It's been a while since the Agile Manifesto has been at the forefront of our industry's collective mind. For those unfamiliar, the Agile Manifesto prioritizes individuals, collaboration, and flexibility in software development, encapsulated by four core values:  

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools 
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation 
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over following a plan 
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. 

More on this can be found at the Agile Manifesto website.  

Bringing some focus to the left

Over time, it’s easy to slowly drift to the right side and value the items on the right in our actions over the left. Like most mature technology companies, Silverchair has plenty of processes and tools, we have documentation, we have contracts we negotiate, and we have plans. There’s nothing wrong with those things – they’re necessary and valuable. The question I’ve been asking myself lately is, are we also doing enough to cause the items on the left to occur, and are we making them equally (if not more) important as the items on the right?  

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The first item, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” has particularly caught my attention recently. We just conducted a comprehensive companywide annual survey. We use this as an internal tool to see how we’re doing across a variety of metrics. As you’d expect, we have our strong areas and we also have areas we need to work on. As a senior leadership team, we dug into the results, bringing curiosity, trying to figure out what meaning we should or shouldn’t make out of various results. Additionally, we’ve started to think about what actions we should take in the areas that require focus. All of what I’m describing here is all fine, good, and healthy for us to do. In addition to the survey though, what if we just met, as a senior leadership team, 1:1 with everyone at Silverchair? We’re not so large that it would be difficult. 

Every Silverchairian 1:1 with a Senior Leader

That’s what we’re doing – every Silverchairian will meet, informally, with someone on the senior leadership team 1:1. We won’t each go into those conversations with the same list of 10 questions and aggregate and analyze results – it won’t be a survey – we won’t have a detailed agenda. It will be open-ended and casual. We’re looking to just have interactions with individuals and see what happens. We’re encouraging senior leaders to meet with folks outside of their orgs and individuals who they haven’t connected with, meaningfully, 1:1 before. In  a primarily remote working environment, we must now be intentional to cause what occurred more naturally and randomly in the in-office environment – in a break room, in the halls, etc. I’m characterizing these informal meeting as, imagine you’re on the elevator and get stuck together for 30 minutes.  

Discouraging internal meetings on Fridays creates breathing room

Here’s something else we’ve been trying out – Focus Fridays, a policy that discourages formal internal meetings and strongly discourages recurring meetings on Fridays. This has caused some breathing space to open up, not just for me, but across the org. There have now been several occasions where I’ve connected with another senior leader informally, who for once wasn’t grid locked in back-to-back meetings, and that conversation stretched beyond 30 minutes. The key is that the conversation lasted as long as we were both interested in it going and we covered things we would not have likely got into within a structured meeting. In this case, a new policy allowed for a more meaningful interaction to take place than may have otherwise occurred. Also, it’s worth noting that I don’t consider being in meetings all day as checking the box for individuals and interactions. While in regular scheduled meetings, individuals certainly are interacting, many meetings have structure, process, agendas, and this can, at times, actually reduce the likelihood of or even block some of the more meaningful, unstructured interactions that could occur within a day. 

Do something different; make some space for the activities on the left to occur

Ultimately what I’m getting at is that it’s important to actively and intentionally create space for these kinds of activities to happen. While they certainly can happen on their own, I think that intentionality is required to make sure we’re getting the full value of the activities on the left in the Agile Manifesto. And I believe it’s especially important, and necessary, to be intentional when most individuals are working remotely.  

Your Challenge

One easy thing I’d encourage you to try after reading this post is to intentionally connect with someone within your organization who you wouldn’t normally connect with and have a conversation. I suspect you or they may learn something from that conversation, and you’ll be better off having done so. For extra credit, spend some time reflecting on the Agile Manifesto and think about ways you could encourage the activities on the left to occur more often within your organization. Good things can happen when we optimize for more meaningful interactions and collaboration. 

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