At the core of Agile software development is an Agile Development Team, most of them using Scrum. One of the effects of Scrum, is increased employee happiness and/or “engagement”.

Team Happiness

An important metric that we take into account in all internal meetings at Prowareness, the company that I work for, is the team happiness indicator making use of a five point “smiley scale”. This metric is often used at our customers with the goal of igniting team discussions ultimately aimed at improving productivity. These discussions can cover any topic; processes at work that need improvement, impediments in or outside of the team that hamper productivity, but they can also cover personal happiness and the contribution of the team on that area. The ultimate goal of this indicator is to ignite discussions to explore the underlying causes that hamper productivity.

Team Morale

When browsing the internet, I came across a blogpost by Christiaan Verwijs, in which he proposes a much more elaborate metric to understand a team’s perception of its well being. This metric that he proposes is about team morale, not just its happiness.
But, what is team happiness or morale and what influence does team happiness has on team performance?

What Motivates People

When looking at what motivates people who do creative work, what springs immediately to my mind is the similarly named video clip and the similarly named book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. For example, he explores the existence of Wikipedia, in which highly skilled people devote their free time to produce something, which they give away for free. The primary drivers for motivation are, according to Daniel Pink:

  • Autonomy
    “People need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it). Companies that offer autonomy, sometimes in radical doses, are outperforming their competitors.” (page 104 of Drive)
  • Mastery, and
    “Mastery is a mindset: It requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable. Mastery is a pain: It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice. And mastery is an asymptote: It’s impossible to fully realize, which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.” (page 104 of Drive)
  • Purpose
    “Within organizations, this new ‘purpose motive’ is expressing itself in three ways: in goals that use profit to reach purpose; in words that emphasize more than self-interest; and in policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms.” (page 104 of Drive)

When looking at the descriptions of these three dimensions or ‘Motivators’ that, according to Daniel Pink, lead to motivation, it becomes clear that they can be viewed as preconditions that need to be fulfilled by the environment in which these knowledge workers do their work. From a team perspective they can be seen as external conditions that need to be set right in order to let them blossom and become a high performing team. When looking at the Scrum framework, I can map these preconditions on this framework as follows.

Motivators in Scrum

A sprint starts with looking at the Product Backlog (PB). A team is able, and allowed, to challenge the Product Owner on perceived business value of each item on the PB, it comes up with the effort needed to produce the PB item, and the team decides which PB items to work on in the coming Sprint, all providing Autonomy.
Looking at the PB it becomes clear what the goals of the company are on the short and medium term, providing Purpose. In Sprint Planning a Sprint Goal is defined to align all the work in the coming Sprint, providing Purpose again. The team also defines tasks for each PB item, also providing Autonomy.

During the Sprint, the team closely works together in a multi-disciplinary setting which provides Mastery, and at the end of the Sprint, the team thinks about improvement possibilities during the Retrospective, also providing Autonomy and Mastery.
Of course, to further Purpose, the company itself would need a clear mission statement to live by (have vision), and provide for further possibilities to let team members grow professionally (have company values to contribute to this) in order to fully fulfill the Mastery element.

Scrum Core Values

Scrum is also based on five core values. “In a Scrum context the decisions we take, the steps we take, the way we play the game, the practices we add and the activities we surround Scrum with, should all re-enforce the values, to diminish or undermine them.” (page 71, Scrum: A Pocket Guide, by Gunther Verheyen). These values are:

  • Commitment – the state or quality of being dedicated to cause, activity, etc. (commitment to the team, quality, collaborate, learn, do the best they can, the Sprint Goal, act as a professional, self-organize, excellence, Agile principles, creating working software, etc.)
  • Focus – focus on expertise (Scrum roles), focus on what is important now (time boxing), focus on what we know now (Sprints, Sprint Goal, Daily Scrum)
  • Openness – the empiricism of Scrum requires transparency, openness and honesty.
  • Respect – respect for people, their experience and their personal background. Respect diversity, respect different opinions, and respect each others skills, expertise and insights.
  • Courage – it requires courage to keep to the Scrum framework and the Agile principles

When looking at these Scrum Values, it can be stated that these are not only about the environment the team works in, but even more so about which mind-set the team must adapt in order to let Scrum work.

Team Productivity

How does this all improve Productivity? I can now combine all elements as follows:

Making use of Agile, a company is able to fulfill the environmental factors Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. When company values and vision are conflicting with Agile values and principles, focus needs to be on aligning the company values and vision with the Agile values and principles in order to get High Performing Teams.

Scrum, with the Scrum Core Values, also help in fostering Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. When the core of Scrum is not properly adhered to, do not expect to get High Performing teams.
Best Practices, like making use of the Team Morale and Team Happiness indicators, help in having a focused continuous improvement cycle, which in term lead to better practices and in the correct usage of the Scrum framework, which again helps foster Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, in term, help with building true team motivation, which improve team well being, thereby enabling High Performing Teams; motivated teams are performing teams.



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