There’s seemingly a contradiction between remote work and Agile methodology that I personally find fascinating. To start with, remote work is often deemed as a holy grail for introverts:
According to Introvert Dear, introverts are people who enjoy spending time alone and don’t want to be around people all the time. In that case, remote work is a no-brainer alternative to a noisy office.
However, Agile practices constantly bring people together, facilitate conversations and teamwork – everything introverts are supposedly shy of. Is there a contradiction?
In this article, we’ll explore if there’s a way to effectively conduct agile ceremonies with a team of introverts and if there’s any contradiction with introverts working in an Agile environment.
Studies show that up to 50% of the U.S. population are introverts, yet if you start asking people around you about introverts, you’ll soon end up having a bucket of myths and misconceptions about this personality type. You may hear something like:
“Well, they are shy…”
“Oh, I know, it’s that moody dude from our IT department…”
“I’m an introvert. Please, leave me alone. I’m recharging.“
Myth #1: Introverts are shy
Shyness is a fear of people or social situations. Introverts simply like spending time with themselves more than spending it with other people.
Myth #2: Introverts are this small group of obscure unpredictable people
There are many more introverts around you and there’s a good chance you are one of them. Introversion is a spectrum:
So while many people are not 100% introverts, they still enjoy being alone and feel exhausted after a meeting. Especially if it was a long and unproductive meeting.
Agile and Introverts
Now that we got some myths about introversion out of the way, we can see the relationship between Agile ceremonies and introverts in a noise-free way.
Introverts don’t like meetings? Wrong. They don’t like pointless meetings.
While extraverts can find even unproductive meetings refreshing, replenishing their energy by simply talking about “stuff”, introverts will probably doze off or leave.
Agile embraces meetings. Daily standups, sprint plannings, and retrospectives – all the key agile activities are, essentially, meetings. And at their core, those meetings are meant to be short, focused and goal-oriented. In other words, an introvert’s dream.
However, often that is not the case. Those meetings tend to drag on, pivot and stack up on each other, and instead of a dream, what you get is a nightmare.
What can you do to keep those meetings short and goal-oriented?
Easy. Respect the protocol.
I remember working on a team of 15+ members. Having biweekly demos was a nightmare: some people would talk forever about their achievements and others, as if to balance things out, were as talkative as Mr. Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator.
In order to prevent that from happening, we established a ground rule: 5 minutes per team member. At first, it was uncomfortable for both parties: some people had to learn to talk less and others to talk more. We even used beeping timers during the first few meetings. But then things caught on and we no longer needed timers.
Another important point is the structure of meetings. Again, unstructured meetings tend to spawn a lot of improvised discussions. That is not bad. What is bad is expecting introverts to react to those in the same manner as extraverts. The thing is, introverts like to self-reflect a lot and large portions of new data may often confuse them initially.
What you can do is this: organize your meetings around specific problems and make sure that introverts on your team know those problems in advance so they can prepare themselves as needed.
Again, Agile ceremonies address just that: every meeting has a specific structure and goal. Retrospectives are conducted to reflect on everything that has happened since the last retrospective. And introverts really shine here – they have all the data, they spend a lot of time thinking about it and they know what’s expected of them.
It almost seems like agile practices were created with introverts in mind.
Of course, your team will never consist exclusively of introverts or extraverts. Having a mixed environment, however, is not a problem. It’s an opportunity.
If you use both introverts’ natural predisposition towards self-reflection and the ability of extraverts to spawn conversations in an improvised medium, you can dramatically increase the efficiency of agile practices.
Some Agile practices enable introverts to shine. For example, retrospectives depend on their natural tendency of self-reflection. If this kind of self-reflection could be appropriated for the whole team, your retrospectives would show you the ways of improving beyond the standard “let’s do it faster next time”.
At the same time, extraverts may shine during sprint planning and planning poker, where there are so many unidentified variables. Extra conversations enable teams to successfully navigate new mediums and tasks. It’s a good practice to schedule these improvised meetings to identify new problems and then schedule follow-up meetings to actually reflect on those. In that way, a mixed environment of team members becomes a productive hybrid. Just make sure that you hear the voices of all the team members, not only those who talk the most.
Also, let introverts guard the pristine nature of daily standups, making those meetings short and to the point. If too much extra talking happens though, consider using automated tools like Geekbot to gather feedback from your team members in an efficient and unobtrusive manner.
There’s no tension or contradiction between Agile practices and introvert team members. If anything, they benefit each other. Agile practices appeal to everything that introverts value: focus, structure, self-reflection. At the same time, given enough encouragement, introvert team members can make sure that these practices are not diffused and are followed to their maximum benefit.