From Agile To Happiness

The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001, as a way to explain the common values amongst several “light-weight” software development methodologies that had come about. The term “Agile” was chosen as a shorthand for those commonalities.

Once “Agile” started to show success, we started to see many people use the term to market their products and services, whether or not they really believed in the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. It’s gotten to the point where some of us don’t see much value in using the term “Agile” any more. Even some of those involved in creating the manifesto have suggested new terms. Dave Thomas suggests “Agility” and Andy Hunt has started working on something called GROWS. Personally, I’m considering going back to the term “Extreme Programming”, even though I’ve incorporated ideas from other Agile methodologies.

It recently occurred to me that Agile, when done “right”, is closely aligned with the happiness of the team members. This is really interesting, because it aligns the interests of the employees and the business — a win-win situation. My next thought was that maybe the next step after “Agile” will be a focus on happiness and motivation.

I’ve recently been thinking about personal motivation lately, in the context of team practices. According to Daniel Pink’s book Drive, people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I personally add a fourth that can sometimes trump the other three: identity. And of course, happiness can also be motivating — both in the attempt to achieve happiness and in just being happy. (I suspect that happiness is more of a parallel to motivation than a cause though.)

There are a couple different ways that happiness can be achieved at work. The traditional way is for work to be a means to an end. In this view, the purpose of your job is to provide the money to live your life (outside of work) the way that you want to live it. There’s nothing wrong with this way of thinking. But for the lucky few, we can work on something that makes us happy in and of itself. That’s generally done by finding a job doing something that we enjoy.

But perhaps that’s thinking about things the wrong way. For one, plenty of people who have gone that route are still unhappy at work. I think a lot of that has to do more with the context surrounding the work than the work itself. Maybe you’ve got a lousy manager. Maybe you don’t like the people you work with. Maybe the tools you have to work with are bad. Maybe the processes add a lot of unnecessary tedium.

So maybe we need to find ways to be happier at work. Most of the Agile practices seem to make team members happy. For example, replacing a light-weight process for a heavier process always makes me happy. And I typically leave retrospectives in a good mood. So that’s a good starting point. But we should see if we can take the idea further. If we take employee happiness as a core value, where can we go? What kind of practices would we want to add? Please share any ideas in the comments below.

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