"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Monday, 9 June 2014

Agile is demotivating

A few weeks ago I happened to talk to a couple of University students who were conducting a survey in different companies about the impacts on people motivation from moving to Agile SW development. What they told me could appear surprising to many of you: a consistent percentage of people answering their survey claimed that they feel extremely frustrated and demotivated with Agile. Are you hit by this? I want to elaborate in this post why I was not.

What is motivating for knowledge workers in 21st century?
In his extraordinary book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Dan Pink sketches what he calls Motivation 3.0. 
Based on scientific evidence over decades of research, he explains that, once basic living needs (like food or safety) are satisfied (Motivation 1.0), the factors that are still nowadays commonly considered as motivating (carrot and stick, e.g, money and punishment) are actually working only for simple and repetitive tasks. 
These “extrinsic” motivators (Motivation 2.0) are not only useless, but even counterproductive, as soon as tasks require cognitive effort: in that case “intrinsic” motivators are the only ones which really work. Motivation 3.0 is based on three pillars:
  • Autonomy - over
    • Time – when to do the work
    • Technique – how to do the work
    • Team – whom to do the work with
    • Task – what work to do
  • Mastery – ability to become better at something that matters for you
  • Purpose – natural desire to contribute to something greater than yourself
You might want to have a look at Dan Pink’s TED talk, The puzzle of motivation or to a nice visual depiction of the 3rd Drive theory on YouTube to get some more insights. Or simply read the bookJ.

After having reflected around what is motivating, let’s touch a bit what Agile is. 
Well, if we want to explore the subject from the perspective of the relationship with motivation, the first thing that comes to my mind is the 5th Agile principle: 
Build projects around motivated individual. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
Motivation looks like being somehow embedded in Agile: so how can we explain the result from the survey? 
Well I will not give an answer based on a well-defined and exposed theory of what Agile is.
On the other hand, if I look at the three intrinsic factors in Motivation 3.0, I can say from empirical evidence what Agile is definitely not.

Agile is not:
  • Artificial deadlines pushed on teams for lack of trust
  • Commitments taken by people not actually doing the work or, alternatively, commitment games (people pushed to commit and then it’s their business to keep the commitment)
  • Processes pushed from the top (sometimes by people with not enough understanding of the work at hand)  
  • Developers not allowed to choose what they consider the best tools for them to work
  • A lot of gate checks before being allowed to change any line of code
  • Teams with not enough skills or support to succeed
  • Bossy team leaders called Scrum Masters who do the planning and assign tasks to developers
  • Senior technical people just playing the role of “checkers” instead of teaching people how to do a better job
  • Accumulating technical debt and not promoting pride for well crafted code
  • No Product Vision or lack of understanding why to develop a certain feature
So, if anyone, who finds herself in a similar reality, names all the stuff above as Agile, maybe just because she’s using post-its and white boards, I cannot agree more with her: Agile is demotivating.

I would then like to hear less Agile talks and more lived up Agile values and principles (and more knowledge, and more practice).
I subscribe to what I heard James Grenning saying to managers in his closing keynote at Scrum Gathering London 2011: Stop motivating people, but stop demotivating them!

What is your thinking?