. You are trying to justify that there was no other way. “It was a very hard day, everything was against me, I caught a cold and so on … Because of all that, I forgot about the task.”

Shame. The state when you are blaming yourself. This is a step toward the responsibility because you at least admit that something is your fault. However, it’s not a good state to get stuck in. “I’m so stupid! I forgot to do this. I’m very ashamed. You shouldn’t delegate anything to me.”

Quit. All of the above states are the attempts to quit and not solve the problem.

Next are the cases show the problem-solving approach.

Obligation. This state could also be named Accountability. When you feel that you have to do something, but for some reason you don’t really want to do, this is obligation. You may have different obligations toward the boss, team or yourself. So, you know you ought to fix the problem, but don’t really want to. “Guys, I forgot to do this task. So, I have to work on the weekend. It will be my son’s birthday, but I have to work.”   

Responsibility.  This is the highest level. You don’t pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, you don’t put on blame on something, somebody or yourself, you are not going to fix it only because you have some obligation. You just try to understand the problem, find the way to fix it and do so. Do you remember the famous Nike slogan “Just do it”? It’s a good fit for this description. “Guys, I forgot to do the task. I plan is to finish my current tasks earlier and take on the task I forgot.. I’ll try to do it on time.

Every person has a certain level of responsibility in specific areas of life. For example, you can be on the Obligation level at work, you’re always Responsible with your kids, and on the Shame level in your personal life. But you can change the levels. This approach gives you the opportunity to understand on what level you are. This is the first step toward the desired level. So, the Responsibility Process model is designed to teach people how to be responsible.

Of course, the responsibility is crucial for the Agile team. If you created a high-performing team that operates with true responsibility, there would be no need for accountability. From now on the team is truly responsible.

is a senior business analyst at Intetics and holds a PhD degree. Elena has profound experience in business analysis, software testing, project management, data mining and banking. As a business professional, she is actively engaged in projects related to the implementation of new technologies in large-scale systems. Elena’s main interest is to make all processes as efficient as possible.