People ARE important

16. November 2009

People are important

This is the start of some episodes based on theAgile Manifesto. Even though a little bit aged (it is from 2001!) it is such a nice treasure in terms that it puts the idea of the agile methodlogy in only four taglines:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Please, not again…we know them by heart already. I know, we do but I learned that many times they are totally misunderstood. There are many false interpretations and myths about them which is why I like to add my five cents to them. In today’s post I will write about about Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools, which is the first tagline of the manifesto.

How do you read it?

Most people “overread” the word “over” – at least, this is what I notice. So the tagline becomes “All about people” but don’t care about tools and process. People ARE important, actually very important, but processes and tools, too!

Do we need processes?

Yes, we do. The process is one thing what the ScrumMaster is for. The ScrumMaster is not the project lead (again something quickly misinterpreted) but the coach and mentor to make sure the Agile Process (here the scrum idea) is undertaken the right way. Compared to approaches like RUP, CMMI, Waterfall, Catalyst or others Agile Methodologies are rather thin and lean approaches. Still they give guidelines that of course should be followed in an adaptable manner. SCRUM is a process that is important to be understood and followed but not blindly.

Do we need tools?

Yes, we do. Tools ARE important as they do make projects more efficient. You shouldn’t use tools only because they are fancy, you should use them to make them team more productive and underpin the aims the team likes to achieve. Not only if you are a developer you should use tools, the whole team can find tools that help to work in a more fun way. Don’t think only in software, paper and walls are fine, too.

There is a lot of discussion in the agile world whether electronic tools should be used for the process (like for project planning and tracking). There is less discussion when it comes to development like in Continuous Integration, Automated Testing, Wikis, Bugtracking.

Use what is most applicable to your team. My current team has chosen electronic tools over the wall (for project planning and tracking) to manage userstories and the storyboard and automatically generated burndown charts and the like it but as always, everything has its pros and cons. In our situation the pros far outweigh the cons.

People’s attitude

Having said that, people ARE more important than processes and tools. So much of the sucess of the project is about the people. But remember the tagline doesn’t say “People and Interactions” but “Individuals and Interactions”. Quite some time we forget that we are all different. People are far from being the same.

We all have different

  • experiences
  • social competencies
  • motivation and engagement

It is very easy to think that the ideal team consists of ideal humans that form the ideal project. Whoosh! Back to reality! There are no ideal people and no ideal teams.

The book says the team member should chose the project and not the project the team member but often we cannot chose to staff the member we want – the situation just dictates who will belong to the team. Differences in expectations and aims of the members are the typical situations. In my current project I had the opportunities to do the staffing for the majority of the members. I was happy to be able to do interviews. I told everyone about the upcoming project and then asked them why they would think they would be perfect for the team. Thereby I learned a lot about that person and his or her attitude towards the project. The technical skill actually was secondary to me!

Experience, social competency, motivation and engagement are very important for the project but don’t expect all the same amount from every member. Some will be drivers, some will be driven. Some are the extroverts, some will be the introverts.

The ideal team manages itself

How often have we heard that. I do believe it is true but not realistic. We are individuals and the team changes from time to time, so it will have its storming phases. My experience is that the team needs someone who guides them. Of course, this can someone “inside” the team. It could be a well-experienced member who has a distinct social competency.

Beware of one fact though:

Grassroots Democracy sometimes becomes

Grassroots Democrazy

This is one think the chicken are afraid of: The team does what it wants. It doesn’t listen anymore to anyone outside the team. The pig team in itselfs perspective becomes the most important – having forgotten that they are actually a service provider for the chicken. Don’t let the agile democracy become grassroots democrazy! As a ScrumMaster guide the team to a performing team that is happy to deliver what the product vision is.

We need tools and processes but Individuals and interactions are still more important

The above picture was taken at the beach on a german island called Foehr. It shows the shadows of a very good team – my family!

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