Agile and Scrum Balance Needs of Different People

I first encountered the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator in 19(cough, cough…) and have done quite a bit of reading about it since. I’m aware of its weaknesses but the primary interest for me is its role in making me aware of certain types of personality differences and how often they may be encountered in different situations. At the very least the tool is popular enough that lots of people will be able to comfortably discuss its concepts.

Every time you revisit a subject you tend to apply it to whatever happens to be on your mind at the time, and as I’m reading a couple of older books called Type Talk and Type Talk At Work the things I happen to be thinking about are Agile and Scrum practices. My last company worked in a consciously Agile fashion for a number of years but only began to introduce formal Scrum processes last year. Once I had been exposed to them and thought about them for a while I decided to pursue numerous certifications in Scrum methodologies this year. The certifications were straightforward against my long background of developing software and working on and managing projects and programs in many different environments.

Scrum, of course, is just a special case of Agile. Neither Scrum nor Agile replace all of the traditional development, problem-solving, and management concepts from previous methodologies. Rather, based on lessons learned over years of industry practice, they change the emphasis to enhance flexibility and improve the chances of producing a workable solution with minimum waste and fuss. The techniques are about managing the expectations of all participants in the process, from developers to analysts to managers to customers, and of prioritizing needs with respect to available resources.

A section of one of the books opined that the tension between Judgers, who tend to prefer order, clarity, and deadlines, and Perceivers, who tend to prefer alternatives, exploration, and… butterflies!–which they will make sound perfectly reasonable–potentially causes the most friction between people. This is understandable in a business environment where stuff has to get done and out the door at some point. One can easily imagine a manager getting peeved that a perceiver-type worker has identified and classified the problems in endless detail but hasn’t solved them yet. Agile, with its emphasis on continual feedback and iterative development, and Scrum, with its defined ceremonies and breakpoints, meets the needs of both judgers and perceivers. Judgers are happy because something has to be delivered and shown at regular intervals, and the intervals are short enough that plenty of hard data about who did what and what works and what doesn’t is always available. Continuous review, feedback, and prioritization help the judgers ensure that the most important things get addressed and, through specific techniques like test-driven development (TDD), ensure that effort isn’t expended on things that aren’t needed. Perceivers are happy because they are freer to use their creativity to break the problems down and apply interesting, efficient, and effective solutions in their own way. Continuous review, feedback, and refinement also help the perceivers relate current tasks to the bigger picture so they can continually assess and reevaluate the cohesion of the whole.

Both types are served because they get their preferred needs met and the project is served because it is considered and managed from a variety of perspectives. After-action reviews and project closeouts are useful for both types to capture lessons about what could be done better from the viewpoint of design, completeness, and unity as well as from the viewpoint of procedure, management, and feedback. The pithy observation about this phenomenon was that marketing always wants it yesterday so they can deliver to the customer, while engineering always wants more time to make it perfect. I don’t know whether this says more about marketers vs. engineers or judgers vs. perceivers (surely there are both judgers and perceivers among both marketers and engineers), but the techniques of Agile and Scrum work to build a minimum viable product that can be continually enhanced in terms of meeting requirements and embracing beauty in a way that everyone can appreciate.

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