Polygraph vs. Agile

After the jogging session with my wife today, we stopped at the nice spot near the lake for a freshly squeezed orange juice to regain some energy. The inevitable routine is to check the app on my iPhone how running went. Not particularly well today. But the weather was perfect for a workout.

Lie-Detector-TestTaking the moments of muscle relax, I grabbed the newspapers (so unusual act in the era of new mobile technology). Skimming through the pages, I stopped at the article writing about the company that was performing the polygraph testing (a lie detector) on its employees. The purpose of the testing was to check the employees’ loyalty and how much  are they responsible in handling the company’s properties. The story happens in Croatia and the whole article can be found here.

After the first shock (yeah, I was deeply surprised), I tried to analyse the leadership “performance” in this case and evaluate it with the values we promote in the agile community.

Starting with LEGAL law – I surfed the net to find some sources. In some countries employer use of lie detector tests is limited by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act. It seems – not in this case.

TRUST – more than obvious, trust was not built between the management and workers. And, to my understanding with a number of assumptions I could unfold, there is a strong CULTURE of control – typical for Taylorism in the beginning of the 20th century where high level of managerial control over employee work practices was existed. The command and control culture (see the post about culture) is usually leftover from manufacturing practices in the last century and inability of management to learn and consequently to engage and motivate people.

TRANSPARENCY – if there is a need to check and control employees on polygraph, it means that the whole system is obscure, where information need to be extracted and verified in order to make decisions on a higher level. It further means, that there is a lack of transparency and obviousness which is a prerequisite for every successful and efficient process. Even further, it means that the HIRING process in the company is inconsistent, non-existing or wrong. Why would you hire incompetent people or people you don’t trust?

So, the whole GOVERNANCE is suffering because of the bunch of wasteful management activities being focused on tracking people, instead of creating the environment of visual management. The good example of visual management origins from the concept of JIDOKA – which is sometimes called autonomation, i.e. automation with human touch/intelligence. It gives machines the ability to distinguish good parts from bad autonomously, without being monitored by human. This eliminates the need for people to continuously watch machines. The same principle is valid for the relationship between management and employees. According to Daniel Pink and his great book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“, the things that creates MOTIVATION are purpose, autonomy, mastery. In this case, it seems that it was easier for management to INVEST a couple of thousand bucks into the polygraph machine, rather than build the high performing environment highlighting the real purpose, educating people and giving them empowerment to perform. It’s an investment shortcut… hm!

The management should go to the polygraph test in this case, to check whether they care for the best company’s properties – people.  No polygraph is needed to detect the lack of contemporary management practices and basics of human psychology to lead 21st century workplace.

Here is the illustration showing distinction between management and leadership:

Managers Leaders fire

A Blog Guide to Go And See

invisible-manAre you familiar with the comics’ hero “Invisible Man”?
The more invisible he is, the more powerful he appears to be – as well as the perception around him.
He can appear at any moment” – people would whisper, carefully looking around. He is the (hidden) authority that everyone respects.

A fair share of management appears to be like hero(s) – perhaps visible to their peers and superiors, present in difficult situations/escalations, solving problems and… quite distant and invisible to the people they lead. Since managers determine people’s salaries, they are respected and represent the formal authority to make decisions. Their absence from the place where daily work is done seems to emphasize their just described reputation. This is a bit of an issue for a manager – how to keep authority and respect by being visible?



Once a manager is there, attends daily team’s stand-up meetings, hears what people say, what impediments they have, she/he could take those moments to understand better and find out how to add value.

There are few additional reasons why a manager needs to be at gemba (the real place – where work is done):

  • Manager should demonstrate a real interest, thus respect towards the work done by the people she/he leads. That creates mutual understanding and trust.
  • It eliminates the need for unnecessary reporting and steering forums being the time eaters and wasters (see the related post about waste).
  • Since, teams may be sometimes blind towards own work, managers, which are supposed to be the coaches, are there to help them to discover their blind spots, by finding the root causes for the problems they have.
  • Managers should make sure that a new energy is added to the team activities. There is no point to control how teams do the work, but to check how to help out.

The last point is essential. If people closest to the process, which execute value added actions are supervised and told what and how to do the job, then they lose ownership upon the actions and intrinsic motivation to continuously make improvements. The energy, once manager leaves, is simply sucked out, following the law of entropy – gradual decline into the steady, low engagement state.

The managers’ role is to make work easier for the teams, not for themselves. That is true respect. The managers are paid for it, and no one promised them an easy job.

A warmly recommended reading goes to 2 books:

I would appreciate to share a piece of your experience by commenting to this blog!
Thank You!

The Underestimated Way to Remain Human: Non-violent Communication

hipiThe non-violent communication is a language and a way of communication that strengthen our ability to remain human, no matter of a challenging situation that might appear. The pioneer of the NVC, Marshall B. Rosenberg, has written the bestselling book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”. These methods are used for years around the world to resolve the most difficult conflicts such are the war conflicts and hostage situations. I hope we don’t have these dimensions in our agile teams…

The non-violent communication (NVC) might improve our lives. We are used to the verbal ‘aggression’ usually imposed by the position, an authority or power of the higher ranking, but it is not uncommon among the peers too. One example comes from the daily standup meeting in one of our teams:  A younger person was struggling with the unit tests execution for 2 days in a row. She was trying to dig out by herself was it a problem in the code or the tests themselves. She started to elaborate the details to the colleagues in the team. Being not the time and place at the daily meeting to go into details, the team facilitator interrupted the discussion by saying: “Can someone more competent finally do this?
Is this respect and does it help to improve the situation or motivate the team to do the work!?

When participating in one of the seminars, I learned this::

NVC is a lLanguage of Compassion Rather Than Domination

NVC is focusing attention

NVC is managing existing conflicts and preventing new

NVC is not about being nice; it’s about being real.


The NVC is “formalized” via 4 routines:

Observation -
observing the situation, what others are doing or saying. Articulating the situation without adding judgments: “When I (see, hear, remember, imagine, etc.)

we state how we feel when we observe this action: “I feel…

we express our needs related to the feelings we have identified: “…because I need…

we clearly say what we want from the other person to enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for us without demanding by saying e.g. “Would you be willing to…

It takes practice, as for everything, but in few cases it really worked well for me, even though I needed to prepare the wording scenario well in advance…



Judging and classifying people promotes ‘violence’ and I am sure we don’t need that.