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Empathy Improves Efficiency in Agile Teams. Take Aways from Agile 2013 – Part 2 of 4

By April 26, 2013No Comments

Last month I blogged how agile is finding relevance outside the process of software development. Now its also becoming apparent that other disciplines – particularly behavioral science is becoming more relevant in Agile thinking. Linda Rising in two of her insightful sessions –on the topics of estimation and retrospectives showed how being empathetic with Agile Team members will go a long way in improving efficiency in agile teams.
Estimates become goals – and finally decide the efficiency of any Agile Team. Asking a developer to estimate based on limited information puts psychological burden. Developers often have to make tacit assumptions as there is no time or information available to explicitly validate them. According to Linda this amounts to lying. Smarter people are better at justifying their lies. They offer logical reasons and have others believe them. We need to admit that we lie while estimating. In fact it’s the worst kind of lie because we are lying to ourselves. Like all lies our estimates come back to bite us. When it does happen a team that has admitted that an estimate is after all a lie won’t produce more lies to defend it. Such a team will also avoid multiplying the risk by using these “lies” in mathematical calculations. Linda advised Agile Teams to re-estimate instead of justifying an estimate or blaming others. Once every one understands that estimates are guesstimates- the psychological burden on individuals reduces and they can work better.
Agile Team members also carry the baggage of pent up feelings if they aren’t allowed to air their views. Often chronic personal conflicts and team imbalance drag the team down. Linda wants us to understand that people feel good – a lot lighter if they simply express their feelings. She demonstrated a tool called as “The Time Line”. It’s to be used when Agile Team meets for end-of-sprint retrospective. The team identifies certain significant events that happened during the sprint and mark them on the timeline. Each individual is then allowed to put anonymous feedback about how he felt when an event happened by putting sticky notes under relevant events on the timeline. Its important for all to believe firmly that each team member did his or her level best under the given conditions. There should be no finger pointing- only understanding and empathy. The team is thus ready to move on to the next sprint with a fresh mind.