Agile methodology, parenting, and managing people: some thoughts

This is going to be another one of those "everything's connected" posts that people either love or hate, so enter at your own risk.

I think ALL THE TIME about how to free up people to do their best work and get into the flow state. It's basically my whole parenting method: Facilitate and support my kids in experiencing a lot of things and then creating and maintaining their own boundaries so they can do what brings meaning to them. And it's what I think good management should be, too: Facilitate and support your people in developing their strengths and maintaining boundaries so they can do what brings meaning to them.

And I think a lot of the time about processes and systems. I am a problem solver even when I try to turn off my brain, and the way I solve problems is by looking for the moving parts. You can't tell what's a moving part if all you have is chaos. You have to have a system or process in place so that you know what are the set pieces and what are the variables. Then, at the next level of problem solving, you look at all the data of the variables and recognize patterns, and then the anomaly is where you start looking for a solution to your problem. So the more processes and systems I'm familiar with, the better.

Which is all a long way to explain why I was research agile software development methodology. I don't write software, but I've worked for software companies and am familiar with the constructs of traditional software development, and I wanted to find out how agile is different. So I popped on over to agilemethodology.org and started reading. And then I felt one of those classic "OMG, you like peanut butter?? I like peanut butter, too!" moments of recognition.

Let's roll back a little to talk about my process of developing the RISWS method of managing people, that gives managers a continual data stream of information on their employees so they can help them develop their strengths and remove barriers to engagement and productivity. I came from the basic assumption that it makes more sense to take the people you have and help them do their best and keep them engaged than it does to focus rigidly on roles and try to force people into them at all costs. And a lot of that is changing mindsets so that people are allowed to trust each other and focus on working together instead of on defending territory and roles. RISWS is a process that you follow to deal with the individualities of people and with the individualities of their problems and competencies. It's a cycle that creates continual progress and continuous improvement and trust-building.

So when I started reading about how agile development uses the Scrum project management structure to get continual data and create an improvement cycle, I thought these two methods (Scrum and RISWS)  were really similar at the core, although radically different in the actual process. Both are focused on working in the middle of the process and making constant improvements. Both realize that a long process without feedback can lead to disaster. Both prioritize new information and decisionmaking that celebrates information instead of assumptions.

Agile is "iterative and incremental," which is what managing people using RISWS is, too. No manager has to be perfect. Anyone promoted into a manager role can learn. Teams and their leaders learn together and improve together. Honest feedback--and then acting on that feedback!-- is crucial.

And both of these methods seem a lot like parenting preschoolers. You can wait for your kid to do something wrong (and preschoolers are always doing something wrong) and then punish them for it once it goes too far. Or you can keep a consistent eye out and set up regular processes, so as soon as things start to deviate you can step in to offer guidance and correction (in the "let me help you make it better" meaning of correction, not the hot saucing meaning of correction) so the child gets help succeeding until they can do it on their own. Agile and RISWS are the same thing: watch carefully, help, don't penalize.

The other thing I think is really similar about relationship-focused parenting, agile, and RISWS is that they're threats to traditional power structures because they focus on people and relationships and they trust people and relationships instead of trusting rules and penalizing people. So even though they make so much more sense than the more traditional, control-based, oppositional methods of parenting, product development, and managing people, they can be tough to institute because they require that the people in power take their hands off the wheel and trust these relationship-based processes.

Trust people. It's a timeless but still-threatening concept. In a lot of areas.