This Guest paper series was originally published by the Cutter Consortium Agile Product & Project Management Advisory Service in 2009. It is reproduced here, September 2014, with permission from the publishers (

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Part 4 published here December 2014.

PART 3 | Indirect Paths to Learning | Role Models
Having Capable People is Simply Not Enough | Leadership | Coaching


As much as it was a lack of role models, the problem my team had in that first organization was a lack of leadership. In addition to supervising our team, our manager was also working on a task force charged with establishing a commercial partnership with another organization. Task-force activities dominated his time and, as a result, not only did we lack role models, but for much of the time we lacked any leadership at all.

The net result was that in a management capacity he had little time to do anything other than assign work to the team and then firefight when things went wrong. One wise manager I know calls that the "DAFT" approach (Delegate and Firefight). The word "daft" is an English colloquialism meaning "dumb or stupid." The manager who coined the expression did so after watching several of his colleagues struggle for years. His point was that the fires within an organization are ignited by weakness in the capabilities of the team. Because the DAFT approach lacks an educational component that could break the cycle, managers using the DAFT approach are trapped in a continual cycle of failure in which the majority of the manager's time is absorbed in fighting fires.

In contrast to the DAFT approach, some leaders recognize education and staff development to be part of the management role. One manager I worked with fully embraced that line of thought. He would hold regular "lunch and learns" and frequently circulated observations or lessons learned to the team. In addition, rather than waiting for annual performance appraisals, he would provide ongoing feedback. Although not every-one read everything that came round, the manager felt that keeping the learning process alive was part of his job. The resulting actions the manager took created a learning environment that was reflected in the behaviors across the team.

Where managers take less interest in the learning process, even the value of a well-structured training program can be lost. Following the success of the programming skills development training outlined earlier, the VP overseeing the department decided that the program should be rolled out to two other development groups. Each group assigned a coordinator to run the program within their department.

Although the new groups had similar makeup to the original group and the coordinators followed the same steps, the program failed to achieve any measurable changes. In large part, those failures came down to differences in the leadership styles in use in the different groups. In part, the "not invented here" dynamic may also have played a role in the subsequent failures. Having commissioned the program, the manager overseeing the first group was a strong supporter of the program. The managers in the subsequent groups showed little interest.

Having Capable People is Simply Not Enough  Having Capable People is Simply Not Enough

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