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Agile Principle Part 5: Build Projects Around Motivated Individuals

by Ken Rickard

Dec 11, 2017

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done

This is my favorite principle as I believe it builds the best foundation for a successful project. I can't think of a better way to build an awesome product than with people who are motivated to do something great.

Let's break this principle down...

Motivated Individuals - I've had this question for some time now that I don't have a solid answer for yet; Are people predisposed to be motivated naturally, or do people learn to self-motivate over time? I do believe that people are influenced by their environment, and that some people require stimulation in that environment to be motivated. But, it also seems like there are people that are just naturally motivated regardless of environment or situation. So maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. It could also depend on the subject matter as I'm generally motivated for the next blockbuster movie, but I'm not very motivated to see a theater play, unless that play was about the blockbuster movie. But still, not that motivated. ;-)

I regularly follow the social lives of Dan Pink and Simon Sinek. Both are powerhouses in the world of motivation. If I need a pick me up before a long day, or difficult situation, these are the guys I go searching for. I've probably watched Dan Pink's "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" two hundred times myself. My guess is though, I'm probably above average on the self-motivation scale as I regularly focus on continuous improvement and mastery as an intrinsic desire.

Oh and then there is this gem... Try to stay seated after watching this... Enjoy!

How Bad Do You Want It! (Success)

On the other hand, I'm sure you have seen the opposite scenario before. The one where people are demotivated by their work situation. I'm not talking about a few people. I'm thinking about a couple of handfuls to hundreds of people depending on company size. These people seem to have a lack of motivation. I refer to these groups as "The Zombie Workforce". But does that mean that they are not self-motivated? Does it mean that they lack intrinsic motivation? Or are they a product of their environment? I continue to ponder.

Environment and Support They Need - Tell me if you've heard this story before. Someone in the developer ranks is tired of the status quo, and feels they could be more efficient. They decide to convince their direct boss to let them try Agile. They start operating in different manner, as do some of those around them, but yet something still is not right. They find that outside of their small team, no one is willing to let them operate in this new way, and ultimately they fall back into the status quo of the company or leave altogether.

This story is an early part of my Agile story. Fighting and scratching my way through all the politics and red tape that stop so many existing companies from continuous improvement. I failed in my first attempt to grow a grassroots Agile movement within a company, and I think it was the best thing that could have happened to me. The lessons I learned from that failure have been invaluable for my future success.

If Agile is to succeed the management hierarchy needs to understand the benefits of operating differently, and they also need to operate with an Agile mindset, not just the developers. Lack of management support and conflicts between companies core operating procedures and Agile are leading reasons that we see Agile transition failures. Our tendencies as managers to feel like we are in a position of authority means self-motivated and self-directing workers are seen as a threat to our status of authority as managers.

Instead Agile managers should be supporting their teams choice to operate in a different way, and they should be helping them spread these behaviors upward and sideways within the company to create an environment for their teams to deliver better products.

Trust Them to Get the Job Done - Forging a great relationship with their team members should be top priority for managers of today's teams. Managers need to learn modern management skills that support their teams, and foster trust. If you've hired people that embody Agile in their actions, and they have an environment to succeed, then there should be no need to micromanage. A big part of this is creating an environment where experimentation and failure can coexist safely, and where people aren't afraid to fail when they step out to venture into unthinkable territory.

I'll mention this quote below again as it is one of my favorite.

"Creating a great culture fosters two things: continual experimentation, taking risks and learning from failure; and understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery" - Jurgen Appello - Management 3.0

Such a powerful statement that builds trust for all aspects of an organization. Managers must create an environment where experimentation is the acceptable and normal, and were failure based on these actions is not punished. Developers must buy into that stance and be intrinsically motivated to master their skill. It's an agreement that builds trust between both parties.

This 12 part series was published by Ken Rickard on LinkedIn Pulse, to read the original version of this blog click hereTo read the entire 12 part series, click here for a table of contents. 

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