Review: Individuals and interactions

In my recent exploration of software project management literature, I decided to look for answers to a question about Agile methodologies that has been bothering me for some time: the Agile Manifesto struck and somehow seduced me first and foremost because of its first statement: "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools" but all bits and pieces that I could read about Agile methodologies revolved around test-harnesses, continuous integration, sprints, iterations, daily scrums, kanban, stand-up meetings, etc. In short: it seemed to me that all agile-related resources were centered on processes and tools !

There's an easy explanation for this situations: obviously processes are easier to describe, criticize and refine for the technical crowd I'm part of and, after all, the "agile processes" are designed to encourage interactions and relieve people from the inevitable dark side of software developments (bugs, requirement changes etc).

But still this puts "processes first" assuming that people will benefit from it in the second place, and that's this kind of contradiction that motivated me to look for an "agile" book dedicated to the "human" aspects of agile methods, and ultimately to read: Individuals and interactions: An Agile Guide by Ken Howard, Barry Rogers.

This books starts by an interesting retrospective on management theories, distinguishing the following periods of time:

  • 19th century - 1940's: "people are machines" (Taylorism and scientific management)
  • 1940's - 1970's: "people are emotional beings" (attention to workplaces and human motivations)
  • 1980's - 2000: "organization are machines" (process analyzes and optimization)
  • 2000+ : "teams transform the organization"

What I got from the books then goes into one of the three following categories:

  • individual behaviors: with Maslow's hierarchy of needs related to a person's fear of change and motivation, as well as the DISC system  to characterize a person's behavior (dominant, influencer, supporter, critical thinker)
  • communication: with advises to correctly deal with the various DISC stereotypes and a classification of communication modes going from "speech/preach" to "collaborative interaction"
  • team dynamics: description of the typical evolution from "forming" to "performing" and the importance of empowerment, continuous improvement and having heterogeneous teams (in competence and behaviors)

There's also half of the book dedicated to workshops with detailed exercises and scenarios targeted at making a team performing, but I've only overlooked this part and can't say much about it.

All in all, I was pretty happy to learn about Maslow's hierarchy and the DISC system which I had never heard of before and can surely help to analyze behaviors and conflict in a team.

The book is actually a good read and gives solid elements to understand the human aspects of a team dynamics as well as some valuable clues on how to make sure that a each member in a team gets a satisfying role w.r.t to other teammates

However, it fell short of fully answering my initial question: to a certain extent and with some sense of irony I would categorize what's said in this book as belonging to the "people are emotional beings" way of thinking, and described in its "management retrospective" rather than to the "teams transform organization" as I didn't find information on exactly that: how the current concept of teams may or should transform an enterprise's organization ?