‘We are uncovering better ways…’​ Oh, really?

Sunset silhouette

It is perhaps the most overlooked, yet most important, part of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development (which is usually shortened to ‘Agile Manifesto’):

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”

But here’s a question for you: who are we, and how are we making sure that we’re actually uncovering better ways?

In many business meetings, and meetings in the Agile space are no exception, unfortunately, there exists an inherent lack of balance. Some people do most of the talking, other people hardly any. Especially in the Western culture, people are rewarded for being ‘seen’. People who talk a lot are automatically viewed as more knowledgeable, smarter, more authoritative, that they know what they’re talking about. Research has shown that this is not always the case.

If an Agile team has a process in place to capture and implement improvements, like Scrum’s Retrospective, you still need to take care that everyone’s input is valued equally. You have a team of smart people, some will be extroverts, some will be introverts. The introverts usually need time to think about things before they speak, whereas the extroverts basically blurt out whatever comes up in their heads. If you don’t actively address this, you’ll quickly lose interest from the people who don’t feel heard and are once again forced to listen to the loud folks.

This is where a Thinking Environment may help you out. The Thinking Environment is based around 10 components, and when all components are present, you’ll have the right circumstances for everyone’s thinking to soar. I would argue this is exactly the situation you want to establish when you’re dealing with difficult issues, like process improvement, that require thought and creativity. Some of those components are Equality, Attention, Information, Diversity, and Appreciation.

When you’re only giving the floor to the ‘natural’ talkers, you’re basically removing equality from the room. You’re implicitly saying, “if you don’t speak up, we don’t value your opinion.” Funnily, in that situation attention will also quickly diminish, as the people who don’t feel heard, won’t be open to whatever is being said. Diversity is at stake when it’s always the same people doing the talking. You’re losing out big time, if you don’t deal with it.

So. When you’re in the process of ‘uncovering better ways’, how do you facilitate it? Do you make sure everyone is heard? Do you make sure you capture ideas from everyone, even the ones who may need time to think? Don’t forget: some people need time to process new information, which might have arisen only minutes earlier. If you can create the right circumstances so that you can ask everyone about their freshest thinking, you’re on the right track.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”

Are you actively making sure that ‘we’ includes everyone on your team? Are you encouraging active listening, so that everyone is heard, without getting interrupted? Are you nourishing appreciation in your team, so that everyone feels valued? Do you seek to get clear information, even when it may be uncomfortable, so that everyone’s on the same page?

Are you uncovering better ways? Or are you merely pretending?