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People Not Asking for Help When Trying a New Agile Practice (Anti-pattern)

Or “I've Got This!”


  • Pretty much anyone working in or associated with EMIT.
  • People who are relatively new to the EMIT culture are usually the first to see this anti-pattern and ask questions about it.


A coach or SME works with one or more people on how to use a new tool, practice or concept. The coaching, training, or consulting comes to its natural end and the just trained incorporate their new tool, practice or concept into their daily work. Sometime later, it could be a few days, but it is usually a few weeks or longer, everyone gets back together and little progress in using the new tool, practice or concept has been made. The get back together can be by chance, but sometimes the just trained want to ask questions or discuss something. What usually happens is that things went awry fairly early on, and some form of correction is now needed. Often the coach or SME recognizes that a small correction could have been made earlier on versus the larger correction that is now needed.


By not asking questions or reaching out for help earlier people tend to make things worse than they have to be. In both of the below examples a willingness to ask questions early would have made things much easier for both groups.

Net results and impact: Progress is slowed, rework increases and the overall cost of what people are doing increases. Another impact is that by going down a strange path people might make wrong assumptions and conclusions about a technique, product or concept. And finally once significant time has been invested in an approach, it's difficult for those involved to step back, realize that its not working as intended, and try something else.

(Potential) Remedies

People need to be more comfortable in asking questions early on. I would much rather get good advice and ideas from someone knowledgeable than stumble on my own hoping to figure things out.

Many teams add to their team norms a statement like “If I’m stuck more than xx I go ask for help” where xx is an appropriate unit of time, usually expressed in minutes, say 90 minutes. Or “How much time do I want to spend searching for an answer before I ask for help?” Thinking about the dollar costs of the struggle can encourage one to ask for help sooner rather than later.

Set an appropriate amount of time to “struggle” before asking for help. This can be captured in Team Norms or could be what each person thinks is right for them. Learning a new technology one might set the limit to an hour or 90 minutes of struggle before asking for help.

In other words, set a time box and when the time box expires and you’re not where you want to be, ask for help.

Useful metrics can help an individual or a group recognize when they are stuck and would benefit from help.


You often see this pattern with new Teams. You focus on several concepts and approaches to get a team successfully launched and running. After the initial sprint planning was completed you tell the teams to reach out with any questions, ideas or concerns they might have. And then things got quiet. A couple of weeks passed, no questions, no comments, no ideas, nothing. You reach out to them and their response is essentially “I’ve got it.”

A couple of months passed before you hear from the teams again. They have some questions about how the team was performing. You look at the data from their last several sprints. Within a week of two after the initial sprint planning you could see they had problems in finishing stories in a sprint. As the weeks and sprints passed the problem got worse. You meet with the teams and talk about several things they could do to get back on track. You wrap things up by telling them that if we'd had talked earlier the pain of fixing things wouldn’t be as bad it was. You’ve worked with these teams since and the anti-pattern, while better than that initial time, still persists.

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/home/hpsamios/ · Last modified: 2020/06/02 14:21 (external edit)