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Road Rage: You and Your New Agile Teammates

As you join your teammates in your sparkling new agile team room, and you all do your best to quickly "become agile," I guarantee that despite being surrounded by brightly colored index cards and sticky notes, you may sometimes feel...angry.  Here you are, supposedly liberated to be "self managing," out from under the collective thumbs of your corporate hierarchy, and you realize that you are reminded briefly of the Lord of the Flies

Your agile pilot has quickly, as promised, surfaced all possible risks and issues to the project.  That idea sounded good on paper.  In real life, you have ripped the comforting blanket of denial from yourselves, and now, rather than waiting for the UAT team to take the bulk of your business users' thwarted fury eighteen months from now, you already see problems right at the beginning of the project, where you've never seen them before:
  • Inappropriate cost estimate
  • Unrealistic project schedule
  • Slap-dash business case
  • Conflicting time demands on team members
  • Balking integration partners
  • Lack of air circulation in the team room
  • Unhealthy snacks
And you need to deal with those things now, not later.

If you escalate the issues now, as requested by your starry-eyed manager from behind his copy of Agile Software Development:  The Cooperative Game, will you be the messenger who gets shot?  Or do all of your line managers actually intend to support you?  You haven't been through this before.  You are under stress, you're on edge, and yes, that may sometimes make you feel...angry.

Like the Ben Stiller character, Mr. Furious, in the classic 1999 movie, Mystery Men, you want to caution everyone, "Don't mess with the volcano my man, 'cause I will go Pompeii on your... butt."  Indeed.

What should you do?  I've experimented successfully with spritzing rose-scented essential oils around myself, but my best guidance in this area comes from the unlikely source of a brochure I read at the office of the Illinois Secretary of State several years ago on the topic of Road Rage.  I found the equivalent online here, although the original was better, because it included a multiple choice self-test at the end with some awesome questions.  One of them was along the lines of "if someone cuts you off, and you find yourself behind them at a long stoplight right afterwards do you..." and the correct answer was not "approach their car with a baseball bat."

In the agile team room, here's what Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says you should do, (or what he would undoubtedly say, if he were talking about agile software development instead of driving.  I've taken the liberty of substituting a few of the key nouns):

How to Avoid Becoming an Aggressive Agile Team Member
  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t take your frustrations out on other team members.
  • Plan ahead and allow enough time for delays.
  • Focus on your own contribution. Yelling, pounding on the conference table and honking the nose of your coworker won’t make the project move any faster.
How to Avoid Danger

First, be a cautious, considerate team member. Avoid creating a situation that may provoke another agilist.

Second, if you do encounter an angry person, don’t make matters worse by triggering a confrontation.
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Steer clear and give angry teammates plenty of room.
  • Don’t make inappropriate hand or facial gestures.
  • If you’re concerned for your safety, call 9-1-1.
We're all in the same traffic, you guys.  I promise you it will get better.  Go ahead and let your groundhog drive.  But as Bill Murray says in Groundhog Day, "don't drive angry."


  1. A fine post Elena! Though we strive to avoid becoming angry or provoking an angry team member, it is important for the team to recognize the problems that can arise when anger surfaces early on. How the team initially reacts to these situations determines how quickly they move from “storming” to “norming”. In my experience, the longer the team allows an angry member to fester, the more difficult it becomes to solve problems collectively. I’ve witnessed teams, subconsciously perhaps, begin to adopt only the suggestions coming from angry members in an attempt to avoid making matters worse. Sometimes it takes teams a while to recognize this behavior, newly formed teams with inexperienced coaches in particular. However, the situation can be avoided if anger and its setbacks are discussed as a risk to the project up front along with appropriate mitigations.

  2. Thanks, Nathan. I hadn't thought about the ripple effect, but you are totally right--it spreads.


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