This is part two of a series on Extreme Ownership. View Part 1 if your haven’t already.
When Jeff Sutherland was a cadet at West Point, he served as a training officer for cadet company L2. The company was nicknamed the “Loose Deuce” for its long history as the bottom ranked parade formation at the academy. Sutherland made L2 a more competitive team by pointing out problems in their marching routine. One of the marchers stuck his sword in the dirt, another failed to turn in time, and the commander’s commands weren’t clear or timely enough. By making these problems visible, the company identified ways to improve. In a matter of weeks the Loose Deuce went from the worst performer to the number one company at West Point.
This anecdote is often brought up when discussing the Scrum framework, but it is also an example of the second principle in Extreme Ownership: No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders. Under this principle, a team is only as good as its leader is willing to steer it. Leaders are responsible for instilling a culture of Extreme Ownership into their teams. Standards must be enforced, and team members must always find ways to improve. In order to achieve success, leaders must keep raising the bar.
On Bob Labriola’s column Asked and Answered, readers would occasionally ask who the most influential player on the Pittsburgh Steelers was. Every time the same name is brought up: Joe Greene. Why? To quote Mr. Labriola,
Greene was the guy who changed the culture within the Steelers franchise. Changed. The. Culture. Thirty-seven seasons of losing only began to change with the drafting of Greene.
The Hall of Famer transformed the Steelers from a mediocre NFL franchise to a Super-Bowl winning machine. As an individual player, “Mean” Joe Greene was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, 2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the keystone of Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” defense. However, it was his behavior off the field that proved to be the difference maker. Disappointed to be drafted by a team with a reputation for losing, Greene mentored his teammates and pushed them to be better. Fellow Steeler Lynn Swann stated Greene would express discontent if players gave less than 100 percent. Another teammate, Ernie Holmes, played music in the locker room before a game violating coach Chuck Noll’s rules. After the team’s equiment manager argued with Holmes about his renegade act, Joe Greene yanked out the stereo and ripped it apart to settle the dispute.
Your actions don’t have to be as extreme to exemplify Extreme Ownership. You can make up for a lack of talent or a lack of experience on your software team by fostering a culture of self-improvement. On my team, my manager makes our developers write code using a test-driven, test-first approach; that way we have a high level of confidence that the systems operate the way we expect them to. We also examine user stories in great detail, stamping out as much ambiguity as possible so that every one - including non-developers - are in agreement on how long it would take to complete a story and what the criteria are to make the story pass. By doing this we’ve been able to deliver more reliable code, and on a more reliable delivery schedule.