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Whole-Person Recognition

Just like all other people, project managers have different personalities. Personality profiling tools, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, identify different personality types. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator, for example, measures personal preferences on four scales: extrovert/introvert, sensate/intuitive, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. It turns out that the more factual, practical, and structured personality types account for up to 44 percent of the population in general and represent many business managers, educators, and administrators. Project managers with these personality types have been known to find dealing with the "soft" side of project management difficult, and may judge the material presented in this section as impractical and difficult. Project managers with other personality types—intuitive, personal, and spontaneous—will more than likely find the material here somewhat obvious and trivial. Either way, I have included the material in this section to make the point that project management is at least as much about dealing with people at a personal level as it is about tools and techniques or practices and activities.

Agile managers of all personality types need to begin to practice the softer skills of project management by recognizing a fundamental reality—your project team members are flesh-and-blood people. If you think this sounds obvious and trivial, think about the ubiquity of these terms used to refer to people: resources, staff, and FTE. These terms, rooted as they are in the mechanistic model, indicate a deeper problem: Our organizations are not very good at recognizing people as whole persons. At many organizations people leave important parts of their selves at the door because they are not recognized as whole persons at work.

To be strong and effective leaders of their project teams, agile managers need to recognize the wholeness of each of their team members. Each person on the team comes with a peculiar and unique mix of hopes, dreams, aspirations, philosophies, shortcomings, idiosyncrasies, personalities, moods, and emotions that go well beyond their physical selves. Now, it certainly is not up to you to manage all of these for your team members. That is primarily each individual's personal responsibility. But, to manage with a Light Touch and utilize each person's unique potential to the fullest extent, you need to begin by recognizing each one of your team members as a whole person. Activities that will help you treat your team as whole persons are maintain quality of work life, build on personal strengths, and manage commitments through personal interactions. These are discussed next.

Activity: Maintain Quality of Work Life

Software development is a fast-paced, demanding venture. For many professionals in today's software development world, life revolves around work. Or, at the very least, it plays a significant part in our lives. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours in the workplace. For instance, software development professionals in India work close to six days a week. In the United States, it is at least five days and sometime part of the weekend. Unlike our parents' generation, our work also follows us home—we remain connected to work because of the double-edged sword of modern technology. My own laptop follows me everywhere I go. There is a connection—our quality of life in general is much more dependent on the quality of our work life than ever before. How can agile managers assist their teams in maintaining a positive quality of work life, and why should they bother to do so?

Numerous studies have shown the link between quality of work life and productivity. It is also at least intuitively clear that creative activity depends on quality of work life. So, there is a strong fiscal incentive to maintain quality of work life as a means of maintaining high productivity. Besides this fiscal motivation, agile methodologies value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. So, a high quality of work life is an extension of the humanistic agile value system and an essential way of treating people as whole persons.

To maintain a high quality of work life on your team, you need to make different judgment calls based on the agile value system. Although quality of work life begins with appropriate compensation, it goes beyond that to personal growth, achievement, responsibility, and reward. Two basics that can help in this regard are sustainable pace and support for individual responsibility:

  • Sustainable pace. XP's sustainable pace practice recommends that the team work at a pace that can be sustained over the project's long haul. XP teams do not work overtime for more than one week in a row to maintain a sustainable pace of development. You can use the sustainable pace practice to help avoid team burnout and maintain a high quality of work life.
  • Individual responsibility. Agile teams place a premium on individual responsibility. Creating opportunities for team members to share in the responsibilities and reward of team management is an excellent way to motivate them and to enhance their quality of work life. Table 8-2 indicates some "intelligent control" ways for you to support individual responsibility and allow your team members to share in the management of the team, and thereby enhance the quality of their work lives.

Implementing XP's sustainable pace practice and allowing your team members to assume greater individual responsibility are two basic ways to enhance quality of work life. Although circumstances will vary from team to team and from project to project, the guiding principle that you can use is to always remember that your team members are whole persons.

TABLE 8-2. Centralized Responsibility versus Individual Responsibility

CENTRALIZED RESPONSIBILITY

INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

Rigid roles with detailed job descriptions

Generalizing specialists with multiple responsibilities

Top-down control with micromanagement

Self-organization and self-discipline

Impersonal communication

Personal, face-to-face communication

Rigid specialty-focused, role-limited training

Flexible training opportunities

Sole reliance on yearly reviews for performance evaluation

Regular, "in the moment" performance evaluation and coaching

Task focus

Outcome focus

Activity: Build on Personal Strengths

Performance reviews are supposed to improve productivity by comparing employees' personal performance to some uniform "standard," and then identifying all the weaknesses to improve. I have a confession to make—I intensely dislike these annual 360-degree performance reviews. In my opinion, the whole process is tiresome, time-consuming, and marginally effective when it works. When it does not work, it turns out to be demoralizing, negatively motivating, and counterproductive. In my own performance reviews, some of my managers have complained about my difficulties in conducting these reviews. Interestingly and confusingly, some have considered me to be too lenient, whereas others have found me to be too harsh. Apparently, I am far from being alone—Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman's book, First, Break All the Rules, which is based on interviews with more than 80,000 mangers worldwide, underscores my point of view.

According to Buckingham and Coffman, the world's greatest managers recognize that trying to standardize human behavior is futile, and therefore, they do not waste their time trying to dramatically change people. Rather than focus on weaknesses, these managers build on the personal strengths of their team members and help them become more of who they already are.6 I cannot recommend this approach enough to agile managers. For a start, it is based on the presumption that each person is unique and has unique strengths and weaknesses—whole persons, in other words. Here is a simple example from one of my projects that illustrates how you can build on your team members' strengths.

Tom is one of our most senior and brilliant developers. A master craftsman who loves teaching almost as much as he loves programming, Tom has coached many junior developers and delivered many elegant programming solutions. He is a great learner, always researching new technologies and tools. Tom is also a strong leader of technical people because he commands their respect and affection. Despite all these gifts, Tom has a serious weakness in the eyes of the world—he can be abrasive with certain people in personal interactions. When Tom came to work on one of my projects, I was warned about a situation that he had created with a client on a previous project. Now, conventional wisdom would have had me watch for further infractions on my project, attribute them to his weakness, and write it all up on his annual review. Conventional wisdom would have him spend the rest of his tenure at our company trying to correct something that I discovered springs from his deeply rooted lack of respect for people who are not well informed.

Instead of harkening to conventional wisdom, I went with my gut feeling that Tom really could not change his attitude, at least in the time he was working with me. So, I made sure that I placed Tom in the role where he was likely to excel due to his numerous technical and analytical strengths—as technical coach. However, for all client interactions, I insisted that Tom and another team member, Linda, went as a pair. Linda is a business analyst with strong technical knowledge and great client interaction skills. Between the two of them, Tom and Linda delighted our client, delivered a great system, and the entire team had fun doing it. In short, I did not insist that Tom significantly improve his weakness, I simply worked around it and built on his many other strengths.

Activity: Manage Commitments Through Personal Interactions

In Chapter 7, "Open Information," we saw that in order to be useful, transforming exchanges between team members should result in the making, keeping, and coordination of commitments; those commitments should, in turn, result in accomplishment and action. We also saw that different types of conversations—for action, for possibility, and for disclosure—can enable action-oriented transforming exchanges. All of these—conversations, commitments, and connected action—can happen easily only when team members on an agile project are participating regularly in close, personal interactions. To manage this network of commitments, you need to engage in close, personal interactions with team members, sponsors, and all other stakeholders.

Three main things affect all personal interactions: speaking, listening, and mood awareness. You need to attend to all three of these aspects of your personal interactions to effectively coordinate and manage the team's commitments:

  • Speaking. When making requests of other team members, make sure your requests are clear and that they have clear conditions of satisfaction. Target your speech to generate action in others. When you make promises to your customers, ensure that your promises have clear commitments, such as completion dates. Keep your speech positive and open to develop trust.
  • Listening. Listen carefully to your customers, sponsors, team members, and other stakeholders. Assume nothing and ask questions whenever something is even remotely unclear. Clarify conditions of satisfaction when your customer makes requests of the team. State your understanding of things regularly as an act of active listening. Listen openly and positively to give others a positive impression.
  • Mood awareness. Pay careful attention to moods and try to shift them when necessary. Emotions and moods color how people react, speak, and listen. Positive moods generate positive thinking, speech, and listening. People are more hopeful, confident, and receptive to what you might have to say when they are in a positive mood. Negative moods generate negative thinking, speech, and listening. People are more negative and less likely to listen to what you have to say when they are in a negative mood. If you remain positive and maintain a positive mood, your presence can have a positive effect on the parties with whom you interact. If you remain aware of the moods on your project, you can even actively shift the mood in a positive direction.

By attending to your speaking, listening, and mood awareness, you can make a positive difference in the close, personal interactions you have with others on your team, and consequently, you can better coordinate commitments toward action.

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