The Green Field

Recently I’ve spoken on career planning for QA Professionals in the new Agile world. There’s a lot of confusion and a lot of uncertainty because the term Agile is used in so many ways. The confusion causes a great deal of fear among people facing a transition to Agile.

The biggest fear, one that isn’t unique to Agile, is concern about what change means for the individual. More than once I’ve been asked, “What place can I have in this new Agile organization?” Nobody is immune to this concern, to this question, to this fear. Admitting this fear is not an admission of failure. You can calm the fear by understanding the opportunity an Agile transition brings.

Let’s start with the assumption that you’re skilled and that you want to shine. I know very few people for whom this is not true.  (I have known people who have a mismatch between their role and their skills, but nobody who has no skills, and nobody who wants to do poorly.) This means the Agile transformation is a green field for you. You can make your new role exactly what it needs to be to allow both you and your company to succeed.

I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’ve seen the roles used in Scrum and there isn’t one that matches what you do. Maybe you’re a technical lead who is concerned that Scrum Teams don’t have technical leads. Maybe you’re a QA manager who doesn’t know what you will manage once all QA resources will be embedded into Scrum teams. Maybe you’ve had a position keeping a heavyweight process moving forward and you don’t think you’ll be needed when your company goes lean.

Let’s get back to the assumption that you have skills. Start documenting what those skills are. You might be good at understanding relationships between stakeholders. Maybe you’re good at identifying risks. You might excel at coaching people in better coding or testing practices. You might be the kind of person who makes the most of tools to enhance your own or your team’s productivity. For the moment, don’t worry about what kind of role will use these skills, just make sure you know them. If you start out trying to make your skills match a job description (as is often the case when you’re applying for work) you might miss your best opportunity.

Now that you have listed your skills, it’s time to talk with people about how those skills can be used. You can talk with anyone – co-workers, people involved in the transformation, any Agile coaches who may be working with your company, your boss – as long as you get talking. Again, don’t try to make your list fit into an existing position. If you’re creative enough, you might find an opportunity for a new kind of position nobody has considered. And now is the time to have that new kind of position included in your company’s transformation.

It’s important to remember that Agile is not intended to create a new straight-jacket of rules that kill creativity and opportunity. Agile is intended to allow an organization to become the best it can possibly be with self-organizing teams applying creative solutions to the group’s most pressing problems. The start of the transformation is your green field. Don’t waste time asking, “What place can I have in this new Agile organization?” Rather, ask, “What can I contribute?” Once you know that, an Agile organization will find a place.

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