Cast your mind back to the last time you had a hallway chat with someone where you asked them, “How’s it going?” and the exasperated response was, “Oh, so busy, busy, busy.” It’s come to my attention in recent years, as I endeavour to help individuals and teams realise their potential and deliver value, that one of the stumbling blocks early-on in an Agile undertaking is this notion of ‘busyness’.
According to my personality profile, I’m one of those people who doesn’t particularly shy away from the tough conversations, and I’m one of those people who is comfortable with conflict. That being said, there are different degrees of conflict, and I ultimately want to find consensus and be in a creative — dare I say innovative, — productive, amiable surrounding. Having the tough, honest conversations is critical when faced with the perception of everything being so busy all the time.
There used to be a time, not so many decades ago, that it seemed that a work person’s value was based on the amount of free time they created for themselves. We don’t see it that way anymore. Heck, for the majority of the last five hundred years a person’s perceived importance was immediately evident based on their exposure to the sun, more specifically, to their lack of exposure. The Elite’s position was essentially, the paler you were, the more important you were, since that meant you didn’t have to be, or work, outside. What I’m saying is that a person’s perceived value, or importance, was in how much work they didn’t have to do.
I’m certainly not advocating that we return to this measure, or that we all stay indoors for the remainder of our lives, though some dermatologists may applaud the attempt. What I am saying is that we’ve turned the tables completely and now view ‘busyness’ as the measure of a person’s value or importance. I’m here to say that I believe this is wrong. Please, let’s not say that because someone is super-busy they’re therefore super-important to the organisation. Conversely, let’s also not say that the less someone does, the more important they are to the organisation. There’s likely a balance to be had. In fact, the eighth principle of Agile speaks specifically to this when espousing that sustainable development is about being able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. Busyness may seem to be a constant to someone run off their feet, but it’s certainly not sustainable!
Additionally, if you’re familiar with SCRUM, you may know that one of the goals of a Scrum Master is to make him or herself redundant. For a Scrum Master’s redundancy is evidence that the team is wonderfully self-organising, now cross-functional and in a place where the Scrum Master cannot continue to provide as much value as during earlier days of the team’s evolution.
So, why am I talking about this personality profile stuff and our sense of the value of ‘busyness’? Quite simply because in my experiences with some groups, ‘busyness’ seems to be the proffered reason for a hesitancy to begin down the path of an Agile transformation: “Oh no, we can’t start to change the way we work right now, we’re too busy with the actual work.” Or, “We’re too busy to stop and do a few hours of planning every few weeks, we just need to put our heads down and get ‘er done.” It’s at about a point like this, where the identified personality traits kick in. Statements like these, are the beginnings of the tough conversations that seek to undo the years of indoctrination we’ve all had that have convinced us that ‘busyness’ equates to value.
I must confess, breaking through this barrier/resistance to an Agile mindset and stance is one of the toughest I’ve yet encountered. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of saying, “Let’s just try it.” which, or course, requires an investment from the organisation, not to mention some faith in Agile and my own abilities. Sometimes, it’s about having conversations about limiting work in progress — getting things finished instead of getting everything started. Sometimes, it’s about the perceived importance of the individual pieces of work (of course, according to our ‘busyness’ believers everything’s important and crucially, everything’s equally important).
But when it comes right down to it, who doesn’t really want to have an honest conversation about how we can alleviate some of the ‘busyness’ for the individual and within the organisation? Who doesn’t want to deliver value, feel valued and not be so busy, busy, busy all the time?!