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Capitalizing on consensus for the greater good

Ronald ChenMarch 21st 2022


Tell me if this sounds familiar. You are in agile retrospective and everybody has brought up the same pain point. The single action item is to resolve the pain point, it has been assigned to an owner. Then in the next retrospective everybody brings up the same pain point. No progress has been made.

When asked why no progress has been made, the owner respond, they didn’t have the time to work on the issue. They were too consumed with day to day tasks.

This is a classic problem in agile software development. When pushed harder to solve the pain point, another mode of failure is for owner to take a meek approach and see if there is upcoming time in the future to resolve this issue. This only defers the problem into the future and yet again, does not get resolved.

Consensus is the freedom to act now

Universal consensus is so scarce that when it actually happens, we don’t know how to respond. We spend so much time and effort trying to form consensus, such as by talking about the problem first, that when consensus finally happens, we miss the critical tipping point.

The moment consensus has been achieved, change the conversation to action. Consensus gives one the ability to take assertive action immediately. The pain point which everybody agreed upon should have resources allocated to it. Not simply an “owner”, but real resources, as in it should compete with other resources which are already allocated. Other project/client timelines should be deemed lower priority than resolving this issue.

If there is any push back at this point, then it’s an indication the consensus wasn’t universal — but don’t give up yet. Test consensus by narrowly butting up the pain point to existing work. Does solving this pain point increase our ability to take on more existing and future work? By doing so clarifies the situation and allows the most responsible decision to be made.

This will cause conflict, but this is the best form of conflict. Making impactful decisions that solve pain points affecting everybody. Do not shy away from this as that is in itself a decision to continue with the status quo. This is essentially giving up on improving everybody’s live and conceding to continued suffering.

Angels sing when consensus is formed

Naturally when trying to solve the pain point, there will be obstacles and opposition. Remind everybody there is consensus on this issue and use it as leverage to overcome obstacles. Consensus is your trump card, use it frequently and often. Use consensus to avoid bikeshedding.

Squander consensus at one’s own peril

Not using consensus to solve a pain point everybody feels is paving one more brick on the road towards burnout. One of the causes of burnout is the feeling of being stuck and the lack of agency to improve one’s own situation. Acting upon consensus breaks this cycle. Successfully resolving a pain point shows everybody there can be a better future, we just need to reach for it using consensus.

A word of caution regarding using consensus. Do not abuse or over-extend consensus to solve your own pet project. People are smart and once they detect you are abusing consensus to solve a problem which they don’t care about, consensus will be swiftly retracted. This will destroy trust and even your ability to solve the original pain point. You have not only harmed yourself but the entire team.

Do you want to use consensus for the greater good of the team? You’re in luck, Battlefy is hiring.


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