Agile Principles: Motivation is the Key to Quality

larry apke agile doctor principles

Principle #5: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.

If I had to take exception to any value or principle this would have to be the one.

While I have the utmost of respect for the original Agile signatories, they made a slight mistake because this principle refers to only projects. I have ranted often enough about the distinction between project and product management (See this post for more), but it is important to understand that Agile works best when we build a product (not a project) mindset. By having a principle that mentions projects might hinder folks from transforming their thinking to product-centric thinking.

That slight semantic problem aside, this principle highlights the need for motivated individuals in order to complete quality work. Prior to agile (and even today) people were assigned to death march projects, treated like widgets as to their work and children as to their maturity, needing to be supervised at every step of the way lest they make a mistake.

This is Taylorism and has been proven to work well with rote and manual tasks but has been shown scientifically to not work with knowledge work and workers. I have written previously about this in reference to the book Drive which has wonderful information about motivation and the science behind it.

Another aspect of this principle is trust. The very fact that we do not trust our people leads to a whole host of detrimental behavior and waste whether it manifests as command and control management, approval bottlenecks, ridiculous amounts of upfront requirements and so on. I encourage people to read Patrick Leoncini’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team where you would notice that other dysfunctions cannot be overcome until we overcome the primary issue of trust.

This principle also refers to environment and support. In my coaching engagements (and throughout my career) I am constantly amazed by the sheer number of managers who fail to realize that their primary role is to support those folks assigned to their care. Managers must be true servant leaders (and the scrum framework calls this out in the position of scrum master as servant leader) for their people.

The front line workers are not there to serve their managers. Furthermore, it is up to management to create an environment (including physical environment, development environment, necessary software and tools) that allows workers to do their work.

Larry Apke

Download my new ebook, Understanding the Agile Manifesto, for more Agile help

Leave a Reply