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Discipline versus Motivation

· Agile Zone

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A lot of organizations I’ve worked with have said that they think adopting agile practices requires a tremendous amount of discipline for teams to be successful. I’ve thought about that a lot and I’m not sure I agree. Actually, it’s more that I don’t like the word discipline. Usually, when people refer to discipline in terms of successfully implementing agile practices, they mean the self-discipline of team members. Looking up self-discipline on Wikipedia, here’s what I found:

Self-discipline refers to the training that one gives one’s self to accomplish a certain task or to adopt a particular pattern of behaviour, even though one would really rather be doing something else.

Now, I don’t know about you, but applying that type of discipline to anything, be it agile practices or riding your bike, doesn’t seem like a way to ensure long-term success.

Actually, what I think makes agile teams successful in the long-term is motivation. Motivation is very different from discipline. Organizations try so many different tactics to motivate others and themselves and continually fail. I think it’s because they overcomplicate what motivation is. I think if you boil it down to it’s essentials, in order to truly motivate yourself or others, you can do two simple things:

  1. Make it enjoyable
  2. Use positive public pressure

I believe that at its core, agile practices embrace and promote both of these tactics. First, make it enjoyable. In life, and in agile, find the enjoyable parts of what you are doing and focus on those. If you’re on an agile team doing iteration planning, agile encourages you to select your own tasking for the next iteration. People will naturally gravitate toward tasks they enjoy. Take advantage of this natural tendency to ensure that your entire team is enjoying what they are doing over the next iteration…and the next…and the next. Continuous enjoyment. When was the last time you thought about your work that way. You can make it happen.

Second, use positive public pressure. Many people see pressure as a bad thing, and it is when used incorrectly. Positive public pressure is a good thing. It’s committing publicly to achieve a goal. But this public pressure of commitment has to be tempered so as not to become harmful to the team or the individuals. The pressure and commitment has to be kept at a high enough intensity level to motivate but low enough not to burn anyone out. In addition to inviting public pressure, regularly reporting on your progress toward your public commitment keeps others updated on your progress and keeps your commitment at the top of your thinking. These practices enforce positive public pressure and really help motivate. Agile embraces this concept wholeheartedly. Teams publicly commit to each other and their organizations and stakeholders to complete a set amount of work in a short iteration. Then, on a daily basis, they report to each other on their progress. They also have the additional public pressure of having to demonstrate their completed work to their organization and stakeholders at the completion of each iteration.

I believe that when used together, enjoyment and positive public pressure can be used to motivate teams into becoming highly productive. People are enjoying their work and making their own public commitments that they can sustain iteration over iteration. They are not relegating themselves to someone else’s tasking or commitments, and that, I think, is the key to this motivational strategy. The result is happier, more productive teams with a very low burnout rate.

From Chris Spagnuolo's EdgeHopper - Tales from the Edge 

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