Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

During a talk last week about certain aspects of the Agile Manifesto I began thinking about the manifesto’s first statement Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools. I’m sure we all know that the textbook definition to this is that we value the people and the communication between the people above processes and tools.

I started to wonder whether we (businesses and teams members) actually take this statement for granted or have even forgotten about it completely. After all it seems like these days we have tools like Jira (other issue tracking products are available) that do pretty much everything for us: sends emails on our behalf, records what we’ve been doing, passes work items on to our colleagues, displays story cards on a virtual boards and many more things. Surely there is no need for any face-to-face interaction with these amazing tools at our disposal? Even at conferences and meetups a lot of discussion revolves around how to improve flow, remove bottlenecks, test automation, continuous delivery and so forth. In other words process.

Maybe we have forgotten that great software and true agility starts and ends with the people and their interactions?

So what should be happening? Agile environments should be buzzing with conversations, collaborating with stakeholders, getting a common understanding of the matters at hand, working out disagreements, as well as finding out about each other’s interests and even socialising together. In short, it’s all about forming great relationships.

That’s easy to do, surely? However, according to Virginia Satir, a well-known psychotherapist, it may not be as straightforward as we think. The Satir Interaction Model suggests that the way we process interaction from others is done in several stages (intake, meaning, significance and response) and each stage is influenced by our own perceptions, interpretations, feelings, and past experiences. For example, if we have not built up trust with the person that we are interacting with then in the ‘meaning’ stage we might interpret their dialog in a more negative way than if it was said by someone that we trusted, and if we have applied the wrong meaning to something then we could give it an unintended significance.

This means that our interactions are more complex than we probably assume and maybe there is more opportunity for our interactions to go wrong or not be as effective. Could this be a reason that makes us subconsciously shy away from having effective face-to-face interactions and perhaps why we rely on our tools to do the hard work for us?

There are absolute advantages to having tools and processes in most circumstances, but as I said earlier if we really want to create awesome software and come to work where both us and our clients are happy then we should probably focus on the people and spend a bit more time understanding how people interact and communicate.

5 thoughts on “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”

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  4. Interesting post and I’m currently holding similar beliefs to you. I think more so now that I’m using Jira a lot more, people seem to use this much more as a process too than other agile board tools that I have used. The complexity that can be baked into Jira seems to compound this as you can create really complex workflows for your development processes.
    Personally I do like the tools but they must not get in the way of delivery business value to your customers. I’d rather be writing some code than trying to figure out the timings spent on tickets and communicating with real life people rather than creating long history lists by adding comments to tickets ect.

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