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The Heart & Soul of Agile

The Heart and Soul of Agile is about how we work with people and products/services. As you’ll see, even though the Agile concepts were formed within the world of software development, they are general enough to apply to any type of product or service, any industry, and can even be applied to non-work settings. I love how they align so nicely with the concepts in my Quest for Deep Joy.

The People Factor

Agile strives to focus on ‘individuals and interactions’ and ‘customer collaboration’ – to place this human aspect above process, contracts, and documentation. In Agile, we strive to engage humans who bring the best of themselves into a safe space for great collaboration, creativity, and teamwork. We coach each person to be:

  • confident
  • resilient
  • articulate
  • brave
  • honest
  • nurturing
  • transparent
  • engaged
  • respectful

We coach teams toward high performance, stressing:

  • democracy (i.e. hearing each person’s input as valuable)
  • creative collaboration
  • respect across team members
  • flexibility in skills and in addressing change
  • experimentation to test and learn
  • diversity in perspectives
  • self-management within the team
  • cross-functionality – a blend of skills within the team
  • T-shaped skills – each person has their main strength, but has good awareness of other skills
  • clear about the value that the product/service brings to the client and to the world
  • focused – the ability to work in the ‘flow zone’ of deep creativity, not distracted by lesser issues

Command and control, and fear-based management spoils the joy, the creativity and collaboration.

The Product Factor

In addition, the ‘Agile Way’ works to deliver some working product/service as soon as possible, as a way of measuring understanding and acceptance in the hands of the client.

We deliver small bits of value, small increments of functionality/service to manage the risk that we misunderstood or the needs are not quite what was described. We have a small and short delivery cycle to get the value in the hands of the client for their use, and to watch and learn from its usage ‘in real life’. As we watch and learn from its use, we can adapt and improve as we work on the next increment.

In the world of software, we are seldom building the same software twice. We know that the person that tries to define the specs/requirements for a large piece of software often does not fully know what is needed. And, given that time passes while requirements are written, and even more time passes while software is built, things change. Needs change. Businesses change. The industry changes. The people using the software adapt other elements of their process, and their priorities change.

In any industry where products are built to be unique and will never be built again, this approach to build incrementally, to deliver and learn and adapt offers lower risk and much more joy for the builders and the clients.

This incremental build/deliver approach also enables the creators and the clients to adapt the needs without pain – no heavy Change Management process. We prioritize what is needed next and work on it. Low priority items might fall off the bottom of the list if the client finds that they really just aren’t that important. New unplanned high-priority items can be added when they are found. The ultimate ‘flex & pivot’ approach to deliver value sooner and, ultimately, deliver greater value overall.

This incremental and ever-adapting approach to delivering products also enables the team to set a more sustainable pace of work. If an end date is set too early and is locked in too early, the team often has a time-crunch as the date nears. Stress goes up. Tempers flare. Creativity decreases. The fear approach sets in. Sustainable pace, in contrast, allows higher performance, safe spaces for creativity, collaboration, and experimentation, with the intent to deliver the best final product.

In spite of this incremental approach, the team is still striving for excellence in the design and quality of the product. And, because small bits of value are delivered throughout the lifecycle, testing can begin early on, and real-life usage early on uncovers any quirks that testing might have been unaware of. The faster we test and learn, the faster we can correct and adapt, and the sooner the client gets value.

In all, this ‘agile way’, the ‘heart and soul of agile’ is human and humane. It offers the most respect for those creating the product/service, and enables them to deliver their best work. It involves the client in the creative/collaborative planning, design, and construction of the product, giving them the most input to what will ultimately be theirs to use. It offers the client the best product with the most adaptability as they begin to use that product.

Broad Applicability

Given that the ‘heart and soul of agile’ is about how teams work together to build products/services, and how the product/service is designed, built, and delivered, I hope you can think of other uses for this approach. You might be building an online course, podcasts, videos, learning a new sport, running a marathon, creating new culinary delights, learning how to do home/repair projects, or delivering a new service. In any custom-creation project, these ideas can be used.

The Heart and Soul of Agile is a mindset for team members, a culture for the team (including the client), and an approach to the build process. This approach enables a working culture of joy and makes the best of people, enabling them to live their own Deep Joy.

I hope that you can see how the Heart and Soul of Agile aligns with Deep Joy.

Creative collaboration in high-performing teams is an energizing place to be, so I hope that you’ll give this all a try on your own next project.

This episode was recorded to YouTube December 3rd, 2020.

Published by Thene Sheehy

Living & Working in Northern Portugal