Autonomy, Maturity and Chaos

July 02, 2020

We rely on evidence, experience, advice and intuition to make decisions.

  • If there is hard enough data that indicates a path we use it.
  • If not we rely on our previous experience in the matter (or related matter) to guide us.
  • When that is not possible we ask for advice from people who may have that experience.
  • And when we don't we use our intuition, which is aided by data, our experience, knowledge gained through consultation, etc.

If a team that lacks data, experience and access to information, it will primarily rely on intuition to make day-to-day architectural and implementation decisions. Autonomy in this case can be chaotic because the team doesn't know what they don't know. They don't know any better.

The value of autonomous teams is well-documented but those benefits can only be achieved if the autonomy that fuels the diversity of their activities is accompanied by the maturity of the people in the team. Without this maturity there is likely to be chaos. Though outside coaching and support can help with the maturity gap it is not a substitute for having strong people on the team.

Autonomy without maturity is chaos. That is not necessarily a bad thing if you can afford to have chaos for an extended period of time (perhaps because of a high potential payback).