It IS about individuals and interactions (Even though it seems to be about process and tools!)

Once in a while I hear a comment saying something along the lines of:
“Isn’t it kind of ironic that you agile people talk about Individuals and Interactions but what you give us is processes and tools?”. This comment typically comes after people are exposed to SAFe, Scrum, Kanban, whatever. All of these frameworks/methods LOOK like they are about processes and tools. I’ve seen people even mistake “Lean Kanban” for “LeanKit Kanban” associating it with a specific electronic tool and not the framework/method of how you manage flow using that tool. (To look at the bright side – I guess the LeanKit folks should be proud that they’ve become a “google it” in some circles …)

This comment is understandable – I think it is actually unavoidable. Why? The way I look at it the processes/frameworks/tools we use are DESIGNED to resonate with the comfort zone of people which is work at the processes/tools level (and not the values/principles).

But the processes/tools like Sprint Planning, Relative Estimation, No Estimates, Kanban Boards, WIP Limits, Scrum, PI Planning, Open Space Technology are not just processes. They are “Culture Hacks” in disguise.

We can speak all we want about Anthropology, Cynefin, Sociology, Complexity Thinking, Autonomy/Mastery/Purpose, Fearless Change, Invitation, Creating a game culture, RightShifting, Anti-Matter principle – and if you’re really serious about helping organizations improve their overall effectiveness you should probably be familiar with most if not all of those concepts.

But when I about these concepts most people in the real world look at me funny or fall asleep. Which is where the concrete process/tools come in. They help bring the concepts to life. Ideally people should both understand the concept/value as well as the example of how to use it. (BTW Many coaches teach people the concrete example/process/tool without initially discussing the abstract/concept. That’s not how I do it, but sometimes I feel they have a point…)

The risk is that without fully understanding the connection between the concepts/values/principles and the processes/tools that implement them it might SEEM like we are following a cargo culture or some mechanistic shallow simplistic approach. What we owe to ourselves as the community of people aiming to help organizations REALLY improve their effectiveness is to keep discussing this connection and scrutinize each process/tool to make sure it is really aligned with solid underlying theory of what makes human systems effective.

I’m sure some of you might have a different opinion about this. Discuss!

Author: Yuval Yeret

Kanban/Agile Consultant at Agilesparks

1 thought on “It IS about individuals and interactions (Even though it seems to be about process and tools!)”

  1. Hi Yuval,

    I very much agree with what you’ve written here. Decision-makers in IT (and beyond) often just want a quick response to the request “Just tell us what we have to DO”. I choose not to work with these folks, at least once I have ascertained that any real understanding is not what they seek. Such palliative care is sometimes the only care one can provide, but I find little joy in palliative care.

    The idea that understanding (of principles, context) is necessary to effectively apply “processes and tools” is a meta-strategy that few (say, 10%) can acquire for themselves, but many can acquire with some support including i.e. normative experience. I find much joy in working in that space.

    – Bob

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