Simon Sinek, in the outstanding book of “Start With Why” explains how the successful organizations start their communication from the inside out, starting with WHY they do what they do, then they go through HOW they do it and at the end they share WHAT they do. The idea is pretty simple although, he explains it amazingly, I have to say. If you’re interesting on it, here you can hear it directly from him.
One of the examples he puts is Apple Computers. He says that if Apple would start their messages describing how good their computers are and how great their design processes enable them to be the leaders, Apple would sound as any other computer company. However, they do actually sound different, and that is because they start with WHY. Simon says Apple starts all their messages explaining and sharing WHY they do what they do. An example could be the advertisement they aired in 1984, in the Super Bowl. Apple communicates their mission with every action they perform; the mission they have is questioning in every moment the status quo, thinking in a different way, trying to innovate and to challenge technology. Then they go to the HOW, their design processes are outstanding. And then, finally, they get to the WHAT, it all comes together in the beautiful computers they build.
For this article, I’d like to focus with the same approach about the WHY of Agile. The HOW and the WHAT I guess those are things we all know: build self-organized teams, build multifunctional teams, improving the quality of the solutions, focusing on the added value, giving more value to solutions working over documentation, responding to change over following a plan, etc. Even if you use Scrum with your team, that would be a fair HOW for your team in order to use agile.
But, what about the WHY? Usually people don’t focus on the WHY when they start with agile. They rather focus on the things we’ve just mentioned. Those things are great, don’t get me wrong. The agile manifesto is something that deserves to be signed for all the teams using the agile values. (I remember I gathered my team a long time ago, when we started to use agile, and I offered them to sign a copy of the manifesto, we all did it proudly and the document was hanged on the wall as a simbol. I still have that very copy that I keep with nostalgic.). However, for a team, when it’s been a while since they’ve started to use agile, a major purpose, cause or belief needs to be clear to keep the motivation up. And this is not easy at all to describe.
You can try it by yourself: – WHY do you do the things you do? WHY did you decid to be on time today at work? WHY do you keep pushing not matter what? Obviously, those questions have a huge personal component, and I’m not trying to tackle that here, I’d like to explore that inside the core of an agile team. Instead of asking those previous question, we could ask ourselves: WHY do we do the things we do as a team? WHY did we decide to perform the agile events this iteration (sprint)? WHY do you keep having retrospectives and taking action afterwards?
As you probably imagine, I don’t have the answer to those questions. Only the team as a whole is able to answer those. What I can share here is the results of the annual survey from Versionone where they analyze the state of Agile worldwide. One section is dedicated to the reasons for adopting agile on a team.
I do have to admit that a lof of “technical” reasons are there on the list. If I’d have to say one reason (in the context of this article) and one reason only, I will say the one covered with the point “Improve team morale”. I really believe agile is a tool to build a team as a pleace where all the members, no matter what, can be happy at work. I’ve seen this first hand. In the past I used to work with a PMI approach with the teams and that generated a lot of frustation among people. Team members had frecuently to interrupt their work to start working in a different request just because we had received a new project with a fixed deadline. With agile I’ve seen something different, teams are able to communicate, to share ideas, to collaborate, to cover each other backs, to say your opining out loud and feeling that nobody is going to judge you (remember the sprint planning), that you have a coach or scrum master plus the team covering you if you didn’t accomplish the goal, the list goes on and on.
I love it that way. Obviously, Mondays are still tough (I don’t see anything changing that), and the teams still need to manage some difficult situations internally and with the customer. But with agile I experience a different way of seing things, a different perception. Used in the right way, definitely agile will help us all to build a save environment that facilitates the team members engagement and that improves the daily possibilities to find happiness at work. For the purpose of finding a major reason for agile, I think it’s good enough.