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!

Let’s Call Ourselves – The Team; Even Better – The Agile Team


There are a number of aspects for the organization to transform to agile: culture, mindset, management, portfolio, methodology… However, without the real agile teams an organization can… call itself agile.

The aim for a real team is to figure out how to most efficiently reach the goal they have with business people commonly agreed to achieve.

First, let’s mention a multi-skilled ‘property’. We need to differentiate between multi-skilled team members and a team capable to perform multiple tasks. Multi-skilled team members are individuals capable of doing different tasks. This is the enabler for a team to become versatile and as less dependent as possible. However, this is not quite sufficient. For instance, a team has three people that can do development and test and three others that can do configuration management and technical writing. In such a case, an early phase/architect and integration competences are missing. So, the team depends on external competences and help. On the other hand, a team could be cross-functional with all needed competences to deliver a product, but some handover within the team is created due to specialization of the team members. Specialization limits learning of multiple skills. In a case of variations where certain types of tasks come in peaks, there might be challenges to cover them timely without overburdening individuals.

So, both multi-skilled individuals and cross-functionality within the team are necessary for a successful team.

Is that enough?

Let’s mention yet another important aspect – long-lasting. Team members need some time for getting to know each other and to build a team sense, a spirit and consequently a performance. It may take more than a week, an iteration or even a delivery. The members of the team build gradually a personal team awareness or in general: the orientation and recognition of others’ work to efficiently achieve a common purpose. It comes along with trust, openness and commitment. The business dynamics and demand for flexibility may be the main challengers to keep the team together (along with leaders that ignore the importance of this aspect).

Please don”t forget empowerment (see the post) and learning.



Teams are the core structure of an agile company. We should build teams with a wide picture about other teams, system, company and community. We should not stop treating people as individuals and unique human beings.