Back to the Basics: Individuals and Interactions

Engineers discussing in front of computer.

Serge Bertasius Photography – FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

This is how the Agile Manifesto starts. Not with a list of acceptable practices. With a statement that people matter. Specifically that they matter more than the process and tools that we use to get value.

Any process or tool is only going to be as good as the person using it. Don’t believe me? America’s Got Talent is one of my favorite shows. Everyone is given the same time and has access to the same basic tools. I’ll let the results speak for themselves:


The tools weren’t bad for some. They didn’t intrinsically work better for others. While some were outlandish they were exactly as effective as the people using them. The point is that the people are what made the acts what they were, not the tools they were using.

Our projects are the same. The people are what make the project team. The team will dictate how well various tools work. Some will be based on the teams knowledge, some on the teams willingness. In either case the success or failure of a particular tool is due to the team members, not the tool. In our team we are really bad at filling in our actual times for tasks and bugs. This is not a failing of the tool, this is a behavior of the team.

Just as important as the individuals are the interactions they make. A group of individuals that do not interact makes a very bad team. All the individuals related to the project need to interact. This may take the form of talking at sprint planning meetings. It may be a conversation in the hall. It could be an email exchange. All of these are valid interactions.

Without interactions the team will not be working together. One of the Twelve Agile Principles is “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” This is a direct action putting interactions over process and tools. The tool containing the user stories isn’t good enough. The process of handing off a requirement will not suffice. People need to interact daily to rapidly reach the proper project goals.

The concept that Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools is the most important or the base of the rest of Agile is nothing new. Many of my own thoughts on this are influenced by the work of those that have gone before. For this particular topic I am going to call out Gil Broza. His book, The Human Side of Agile, is all about emphasizing Human and dropping resource. Additionally, he did an online training course last year called “Individuals and Interactions – How to Put People Before Process for Outstanding Results.” (affiliate link) This group of 10 interviews with thought leaders in the Agile community was recorded and transcribed so it would be available for future use. Not only that, but it also qualifies for 9 Category B PDU’s towards the PMP or PMI-ACP renewal.

There are many more pieces to this concept which I would like to explore outside of the Back to the Basics series. The idea that Human Resources as a phrase is wrong on many levels for instance. Also, the dogma associated with some process and tool usage and how that is not Agile.

Are there any specific aspects of Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools that you struggle with? That you have insight to?

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