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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Why Agile Is a Humane Way to Work

Categories: Agile

Years ago, when I first heard of agile making waves, I was curious enough to pay for a class out of my own pocket to learn more. 

By the end of the two-day session, I knew I wanted to be associated with agile. It wasn’t just its merits that convinced me—it was the basic philosophy of trusting another being, of being open to communication and most of all, respecting another’s opinion. It seemed humane.

In the mad rush of work, all of the above are often sidelined. There’s no time for niceties, no time to respect another opinion; there’s only the ambition to prove another wrong. 

It’s miserable. 

Agile teaches us to be open, trustworthy and make mistakes. Failure isn’t the end of the road; risk-taking and experimentation are supported and bonhomie is encouraged. 

My Experiments With Agile

As I started working as an agile coach, I brought in the humane side of work. I helped my teams to stop finger-pointing and instead, really talk during standups. I tried to liven up the mood by asking team members about the last book they read or movie they watched, and I learned the name of the scrum master’s kid. This helped the team get to know each other as humans. 

I planned games and drew on whiteboards so team members could match the hobby with the individual who practiced it. It was hilarious. Interest grew, not in agile but in knowing each other and building better relationships with team members. 

We celebrated birthdays, we talked about failure, trust and anything that would bring out even the introverts and encourage them to join discussions. Everyone’s opinion mattered. The right complexity point during estimations didn’t matter, as long as everyone was talking and participating. 

And our work wasn’t virtual anymore. I would move a story card to completion, draw to celebrate the completion of a goal and use the white board to keep the team motivated with quotes, scribbles and doodles. It got everyone involved. 

Managers soon joined the sessions, sometimes just listening when they were uncomfortable. It allowed team members to be vocal and to think for themselves. Everyone was involved—not because that’s how it should be done, but because it takes time to build that vibe and tribe. 

Why Agile Works

Agile isn’t for measuring KPIs or bringing in ROI. But those results happen, because the team comes together and enjoys working with each other. 

Agile has been written about over and over again, from why it works to why it’s a failing fad. People rarely see the fact that agile has made many organizations humane again. The best way to understand agile is to think about working in a secure, comfortable environment with people you trust. 

In 2013, Rosabeth Moss Kanter published an article in the Harvard Business Review about how the happiest people seek out the most complex problems. It just makes sense to keep individuals and the team happy at work. 

It can be intimidating to turn around a team struggling with bad quality, low productivity and minimum engagement. But the best fix has always been to get team members to feel engaged, and that their views are heard and their opinion respected. It’s always about people. Once you get that right, the rest is easier. 

I have always had a positive experience with agile. When everybody comes together and believes in it, I have seen change happen. However, the most rewarding experience for me has always been that associates in an organization become humane again. They care about their colleagues, they speak face to face and they handle difficult discussions better. 

What about you? If your organization has embraced agile, what results have you seen?

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: January 14, 2020 11:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)
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"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

- Orson Welles, The Third Man