When organisations start their agile journey, there are—inevitably—slips and confusion along the way. One thing that often happens is that the reduced up-front detailed planning leaves those outside a team to think there is “no planning” or “not much planning”. This is fine until goals start to look unachievable and need to be changed. The team and the stakeholders speak, and expectations are adjusted. If this happens too many times then what is reported—regardless of what might have been actually said—is “The team says that’s just the way it is… We have to let them get on with it.” And this is quickly followed by, “How can I hold them to account if they don’t have to stick to any plans?”
To those outside the team it looks as though the team has been freed of responsibilities. It looks like are just allowed to do things as they see best and not face up to the hard work of delivering anything to deadlines. It might be that some people in delivery teams think this, too. It’s possible some of them actually say it.
The reality, though is quite different. Teams actually have more responsibility, even though there may be less (up-front) planning. Agile places a great emphasis on delivering value, which is distinct from delivering “things” (such as features).
In a more traditional world a team could be satisfied it had done the right thing by delivering the right features, and shrug off any wider project or product failures as “not our responsibility”. But no more. An agile team will need to plan to help manage expectations and external dependencies, but ultimately their success is in the value created. If it looks as though the expected value isn’t going to be created then they have a responsibility to change the plan to make sure it is. Conversely they cannot simply allow a change of plan without also demonstrating they are still trying to deliver the same value.
An agile team has more responsibility. But it’s not responsibility to stick to the plan; it’s responsibility to deliver the value.