Does your agile team have a social contract?

You may be wondering, what is a social contract? Does my team really need one? Don’t worry, you are not alone. There are many agile and project management professionals I have spoken to who have not been exposed to this concept, myself included, until recently.

A few months ago, I was introduced to social contracts by a colleague, and as a Project Manager, I’ve found it’s the ideal tool to have in your tools and techniques kitty to help achieve team coherence.

So what is it? 
A social contract is an agreement between the members of your project team regarding how the team will work together and the expected behaviour of all members. It is unique to a particular project team and is not something that is transferable to another team.

The whole project team must come together to discuss and establish clear guidelines on how the team would hold each member accountable and how differences and member dissatisfaction will be addressed.

Social contracts can be very simple, they probably don’t even need to be in a document format, it can be a word document, a page in Confluence but it must be someplace all team members can easily access it. The main requirement is it must have agreement and buy-in from your entire team.  

And the benefits are:
  • Each member of the project team feels their input is valuable and they are being heard
  • Instils a sense of responsibility and accountability amongst team members
  • Discourages negative behaviour
  • Each member understands the expectations the team has from them

How do I create one?
Set aside a time when all your team members are available to discuss and flesh out a social agreement. It is important all team members participate in creating the contract since the whole team (not just the PM) owns the contract, therefore every member’s point of view must be considered and discussed prior to reaching an agreement.


Steps to create a great social contract –
  1. Organise a workshop to flesh out the agreement based on your team’s availability.
  2. Decide on the items you would like your team to agree on. For an agile project team, this may be in regards to managing emergent scope, raising risks and anything else that may need discussion and agreement with the whole team.
  3. Send out an agenda with the social contract discussion items you would like to include in and actively solicit feedback from the team. Is there anything new they would like to include? Ask them to come prepared to the workshop with their questions or suggestions.
  4. In the workshop, discuss each of the items in the contract with the team, actively seek your team’s feedback, and get consensus on each contract item. Record what was agreed for each contract item.
  5. At the end of the workshop, document and send out the social contract to all team members.
  6. Review the social contract regularly.

An example of a social contract for one of my project teams:
 
The Team agree that:  
Customer satisfaction is our ultimate goal  
Agree
Don't fight the frameworks
Learning as we go as xyz is a new framework and we are still learning.

Agree
Strive to look for ways to be more efficient  Agree
Communicate face to face as a priority  Agree
Raise risks early  Where - stand up meeting/talk to PM asap,

Agree
Find the shortest feedback loop  Agree
Do accurate time sheets (on time)  In the notes section please specify what you worked on.

Agree
Quality is everybody's responsibility Agree
Develop the most valuable software, as defined by the Organisation through the Product Owner, at all times Agree
Hold team members accountable for their behaviour and performance Let’s all be respectful to each other, call out behaviour that is deemed as not appropriate/offensive

Agree
Raise issues and blockers with your Project Manager as soon as possible Agree
Actively participate in all ceremonies  Agree

It is the important to remember that the PM does not own the social contract, the whole team including the PM does and it is every member’s responsibility to ensure that behaviours not agreed to in the contact are called out and rectified. The contract will only work if every member believes in it.