You can’t opt out. It is people business from now on.

A haunting intuition from an Agile conference

I started to write this post in a politically very correct tone. I got bored after reading five lines myself. That is when a delete button comes in handy. I’m just going to write how I feel, trying to put my unprocessed intuition into words. I went to #tad014 last week. Something started bothering me. Hard to identify what it is. This is the beginning of that thought.

It seems like something went seriously wrong when the agile community started to adopt the agile methodology. Only today they seem to be recognizing that there is a person behind the code. That there are people with emotions, fears, needs, hidden agendas, self-esteems and lovely, interesting, kind, wicked, ever shifting mindsets. People who we would very much like to work well together.

The agile field seems now to be trying to induce “people-thinking” into the heads of logically rational thinking (mostly) engineers, who spent their whole life harvesting the fruits of sharp logical reasoning and technical mastery. The field has its own gurus, “raised from the ranks”, who have come up with an own method of some kind. These gurus are nowadays speaking a lot about people stuff.

Kind of reminds me of the leadership gurus I’ve been listening to for the last 15 years (many of them very good, inspiring and have a lot to say. Don’t get me wrong!). Kind of reminds me of inducing people-thinking, also branded “leadership”, into the heads of rationally conditioned managers during the last 20 years.

Everything has changed and nothing has changed, really

It just all starts from scratch. The pool of clients for us people-consultants or coaches (external or internal) just exponentially increased one level by going agile.

The “manager” in the old-school system can be replaced by the “random engineer”, “PO”, “Scrum Master”, “developer” or whatever engineering-conditioned role you will find in the agile system.

Same, same. But different.

The “leadership guru” in the old-school system (“I was a manager for 30 years, made all the mistakes I could, succeeded in something big, and now I want to share”) are replaced by the “Agile-people-guru”. (“I have been working in the field of ICT for ages, and then I realized that no matter how a good methodology there is, success is all about people. [Please observe, I also did coding, because otherwise I may not be as credible]. Then I dug around a bit in the history of agile and systems theory. When digging around I came across great thinkers’ reasoning about organic systems, complexity theory, psychology, cognition, neuroscience and then it clicked.  I wrote one or two books on this. Now I am trying to let my fellow agilists in on this magnificent thing called “people”). And please, again, don’t get me wrong. Many of the agile field’s gurus inspire me, teach me and are a lot more experienced than me in basically anything!

And the crowd goes WOW!

People stuff! That is so important. And so complex.

Then they are taught some mechanistic stepwise method or an emotionally resonating punchline (which you can crystallize under 140 characters) on how to deal with people issues. And the engineer goes “WOW!”, now I get this.

No you don’t. Sorry.

You are just sniffing on your next possible and motivating step on a wonderful and rocky road. But please start crawling, walking, running, accelerating as soon as possible.

I have been working, thinking and breathing people issues on a more or less conscious level since I learnt how to manipulate my little brother to self-directively choose the worse alternative, to make him feel good about giving me the better one. I’ve played team sports for 17 years, being one of the less talented players (juicy from the perspective of learning about people behavior, but painful from a perspective of personal growth). I have been really thinking, reading, studying, experimenting, experiencing and used my cognitively, intuitively and experimentally built social skills for good, made a career out of it. Now I try to study the “code” (neuroscience) to get a better grasp. If I am well and healthy, people who cross my path leave the situation a bit more positive than they were before. I try my best to make that happen. But I don’t understand any of it yet, I just know a bit how to surf the social landscape to create something good.

The more I learn about people/humans, the more shades of grey there are (at least fifty). The more I experience, the more complex my rationale becomes to give explicit answers to simple questions, and I dare not to answer them simplistically. The more I learn, the less worthy I feel having an explicit opinion, but go more on hunch and gut. Sweet, sweet paradox. I may have a slight intuition on why real gurus  just sit quiet on a cliff somewhere.

Once you’ve thought the thought, you are ruined. It is like the red pill in Matrix.

Just when your organizations thought they had the best practices, processes, policies and rewarding almost in place, the world turns fast on you. Your top-down, controlled system just does not support the future. You know this. You all talk about this. But have you really, really thought it through? Because if you had, you’d changed by now. A person I respect highly said “Once you have thought that thought, you are “ruined”. You see the nonsense everywhere. There is no way back”.

What I do know, is that  the agile system’s foundation requires a very solid, organic, fundamentally respectful human view. The system requires amazing communication and social skills rooted in deep kindness and unselfishness. And damn, we have a long way to go from the mechanistic, linear, logic, reductionist view of human beings, which ingrains most of the processes in our society and organizations. It has been the conditioning environment for most of us. No great method, incentive or retrospective will change that. Shifting human view is a fundamental, deep insight, usually changing only through experiencing a radical life event or developed by long-term conditioning and a supporting environment for the modern human view.

My haunting intuition in as few words as possible: Our (my) work just started, all over, …again. On all levels.

You can’t opt out. It is people business from now on. Let’s start walking.



P.S. 1 Agile community: You don’t need to know coding to know people stuff.

P.S. 3 Agile community: I recommend involving HR in the Agile transformation. There should be HR-people who know a lot of people stuff. There are just some “minor” adjustments, such as teaching about the agile system to HR,  aligning a common, modern, human view and getting rid of most of the constraining HR processes to get fruitful collaboration up and running. How to do that in a socially accepted way may require some other skills than just logical reasoning.

P.S. 4 Isn’t it annoying when there is no P.S.2?


One Reply to “You can’t opt out. It is people business from now on.”

  1. Riina,

    Of course it’s people business. Or even more focused to the point – it’s about people, possessing knowledge and skill and creating something together.

    I do recognize myself from this: “I have been working in the field of ICT for ages…” True. I wanted to add to your story a personal experience that goes with your quote “I was a manager for 30 years, made all the mistakes I could, succeeded in something big, and now I want to share”. Apart that we did not succeed big at that time, not yet.

    It was always about the people. The community of people, violently organized into a set of boxes and sometimes sat down in rooms according to that boxed order viewed on an org chart. We got all the processes. The CMM(I)’s, the ISOxzyåäö’s, the works. Got CM II change management process. All the processes and we worked hard to write down all these processes and then went on a rampage to train these to the people, the very smart people that somehow got past the Human Resistance process that wanted to hire only few thinkers and lots of doers. Doers, because we had this fail-safe-quality-assuring set of processes that ensured that we could do with a little less thinking. What a load of horse manure. And we just ignored the processes, made sure that the people had what they needed to think & do. Think & Do. We wasted several man years of shareholder’s money in setting up the processes to ensure shareholder value. In the end we got what we needed and we still had those processes, documented and printed out as a book that we could show to our customers. And this was long before we ever heard of Agile. Perhaps we just didn’t pay attention.

    I am glad that we, as people, are now recognized as the true growth factor in the production function of Y=zf(K,N) where z is the traditional “level of technology” and f(K,N) a function of capital and people. It actually should be recursive as z is endogenous in this function, not given to us by god (well, some believe that to be true, sigh) or extra terrestrials. z grows as a joint endeavor of the people. We make it happen. Us. The people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *