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Building Trust

21 Feb 2017

| Author: Laurence Wood


Building Trust

Trust philosopher Baroness Onora O'Neill suggests our ideas about trust are misguided. Processes or ‘systems of accountability’ designed to build trust through evidence often do the opposite. ‘Box ticking’ exercises rarely reduce risk. Anthropologist Simon Sinek says our survival depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe in what we believe in to build trust. We choose a 16 year-old neighbour to babysit because she is familiar to us.

Successful, delivery teams need trust, and need to be trusted. Building trust isn’t achieved through box ticking, it is a continual development based on communication, collaboration and success.

I find it helpful to ask Agile teams what factors they expect to impact trust in them. Who’s trust do they value most? How they expect each delivery of business value to impact this trust?

Trust takes time to build but can quickly be lost. Thinking this through together helps them to realise the importance of delivering as soon as possible, and regularly thereafter. Even high performing Agile teams can forget this at the coal face.

Delivering something on-time is key to building trust. But customers can distrust people who want to overly limit scope in order to achieve early deliverables. Previous disappointments (they never got the functionality they wanted) mean they may assume the first release will be the only one. So they include everything in a gold plated wish-list through lack of trust.  This is a major problem associated with Waterfall delivery, but can also befall those who focus too hard on a specific Minimum Viable Product.

Ask a team how soon they expect to be trusted despite having inevitable failures. This helps them to understand the importance of early deliverables.  

The answer, of course, is to build trust through the continuous and incremental delivery of value. The incremental journey towards a release is more important than the release itself, and the trust built along the way along with opportunities of risk reduction through feedback and testing.

In a trusted relationship the team will be able to negotiate scope finding what contingency they require to meet their commitments despite inevitable curve balls.

In summary

  • Deliver some value as soon as possible to gain a seat at the prioritisation table
  • Commit to (and deliver) outcomes and benefits – not tasks or features
  • Avoid simplistic cost-benefit calculations which discourage early trust-building releases

Exploring trust together helps a team to decide on early targets not complex monoliths. In a follow-up, we will consider how top teams stay ‘trustworthy’ even when things go wrong.

If your organisation is looking for support in planning and managing incremental delivery on its Agile projects and programmes, please get in touch.


Baroness Onora O'Neill @ TED

Simon Sinek @ TEDx

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Laurence Wood

Laurence inspires teams and leaders to deliver more value, more often using Agile and Lean in India and the UK. His Lean and Agile experience spans 25 years from Jaguar apprentice to Agile Programme Manager at Callcredit Information Group via City of London Head of IT.


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