Skip to main content

Agoraphobia Meets Individual Genius

I read a really thought-provoking article from the Financial Post this week which was somewhat misleadingly titled "Innovation:  Group Dynamics Can Stifle a Great Idea."

I have to admit, I jumped right on this article, because in the Dark Days before I met Agile, I was one of those people (as perhaps you were) who always hated being forced to "work in teams."  Even today, I feel a slight twinge of fear when a speaker asks an assembly to "discuss [an idea] at your table," knowing this might be followed by a very awkward moment later on when some poor soul in each group will be forced to extemporaneously report on (or perhaps invent) it's "findings."  Perhaps some of you still fight off Fear of the Wisdom of Crowds sometimes too?

Of course the article does not actually say that "Group Dynamics" stifle "Great Ideas."  Instead, it points to research at Wharton which found that a group was best empowered to develop a great idea when some one individual, an "inventor" cast in the mold of an Albert Einstein or a Steve Jobs, had done significant thinking about the idea before laying it out in front of the group.  The study found that this hybrid approach worked better than group brainstorming alone.

We as agilists would add that the hybrid approach undoubtedly also works better than a command-and-control approach where the person with the bright idea orders a team to develop it exactly as invented, and then blames the team for failure to execute down the line.

Be that as it may, however, the Wharton research on the importance of individual brainstorming and initiative seems immediately applicable to many aspects of life on an agile team, particularly when it comes to the ideation and inception phases of a project, where the team first gets its overall sense of what the project is intended to accomplish.  Experience has shown again and again that we need a whole team to deliver a high-quality, valuable piece of software which will be robust for its normal life.

But in asking what the software should do and why, or even how, if a project is bringing innovation into an existing technology stack, we should not be too quick to insist that all ideas have to spring from the entire assembled membership of the group, and we should embrace our solo inventors.


Popular posts from this blog

A Corporate Agile 10-point Checklist

I'm pretty sure my few remaining friends in the "small, collocated team agile" community are going to desert me after this, but I actually have a checklist of 10 things to think about if you're a product owner at a big company thinking of trying out some agile today.  Some of these might even apply to you if you're in a smaller place.  So at the risk of inciting an anti-checklist riot (I'm sorry, Pez!), I am putting this out there in case it is helpful to someone else.

Here's what you should think about:

1.Your staffing pattern.  A full agile project requires that you have the full team engaged for the whole duration of the project at the right ratios.  So as you provision the project, check to see whether you can arrange this staffing pattern.  If not, you will encounter risks because of missing people.  Concretely it means that:
a.You need your user experience people (if applicable) and your analysts at the beginning of the project, as always, b…

The Agile Business Case

Many agile teams have never seen a business case, ever, and they may even be proud of it.

Our mantra is that we deliver "business value," not just "software," quicker, better, and faster, but if so, we certainly don't spend a lot of time reporting on value delivery, and in fact we may be scornful about "analysis paralysis."  As software developers, we consider ourselves to be doing quite well if we can deliver the software every two weeks (or continuously).  And this is particularly if we've enabled this frequent high-quality delivery through automated testing and automated build-and-release techniques.  We've reduced business risk by making results visible more often, and allowing the business to change direction more frequently.  We assert that along the way of course we're also delivering value.  But how would we prove it?

I've recently posited that we shouldn't even think of doing agile projects without capturing and recording s…

How To Write A One-Page Proposal to an Executive

One day you may need to communicate with an executive. Pro tip 1:  executives do not have time for you to dim the lights and show them forty slides with charts composed of animated dancing leprechauns and flashing arrows that emerge from the void in a checkerboard pattern. Pro tip 2:   Guys, and gals with deep voices, executives also don't need you to use your "Radio Announcer Voice."

As a rule, what executives want is simple: one printed page. No matter what it is, it should be one page. And it should be printed, not emailed.  You should plan to hand it to the executive, and then you should be quiet when they read it and wait for their questions.  It's harder than it sounds.
 So how do you do it?  Here are the steps:
Write the deck that expresses your proposal in as many slides as it takes.  Use imaginative animation and blinking letters if you must.Remove your title slide.Insert a new slide at the front of the deck with "Appendix" written on it in big …