Something’s bugging me.  I think we’ve lost sight of our priorities in the agile software movement.  We are spending too much time talking about processes and tools, and too little time talking about people and their interactions.

Think back to the Agile Manifesto.  At the moment, we seem to have:


Roy Osherove helps to redress the balance in his recent recent series of posts on unit testing  – why insist on tools so advanced that the typical individual won’t use them?

But my concern isn’t just about making the tools approachable. The much bigger issue is simply that we should devote attention to the “individuals and interactions” side of the equation.  Never mind the tools; let’s talk about the people.

How can we interact more successfully with our colleagues?  How do we maintain a positive and supportive social fabric in our teams?  How can we encourage openness, even from the bearers of bad news?  How do we both encourage and resolve differences of opinion?  How can we get non-threatening feedback about our people skills?  How do you even ask for feedback, if your team isn’t used to giving it?

There are so many relevant and important questions on the people side of the equation.  Yet I don’t see much written about them.  The vital social elements are often dismissed as “emergent properties”, expected to take care of themselves as long as we follow the right processes.  They deserve more attention than that.

As geeks, we find it easy to talk about processes and tools.  Most of us entered the profession because of our technical skills, and didn’t necessarily have (or even want) strong interpersonal skills.  But, like the man who searched for his keys beneath a lamppost – not because that was where he dropped them; but because that was where the light was best – we’re looking in the wrong place.  The prime ingredients for success are not in tools; instead they are over in that unfamiliar place called interpersonal interaction.  We don’t understand that place so well, and our usual techniques won’t help us (you can’t attach a debugger to an errant colleague’s head!)

Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to improve our people skills.  I’m going to be posting some ideas over the next few months.  But I’m no expert.  I’m just a geek who likes to venture away from the lamppost, so I’m very interested in hearing from you.  Which ideas and resources have you found helpful?

We need to give this topic the attention it deserves.  If we do, it won’t seem so unfamiliar after all.  In fact, it might be fun.

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