Make Product Team Feel Safe

Team Safety

I think one of the most important factors in building successful products and product teams is that the product team feels safe.

If teams do not feel safe, or if you have a blame culture then how can you expect anyone to think outside the box, innovate or take risks. I think this is one of the biggest killers of an innovative culture, because it makes people afraid to be wrong because the repercussions far out way the reward.

Some examples of things that might make a team afraid:

  • not finishing everything in a sprint
  • underestimating a backlog item and delivering it late
  • not knowing every detail about a backlog item before starting it
  • poor estimates
  • and many more



Product Leadership Role

If you are in a product leadership role, its your responsibility to make your team feel safe. Your team needs to know that an estimate they make will be treated as an estimate, not as a contract. If they don’t feel this safety, they’ll pad their estimates to create safety that way. Your team needs to know that occasionally not finishing everything they planned into a sprint is OK. Otherwise, they’ll deliberately plan less work than they think they can do so they can create safety that way.

It should be safe to bring a product backlog item into a sprint without knowing every little detail first, else teams will be endlessly “refining” each item as a way of being safe. To create safety, you need to go out of your way to make sure the team knows you won’t behave in a way that creates fear. They also need to know you’ll defend them against others.

If a team is worried they’ll get in trouble for not finishing everything they bring into a sprint:

  • be sure you never yell at them for not finishing everything
  • vigorously defend your team any time someone criticises them for not finishing everything

In these cases retrospect and reflect with the team, and see if there is anything that can be done to improve it. It is impossible to get everything 100% correct all the time, we are human after all. As long as we are striving for excellence, and setting the bar high, thats all we can really do.

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