Empathy should be regarded as a super-power. Not enough people have it and the workplace – indeed, the entire world – would be a better place if more people did have it. When you have project deadlines or you’re in the midst of an intense all-hands scrum, it’s easy to forget about the people factor. That is, there are people working with you and for you who are missing celebrations, concerts or the opportunity to just chill out at home because their effort is critical to your product development effort.
But you’re on a tight timeline. You have key deliverables. Your client has worked backwards from the launch and expects that you will deliver a bug-free software solution by the date circled on the calendar. As the Practice Lead, you may be luckier than most in your role if you have a dedicated team cranked up on caffeine and working late into the evening – every evening, in fact. This is great for deadlines but it can have far-reaching negative consequences if this pace is expected to be sustained.
The Agile Value #1 requires that we value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Yet you’re conflicted. Project deadlines and deliverables are what they are and you’ve explained them to your team. Missing a due date and delaying a launch is not going to happen on your watch. Processes for coding, testing, documenting must happen as prescribed, regardless of the yeoman’s effort required to get it done. Your team understands this, right? Surely you told each team member that they were doing great work when you met last year for their performance review?
Maybe they do. Or maybe they don’t. Agile product development places enormous demands on the people doing the work. Both the team members and their practice leads have to grapple with the relentless pressure and the temptation to skip part of the process to move things along faster.
When you’re building high velocity teams, you need to make daily investments in your people, processes and infrastructure. Take any and every opportunity to express empathy, understanding and gratitude for the work that your team, and each individual on your team, is doing. Expressing appreciation once per year during a performance review will likely end up becoming a one-and-done experience because that employee likely won’t be around this time next year.
There are simple ways to bolster your team’s productivity and motivate them to stay on track with respect to processes. The easiest way is to say, “Thank you.” If you want a high velocity team who is loyal, dedicated to the needs of your customers and proud of the work they do, then say what you mean and mean what you say. Be sincere.
To help ensure that your agile engineers remain “your” agile engineers, go one step further and acknowledge the efforts of individuals in front of others. People are human and their efforts, sacrifices and basic needs must be openly acknowledged. As software engineers in a hot market, we have the flexibility to go wherever we like towards the goal of being part of a community that values our membership. Agile leaders must reinforce appreciation of these “extra efforts” through grace, gratitude and occasionally, through special dispensation. Catering dinner (that’s not pizza) for the team every once in a while is a good expression of gratitude. This is how to build trust and long-term relationships, as well as high velocity, agile teams.
Staying strong on execution and adhering to process is critical for success. Acknowledging the personal efforts that it took to enable that success must be acknowledged. Remember, as per agile Value #1 – if you put people first, ahead of processes and tools, you will have created a space that fosters a high performing team’s success.