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The Ignored Parts of Agile

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The Ignored Parts of Agile

We all know the common aspects of Agile, but there is a part that is usually neglected or ignored. Come find out about it and why it's just as important as the other parts.

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Some people think that Agile is a process that you follow. You do the stand ups, have the board, ceremonies, etc.  Even if you do these things, even if you follow Scrum, Kanban, Lean Software, Crystal, DevOps or whatever, you are only looking at part of it. Even if you follow these procedures to the letter, you are still only looking at part of it.

One of the other parts that gets missed, but is implied in these new ways of working is the psychology. It is the human factor. It is looking at what motivates us to work. What makes us want to do our best, what gives us drive. Then there is the other side, what demotivates us. What makes us unhappy, in a state of despair. What makes us grumble about our work and how we can get away from that and get back to being happy.

I’m not talking about being happy little vegemites (here is the meaning, I’m also one of the few Aussies that doesn’t like Vegemite) mindlessly happily working like we have drunk the Kool Aid, although that is part of it. It is also not working hard because of a strong work ethic, although that is part of it too. A person with a strong work ethic will keep working even if they are not happy with the work. No, this is something that transcends that. It is working for a purpose.

Purpose and Control

For those gamers out there, you know the situation. You are playing a game, you spend the whole day (or night) playing. Totally consumed, totally unaware of the time. You look up, it's day, you look up again, it’s night, you look up again and it's day again – where did the time go? You are playing with purpose. You want to master the game. If you didn’t want to master the game and the only purpose was to complete it, set the game to “Easy”. You can complete it in no time. Also, you control when, how and what you do in the game – you are constrained by the rules of the game. But you are still in control.

Yes, it’s only a game, but imagine that drive, that motivation being redirected to work. Not through manipulation, but through a shared goal, vision or belief in what you are doing. This is why in the Scrum Guide there is talk about the Sprint Goal, the Product Vision. In Scrum, it is the Product Owner’s job to firstly have that vision and then inspire the development team to have that shared vision. That same goal, the want to be part of something that will make a difference. When a person has an understanding of the overall goal, and where they fit in the goal, how they can help bring about that goal, that change, that vision, then mountains can be moved.

There are many leaders in history that have been able to lead this way for both good, for example Martin Luther King, and evil, Adolf Hitler to name but two prominent people.

Fight or Flight

The next human factor is one where we want to do better. It is much much easier to just keep things they way they are. Everything is predictable. The way you did something yesterday will be the same way you will do it today. It is generally how modern day management works. Keep things at steady state, limit the variation and all will go smoothly. There is some variation, you change things slightly if the new way is proven, if it sounds like a good idea, and feasible, but doesn’t really change things all that much. This method of working is fine. It gets things done, makes it predictable – generally. Evolution is slow, but still happens.

The problem is that there are some people out there, in the industry that you work in, that are trying to accelerate the work evolution. Not only that, they are doing the equivalent of gene splicing by constantly trying new ways of working. Experimenting constantly. Trying to determine what works, what doesn’t, what is better and then adopting those as their new steady state for the short time before it gets changed yet again. This is one of the ideas behind the “iteration”, but we are talking human factor here, not process or procedure. So how do you get that drive to constantly try new things, get better? One way is through crisis. One way to deal with a crisis is to accept things are going to happen and just live with it or run away. What will be will be. This is not the attitude we want. It is the equivalent of laying down to die.

The other way to get through a crisis is to fight it. Those that fight will try to find a way out of the crisis. When the odds are against them, these type of people try to find unconventional and innovative means to fight back.

In Scrum, this is the Scrum Master's role. To inspire the team to fight back constantly against an enemy that may be a competitor, another team or even themselves. The team must fight back using unconventional and innovative means to get the work done better and quicker. Never to be content with the current situation, or be taken over by the enemy.


The final human factor I wish to talk about is using people’s strengths. Too often people are brought in to fit roles. Most of the time, these same people can offer much more, just not in the role that they have been placed in. To make things worse, these people are overloaded with work. This invokes a situation that Liz Wiseman in her book Multipliers calls “Over Worked, yet Underutilized.”

This is very demoralizing for a person. I remember a story from 2 second lean, where Paul Akers talks about an engineer who gets an award for 30 years of service. (The details may be sketchy as it's from memory). The Engineer sits down and cries. When asked why, he says, “They had the work of my hands for 30 years. They could have had the work of my mind for free.” People have ideas on how to make their work lives easier. Not all of them revolve around them shirking work.
I bought this book Strengths Finder 2.0 a while ago. It comes with a test you can do online. You answer a number of questions honestly otherwise it doesn’t work and you have wasted your money, and based on your responses, it works out what your top 5 strengths are.
Mine are to summarize...

  • Learner – I like to learn stuff.

  • Deliberative – I take care of making decisions.

  • Ideation – I am fascinated by and constantly have ideas

  • Connectedness – I can find the links between things.

  • Intellection – I am introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

These pretty much sum me up quite nicely. Freakily so.

Another type of test is the Briggs-Myers test. I personally haven’t done this one, but it gives similar responses.

Having team members do these types of tests can help identify their strengths and thus be able put them to use. Since you are utilizing the specific strength of a person, people feel better utilized.


A significant number of people who work are not happy with their jobs. If you do a Google search on “How many people are disengaged with their jobs?” you start to see numbers around the 70% mark. This means you potentially have 70% of your workforce not giving their all. This ultimately affects the bottom line. You can’t order these people to give their all, they need to give it willingly.

You could try to compensate with the “Carrot and Stick” approach by giving bonuses, but this only works for a few and only short term. It also disengages people more if the bonus is removed. The only way to get full engagement is by creating an environment where people are inspired to give their all (while taking into account their circumstances such as family, work-life balance, etc. – we are not slave drivers) can only help. Look at the open source community, Wikipedia, etc. People are so inspired that they work for free!

Ignoring the psychology of the people means people are not as motivated to do their best. Some may have even worked in this situation so long that they may not even know what their best is. The problem arises that more resources will be required. This means more expenditure. It also means that those companies that do take into account their employees' happiness get the upper hand over you as they do more with the same amount of people. Which may mean that your company’s actual survival may be at stake, which is not good.

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work life balance ,people ,scrum ,agile 2018 ,process

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