Individuals & Interactions…

This if the first of the 4 value statements from the Agile Manifesto.

"Individuals and interactions over processes and tools"

With each of the 4 values the original authors emphasise that they value both sides, but they value the values on the left more. So what does that mean in the real word?

Processes and Tools

We all use processes and tools, they're important, so why put them down as being lesser in value than individuals and interactions? I think a primary reason for processes and tools is efficiency and repeatability and every business wants to be able to replicate what they do well. The danger arises when individuals become more like automatons, following a process, unable to deviate from it.

I was working in a team for a large manufacturer and we had a new head of our department. She was very keen on processes. I had a call from a client who told me their factory was currently down, i.e. all the robotic systems had stopped and they were haemorrhaging money at the rate of £40k per hour. I asked him if he had raised the call with our help desk, he had, and someone had been trying to fix it for the last 30 minutes and they would not escalate the issue to our team until they had exhausted their own processes. So I asked the client for more details and I realised that the course of action our help desk was embarking on would actually make the issue far far worse and the factory could be down for days. So I quickly phoned my new department head but she was unavailable, in a meeting. I left messages, I then phoned her boss, but they were both in the same meeting. So I took a decision and rang the help desk and assigned the call to me. I then remotely connected to the factory and resolved their issue and restored their operational ability.

Five minutes later my boss arrived and I told her the sequence of events. I was disciplined for not following the process and was told that I should have allowed the factory to be out of action for 2 days because the process was the most important thing to follow. I don't think she had heard of the Agile Manifesto, but even if she had, I think she would have disagreed with it.

I am not saying that we throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon all processes and tools. I am a fan of them but not to blindly follow them. If a new employee joins and is tasked with developing a login page, it would be beneficial for him to follow company processes and implement the established security protocols. But if he then discovers a better way there needs to be a way to hear his voice, i.e. welcome the interaction and value the individual.

In the factory example above, the primary purpose of our department's existence was to provide value and service to our customers, thereby retaining their business. The process is secondary.

What if we stop communicating face to face or over the phone with our customers and instead present them with our tools, dashboards, reports etc? How does the relationship evolve? It is more likely to become a cold and detached relationship that can degrade over time, especially if the customer wants to communicate with us and is blocked by the tools. Look at Amazon as an example. If all goes well they provide a good service, but if we as customers have a problem, where is their phone number or email address? You have to be pretty adept at using their website to find it. I think they deliberately bury these options to reduce the interactions because interactions are costly. Personally I think it's a false economy. I value service and these "costly" interactions are an investment in my continuing business relationship with these companies.

So in summary, while both "individuals and interactions" and "processes and tools" are both important, we value the items on the left more.

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