AoAD2 Chapter: Ownership (introduction)

Book cover for “The Art of Agile Development, Second Edition.”

Second Edition cover

This is a pre-release excerpt of The Art of Agile Development, Second Edition, to be published by O’Reilly in 2021. Visit the Second Edition home page for information about the open development process, additional excerpts, and more.

Your feedback is appreciated! To share your thoughts, join the AoAD2 open review mailing list.

This excerpt is copyright 2007, 2020, 2021 by James Shore and Shane Warden. Although you are welcome to share this link, do not distribute or republish the content without James Shore’s express written permission.


Top-notch execution lies in getting the details right, and no one understands the details better than the people who actually do the work.

Lean Software Development

Agile teams own their work. They decide for themselves what to work on, how to break it into tasks, and who on the team will do it. This is due to a fundamental Agile principle: the people who are doing the work are the ones who best understand what needs to be done. They’re the ones most qualified to decide the details.

When teams take ownership of their work, they also take responsibility for getting it done.

Ownership isn’t just about control, though. It’s also about responsibility. When teams take ownership of their work, they also take responsibility for getting it done.

This chapter has the practices you need to take ownership of your work and successfully get it done:

  • The “Task Planning” practice: Break stories into tasks and decide how they’ll get done.

  • The “Capacity” practice: Stabilize your short-term plans by signing up for what you can actually complete.

  • The “Slack” practice: Improve capacity and make reliable short-term commitments.

  • The “Stand-Up Meetings” practice: Coordinate every day about how your team will finish their work.

  • The “Informative Workspace” practice: Surround your team with useful information.

  • The “Customer Examples” practice: Collaborate with experts to understand tricky details.

  • The “Done Done” practice: Create software that’s ready to be released.

Two key ideas are central to ownership. The first was included in the “Teamwork” chapter and the second is included in this chapter:

  • “Key Idea: Self-Organizing Teams”: Agile teams decide for themselves what to work on, who will do it, and how the work will be done.

  • “Key Idea: Collective Ownership”: Team members take joint responsibility for making the team’s work a success.

XXX Further reading to consider:

  • Turn the Ship Around

Bill Wake reading recommandations:

  • Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, by Sam Kaner - or another facilitation book

  • Getting It Done: How to Lead When You're Not in Charge, by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp

  • Quality Software Management (series), Jerry Weinberg - Not something I used day-to-day but good background

  • Maybe: The Effective Manager, by Mark Horstmann. - I haven't read his book, but I used to follow their podcasts, and attended their 2-day training years ago. It's not an agile perspective, but rather focused on managing for organizational results, with concrete advice on coaching, one-on-ones, feedback, & delegation. (You'd want to vet this - the perspective may not be a fit.)

Share your feedback about this excerpt on the AoAD2 mailing list! Sign up here.

For more excerpts from the book, or to get a copy of the Early Release, see the Second Edition home page.

If you liked this entry, check out my best writing and presentations, and consider subscribing to updates by email or RSS.