A lesson to improve agile delivery team outcomes

Does anyone else feel a tension between whether your team’s focus should  be on action rather than outcome?

So much of what defines success for agile delivery teams is our focus on results, the aspirational outcome of delighting our customers, continually…or not. As a team we’re prone to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with the highs of when we do hit this mark. I get it, truly.  It’s great when we achieve the results we strive for. But when we don’t, we risk disappointment or demotivation. And both are often debilitating in slowing the team machine right down.

I was struck by something my teacher said at practice this morning. Simply, that we need to detach from results and outcomes and instead, through a state of awareness and presence, be focussed on our effort and actions.  She quoted that ancient of texts the Bhagavad Gita:

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of your work.  You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.  Perform work in this world…without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.  2:478-48

Clearly this was shared in a different context and place to ‘work’, but it struck a chord.

How can we help?

 Perhaps it was because it picks up on the essence of servant leadership we so often refer to in agile ways of working.  I love this quote from Richard Sheridan:

“What we have tried to do…is emancipate the heart of the engineer, which is to serve others.  We engineers exist to produce something that the world will enjoy, something that will delight people.  All of these things that we call Agile or lean, or any of the processes that have a name, that’s what they’re really about when they’re done well: How do we serve others?” 

It’s the ‘how’ that has me thinking.

General Dwight Eisenhower’s awareness that one could control efforts but not outcomes came from ordering his troops across the English Channel during WW II as the success of the invasion of Normandy was no longer in his own hands.

In a similar vein, Richard M. Kovacevich stated  “a vision and strategy aren’t enough.  The long-term key to success is execution.  Each day. Every day. “

In ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work’, Benjamin Hardy writes that a peak state of performance and success comes first from BEING a certain way, then ACTING from that place, in order to HAVE what you want.  In his frame, outcomes are just that, the result of actions well executed from a place of being anchored in your shared purpose and values.

Once anchored on ‘being’ from your team’s shared purpose and values, move your focus to the ‘acting’.  By focussing on the regular actions and efforts practiced within the agile method as how you work, ‘having’ the desired results and outcomes will take care of themselves.

Your actions today determine your success in the future.

Don’t get me wrong.  We still need a clear line of site and alignment on our goals and objectives.  It helps though when they are framed as ‘preferred’ outcomes rather than being absolute.  Our chances of success will ultimately come down to how we manage what’s in our control. Namely, the actions and efforts that our team practices in the name of progressing toward our goals.

Loosen your grip

I think the other chord this struck for me was to lessen my attachment to our preferred outcomes. By acknowledging our goals as ‘preferred’, the team might be more open to anything that happens – on or off target.  When we hit target, we celebrate.  When we’re off target, we rally to change the direction or destination.  You can change the direction overnight, but changing your destination takes a little more effort.

Maintaining a growth mindset helps when building a culture of learning and adaptation in the team.  The attitude of letting go lessens the sting from disappointment or the rot of demotivation from setting in.  Through a practice of detachment, we build resilience. Another great benefit of relinquishing attachment to the outcome is getting more present to enjoy our work and our team interactions.


“Action will delineate and define you”

Thomas Jefferson

The loudest chord this struck from this morning struck was its similarity to our philosophy and mission at Umano.  We exist to build great teams by providing insights into HOW they work.  We apply analytics to visualise their actions and efforts as they improve their agility outcomes over time.  We believe a team that works with deeper insights into their practices delivers better outcomes for those they serve.  Timely insights unleash the ability to iterate and improve.  As long as your team’s attention and focus is on your present actions and effort, then your desired outcomes will unfold.  With a detached mindset, teams can more easily use  Umano’s timely insights to course correct and remain open minded about adapting along their path to success.

 “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out”

Robert Collier


Umano is on a mission to help self-directed teams succeed by providing real-time feedback with data-driven insights that help agile teams to continually improve and stay ahead.

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