Individuals and Interactions

One of the things that has challenged me the most working with groups of people is the following statement from the Agile Manifesto:

We have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. 

You see, the reality is that when I’m consulting, I almost always seem to end up talking about processes and tools. I talk to teams about scrum (process). I talk to teams about kanban (process). I talk about task boards (tools) and facilitation techniques (tools). I talk about the importance of flow (process) and value stream mapping (tool).  

Basically, I do a terrible job of focusing on individuals and interactions. I lean to the right in this particular equation pretty hard. It turns out that an awful lot of the time I end up doing the very thing that we say we shouldn’t do as agilists.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m unique in this flawed behavior. I know for a fact that a lot of consultants have the same problem. We all know that we should be focusing on individuals, but we struggle to find the right way to do that. 

What does an emphasis on individuals and interactions look like? First, it means building relationships with people. Building trust with them and listening to what they say. It means asking questions rather than proscribing solutions. It means inquiring about what interactions there are and what the quality of those interactions are like. It means asking how you feel about a variety of things. How do you feel about your work, your management, your colleagues?

So, the next time you find yourself talking to a group about a framework, remind yourself to take a step back and consider a different approach. Perhaps your time would be better spent asking about how they feel about working together. No process or tool will fix that (all claims by vendors to the contrary). I need this as a rubber band around my wrist. Something that I can snap to remind myself to attend to the people and not the tools. I’ve done tools and processes for far too long. It’s become a bad habit for many of us in the industry. I think the time has come to push back and ask if we are really doing ourselves a disservice with the tool emphasis. 

Look, I know it says tools right in the title of my blog. I get it. It’s a hangover from my early days in blogging when I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I had a blog that reviewed agile tools?” Well, I think I did a tool review just about once and then never talked about agile tools again. I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes with blogs. Sometimes they end up being about things that you probably never expected. That’s OK, I think agile tools has been something that some people have found helpful, and that’s really all that matters to me.

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