Agile is fiercely people-first. And yet, agile frameworks come with prescribed events, artifacts, accountabilities, commitments and whatnot. Earlier, I’ve written about the oxymoron of agile habits: responding to change vs. running on autopilot. Today, I thought I’d focus on the first agile value: individuals and interactions over processes and tools. More specifically, I’ll talk about our agile meeting habits.
Events are habits
These meetings — or events as they’re called in Scrum — update or replace our existing meeting habits when done repeatedly. Sometimes these habits are even called “ceremonies”. I dislike that word because it implies putting process before people. Language is important. People-first means DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), transparency, trust, commitment, flexibility and fun, among many other things. With people, one size does not fit all.
Daily Scrums, for example, “…consequently eliminate the need for other meetings” ( The 2020 Scrum Guide). It sounds good in theory. However, if we merely bring our existing auto-pilot habits to these agile events, we’re setting ourselves up for failure — and in the worst case, perhaps end up having those other meetings, too!
Remote async work
This is even more important in a remote context, where most work happens both distributed and asynchronously. When we do meet synchronously, online or onsite, we should make it count. To make these events work for us, we need to be aware of both the existing organisational routines and people’s habits, and short-circuit the brain’s autopilot mode. Running these events on autopilot — as we do with any habit — kills agility.
Agility as an intermediary goal
Now, regarding agility: I believe that becoming more agile should be an intermediary goal. It’s a goal that co-exists with the product goal. Becoming more agile is a goal that we can control much more than our product goal. Becoming more agile increases the likelihood that we’ll reach our product goal and our desired outcome. Inspecting and adapting our agile events requires us to make our current habits transparent. It’s our habits that either help or hinder our agility.
Here are just some examples of our event habits:
- Meeting at the office is (was!) a habit
- Running the Daily Scrum the same way every day is a habit
- Calling a meeting that should’ve been an email is a habit
- Using PowerPoint in a meeting is a habit
- Planning (or not planning!) the meeting in advance is a habit
- Asking the five questions in the Coaching Kata is a habit
- Not being curious enough to try some of the Liberating Structures is a habit
- …and so on.
Our understanding of our habits, and our ability to change them are much more important than our knowledge about the chosen agile framework.
We don’t want to stop thinking. So how can we stay alert, and inspect and adapt our agile teams’ events — or the wider organisation’s routines — if they don’t suit the purpose any longer? Our understanding of our habits, and our ability to change them are much more important than our knowledge about the chosen agile framework. The same is true for the wider organisation as well: what’s the point if only the agile teams change, if the organisational habits (routines) don’t change? I’m not talking about “us” and “them”; with “us”, I mean everyone in the whole organisation or ecosystem.
So that’s how I see individuals and interactions over processes and tools in practice and in reality. And nowhere else is it more visible than when people meet. To change is to change our habits by short-circuiting the brain’s autopilot mode. Easier said than done, but visualising our practices, asking questions, and in general, staying curious and proactive is a good start. By running a better routine you become the new you: a person who is not only more aware of the habit loop, but also someone who becomes iteratively more capable of delivering value in the team. Our ever-changing event habits are just one vehicle for that.