Monthly Archives: October 2014

Software, Fear, Neuroscience and Agile Person-Hood

TL;DR:
  • The same ‘agile’ principles that make your project team more effective as a whole will make you a better teammate as an individual.
  • Agile principles are about letting go of fear and control, and optimizing for transparency and trust.
  • This is true enough in good times, but it’s *especially* true in harder times.
  • Your own limits and challenges in life are no different than the limits and risks that the team encounters. Be as transparent about yourself to your team as your team is to the project’s stakeholders.
  • Embrace the inevitability of risk, and activate your brain’s optimism module.
  • Renovating a house while you build software is going to provide you with far too many opportunities for recursive learnings about agile project management from all possible perspectives.

Fairly recently, I failed. Fortunately, it wasn’t a messy, catastrophic, collective failure of an entire project, or blowing through $200 million of my investors’ money, then selling off the company for scrap. Rather, my project team succeeded in doing what it set out to do, in spite of the fact that I failed to be a good teammate for them. We didn’t fail together; I failed them.

The proximate cause wasn’t hard to identify: I was totally, completely overwhelmed. Tons of work, and tons going on at home. (Among other things, we gut-renovated an apartment, which is pretty much a full time job, even when you’re paying other people to do the heavy lifting. Cancel all your other commitments if you should ever be so foolishly inclined.) And then the previous, particularly important project suffered spectacular scope-creep and nearly went off the rails, resulting in a bunch of 80-hour weeks and working through most of Christmas vacation.

And so I showed up to this specific project with my gas tank pretty empty. No doubt about it. But that’s not *why* I was a bad teammate. It’s just the set of stressors that exposed some underlying weaknesses: habits that were flawed but manageable under normal circumstances, but which became totally non-viable when things hit the fan.

The thing is, you can be overwhelmed and still be a great member of your team, albeit with a decreased output, or with a need to rely more heavily on other people, or without your normally sunny disposition being quite as sunny. But you have to make the right choices and have the right habits in order to do that. That’s what I’m here to talk about. Continue reading

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