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Helping a team manage severe constraints

January 9, 2020.

In the world of Agile development, changes are always to be expected, and teams are generally used to handling them. Sometimes, though, a change comes with such a severe constraint that it looks almost impossible to solve, which puts significant pressure on the team. However, as we saw in a previous article, constraints are often the mother of great innovation. This is why it is so important to lead and support a team through the various challenges they face. Besides, constraints and leadership help the team meet the highest expectations.

Here are a few tips to help:

A very severe constraint may often be seen by team members as impossible to solve at first glance, which leads to pushback. Reminding the team of your confidence in their ability to find a solution, and going over the various processes and phases which lead to finding a solution, will greatly help the team to live with the uncertainty and doubt of the situation.

As a team lead, your role is to help your team reach its goal and learn from the experience. Avoid foisting your ideas on the team; instead, ensure everyone feels comfortable voicing their own ideas. No idea should be left unsaid out of fear of judgment or pressure from the peers.

Ensure all ideas can be challenged by team members and that constructive outcomes flow from such challenges. Critical thinking helps to avoid groupthink within a team, and helps to reach greatness. The team should be aware that what is being challenged is the idea and not the person who proposed it.

Not foisting your ideas on the team doesn’t mean you don’t have your say on what the team is coming up with. If the solution doesn’t meet your expectations, or if you believe there is a better way, you can challenge the team. A good way of doing this is by asking probing questions to bring the group to understand how things could be done better and to learn to be more critical of their findings.

The members of the team should know that you and the organization are there to support them. They must be confident that you will handle all the issues that are not directly related to the problem they are trying to solve, and that you will provide them with the necessary time, budget, talent and resources.

The way to the best solution lies through successes and failures. The consequences of failure should never be bitterness or blame. Failure is an opportunity for the team to understand what went wrong and what went well, and to decide what to do next. Failure is a source of knowledge and of a better understanding of the problem, and a new step in the intellectual journey towards the ultimate solution. Use failure as a new launching pad to reach a higher level of greatness.

Small accomplishments and victories help create positive energy and constructive willingness.

Celebrate accomplishments along the process to motivate the team.

Remember that the solution that seems the simplest in the end is often the one which required the most work and ingenuity: it’s very hard to make things simple.