Agility – Motivation – Self-Responsibility
Agile methods are established as a standard for the implementation of software development projects across all industries. The motivation of those involved in the project – and their willingness to take responsibility – is an essential factor for the success of agile procedures. Agile project management – be it Scrum, DSDM, Kanban or others – systematically integrates the prompt feedback of users and thus creates high transparency in progress. The orientation towards achievable objectives, the quick feedback of success as well as the possibilities of co-design directly promote motivation and willingness on the part of the participants to take personal responsibility.
The 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto formulate:
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done (Agile Manifesto, 2001)
Contrary to what is suggested by this maxim, however, the factor motivation is neither a given situation – and in the case of lacking motivation, a deficiency – nor is motivation a constant. Accordingly, maintaining, controlling and increasing motivation is an essential executive function and critical to success during the term of a project.
Deficits of Agile Methodology in More Complex Set-Ups
In the course of more complex – i.e. longer-term projects with a broader scope using several teams in asynchronous governance – direct and indirect management measures by those responsible are regularly required in order to ensure the project’s success. This typically concerns phases in which the activities are only specified methodically to a limited extent. These are recurring transition phases such as go-lives and major releases, but also times of pending decisions, unclear responsibilities – common conditions even in agile projects.
Figure 1: Critical factors in more complex projects
In the run-up to a major release, for example, a suction regularly builds up aligning all activities to finalization at a certain point in time and postpones further activities. After going live, a phase of less focus and greater disorientation follows regularly. This is accepted in the sense of recovery, but involves time risks and capacitive malpositions. While the project is concerned with the analysis of productive operations, stabilisation and, if necessary, the prioritisation of technical debts, there is usually no further, overarching functional guidance within the participants. This opens up opportunities to question the scope through external influences and ideas (the dynamic of requirements over the course of the project is known to be a crucial factor for the failure of development projects, see Figure 1); disorientation is further exacerbated by continued coordination without clear guidance.
In these transition phases with unclear responsibilities or in situations with complex, perhaps postponed decisions, there is a reduction in motivation and willingness to assume responsibility on the part of the project participants. This has to be counteracted by the responsible persons, because otherwise high efforts have to be spent for the subsequent refocusing or the demotivation turns into fruitlessness.
Elements of Motivation Management
For the direct and indirect control and increase of motivation, three consecutive elements for the extension of the basic methodology have proven themselves in practice. At the centre of these elements is transparency, firstly to ensure continuity between development stages and secondly to draw attention to the connections between components. This enables direct motivation or re-motivation. In addition to setting up agile governance, which has already been discussed in a previous post, these elements are:
Figure 2: Illustrative Figure PI-Board
Furthermore, PI Plannings serve to increase the level of detail in medium-term planning and to harden the estimates for the completion of further features. In addition, they reduce complexity by structuring dependencies and reduce risks. Senses of achievement become tangible and motivation is promoted by visible progress on complex topics.
The supplement of agile methods with the elements of the overall project vision, the derivation of goals and the transparency of contexts allows the advantages of agile procedures to be used also in more complex project structures: with a larger business scope, longer runtime, multiple participants as well as asynchronous governance in conception and implementation.
The critical factor of motivation and thus self-responsibility shows that an overarching project vision, derivations and concretization of objectives as well as the presentation of transparency on the connections of single result objects increase the probability of ensuring continuity over stages. Simply said:
West, W. and Grant, T.
“Agile Development: mainstream adoption has changed agility”, 20 January 2010:
“Agile Goal Setting with OKR – Objectives and Key Results”, 28 August 2015:
[German only:] http://agilemanifesto.org/iso/de/manifesto.html
[German only:] „OKR – Googles Wunderwaffe für den Unternehmenserfolg oder: Raus aus der Komfortzone“, 3 March 2015:
Scaled Agile Inc
“PI Planning”, 18 April 2018: