My experience from the Military to Agility
It was a pretty seamless transition for me from the military to being a Scrum Master in an Agile software development environment.
Most people might associate military ways of working as this linear pattern where there are no other options but to follow what the commander tells you. Sure, the traditional ‘Command and Control’ ways of working are probably still embedded chiefly due to the fact that it is necessary in situations where the most efficient approach to prevent collateral damage is through just do as I say approach.
However, there are plenty of situations where Agility is followed when carrying out the work, without one even noticing it. I will try to explain the most important values and principles from my experience that I carried over from the Military. They are:
Values & Standards
"Individuals and interactions over processes and tools"
This first value from the Agile manifesto requires the team to foster maximum communications and so does the military.
I know people like to just gloss over when this particular facet of success is mentioned. I would like to argue that this is the most determining factor to team success.
One of the main reasons for failed projects is a lack of communications. You may have been in a couple or more failed projects. If you have done your research, there are plenty of reasons why they fail, for obvious reasons as there are multiple variables that affect the outcome.
Just to confirm that if a project doesn’t meet the target dates, then it is a failed project.
In the military having strong communications is a very highly sought after attribute. There will always be plans and processes that need to be carried out in order to attain the mission. However every military personnel will tell you that constant information circulation and feedback is paramount for a successful mission execution. The stakes are higher than your average job simply because people’s lives are at risk.
2. Team dynamics
We all have realised how much of a balanced team we yearn for. We want to trust and be trusted when performing tasks. We want things to change for the good and benefit of the group.
Building a team that essentially sings from the same song sheet is a constant activity that is well practised in the military. Having a shared leadership, common mission, transparency and shared practices are embedded into the culture. Hence the usage of the term 'brothers and sisters' is more prevalent.
There won’t be every team in the military that’ll have excellent team dynamics. My experience of having to pursue excellent team dynamics is something that has been instilled in me from the get go because the profession demanded it. Being open to criticism and trusting your work colleagues with different life experiences than you to attain a shared mission is a norm. The military’s practice of constant inspection of the shared mission leads to a shared motivation, accountability and collaboration amongst everyone in the team.
This gem of an attribute is close to my heart and therefore I have harnessed it in teams I have worked with after leaving the military.
3. Cross functionality
Working with other groups aka units in the military when going out on military operations is also a common theme. For instance, a cross-functional team of IT Technicians, Electrical Engineers, Radio Operators and Desktop support work towards a common goal in a Communications Unit. Furthermore, the Communications Unit can work in tandem with the Infantry, the Logistical and the Combat Engineers as a bigger cross functional team to achieve bigger objectives. This can further be enlarged into a gargantuan cross functional team of Army, Navy and the Air Force to attain Tri-Services exercises or missions.
Having collaborated with cross-functional teams in the British Forces as well as over a dozen international forces, I can attest to the vast familiarity in aligning ways of working with teams all around the world.
4. Values & Standards
The mnemonic for British Army Values & Standards is SOLIDC.
S - Selfless Commitment
O - Respect for Others
L - Loyalty
I - Integrity
D - Discipline
C - Courage
If you know the values and principles of various Agile frameworks like Scrum, XP or Kanban, you will notice a lot of similarities with the above. This further proves if we are working in a team, no matter what type of work we do, alignment is key to prevent deterioration in work relationships, talent, contentment and overall output of the mission.
Working with others is what we do in our day to day work life. However working effectively with others towards the same goal with a sense of common purpose is challenging. My military experience has been beneficial to me in this front as the aspiration towards commonality with quality approach, coupled with good morals is something that I have adhered to in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Still interested? Read this interview of former Brigadier Justin Maciejewski by McKinsey & Company