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4/22/2012

Why Agile is Doomed to Succeed - If Done Wholeheartedly

and why Scrum implementations sometimes fail - or do not deliver what they promised


I recently read the book "Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink, which is much about motivation in the 21st century workplace. There is a tight connection between the ideas expressed there and the thinking and principles behind the Agile movement (e.g. Stoos-Network, Scrum, XP, etc.). I want to try to work out this connection, so you can understand one of the key success factors of Agile. If one understands these, one has - as a byproduct - immediately a good understanding at hand, why Scrum implementations do sometimes either fail or not deliver what was expected of them.
I will at first try to explain the core drivers and levels of motivation Pink describes in his book. He destinguishes three levels of Motivation:

  • Motivation 1.0: This is what essentialy motivates every kind of mammal to do whatever it does. It's about the basic necessities for survival: eating, drinking, reproducing, security, etc. In essence Maslow's hierarchy stages 1-3. This was probably fine for humans in stone-age and earlier times.
  • Motivation 2.0: Essentially based on rewards and punishment (or as Pink states it - carrots and sticks). This was one of the main drivers of the industrialization era where thinkers and managers where broadly influenced by the theories of Frederick W. Taylor and his "scientific management". It is all about command & control and extrinsic motivation. Work in this times was in huge parts not very complex and consistet much of simple repetitive tasks, that are done by computers and robots nowadays.
  • Motivation 3.0: There is strong evidence from scientific research of the last five decades, that Motivation 2.0 (rewards & punishment, extrinsic motivation) are very unreliable and weak motivators in our current social and industrial environment (but still relevant for some very specific settings). If you want to read about and understand this hints - read the book! Following the book there is a better motivation scheme than Motivation 2.0, wich is based on intrinsic motivation. This motivation scheme has three core drivers:
    • Autonomy: Not to confuse with independence! Autonomy means the need and ambition to have as much as possible autonomy over the work to do. It means having the opportunity of acting with choice (e.g. choice over how to do the work and when to do it best). "Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement".
    • Mastery: The willingness, to strive for excellence. It is about continuous improvement and perfection of the personal skills. Which is not the willingness to be the best of the best, but more the drive, to make the most out of the talents and abilities one has (which is the most you can expect!).
    • Purpose: Everybody wants to see the work he does in a greater, meaningful context. The work one is doing from day to day should have some greater sense, which is indeed almost always the case, since most of all work is done for some customers.

So far - so good. But where is the connection to Agile?

It is essentially very simple. Agile is in big parts build exactly around the core drivers of Motivation 3.0. Let me explain this shortly:

  • Autonomy: Starting with XP, continued with Scrum and now discussed in the Stoos-Network is the central idea of the self-organizing team. The idea is to give a team as much as possible autonomy over the work to do.
  • Mastery: Here craftmanship (XP) and continuous self-improvement (Scrum, Stoos-Network) are the keywords. These postulations and processes are inseparably connected to agile processes and ideas.
  • Purpose: Agile frameworks generally build upon integration of the customer. The tighter - the better. Direct feedback and collaboration with the customer is probably the best way of getting sense and meaning to your work. This is because you immediatly see, who benefits and get direct feedback.

OK, I understood that, but where is the point of failing Scrum implementations? How does this motivation stuff help me understanding the why of failure? It is not hard:

Scrum works out well, if you encourage these points, since motivation of your teams is very likely to increase. Increased motivation leads to increased productivity and - by the way - to increased satisfaction.
If you do only use the mechanics of Scrum, but do not really let the teams self-organize (giving them the freedom to make their own decisions!) or do not cultivate craftmanship (invest in education, encourage and set the stage for self-education) or do not bring the customer as close as possible to the team, motivation will not flourish. Thus, you are very likely not to improve very much - and be doomed with another process corset. Which I would just call failure.