Editor's Note: Ken Howard (above) is keynoting at AgileDotNet: The Ascension on August 9th, 2013 at the Ohio Union in Columbus. 

Ken Howard: Introversion With Agility
By Terreece Clarke, July 29th, 2013

Four years ago Ken Howard, co-author of "Individuals and Interactions: An Agile Guide," speaker at the upcoming AgileDotNet Conference and vice president of consulting at Improving Enterprises, noticed something amiss among the many discussions surrounding Agile…the majority of them centered around the processes and left out the people. Howard and " Individuals and Interactions" co-author Barry Rogers also noticed that when discussions about the people side of Agile happened, they left out a significant demographic: the introverted Agilist.

"Everyone knows most people in the industry are introverts, they just don't talk about it in the open," Howard said. "Most people in IT are introverts, while Agile was created and taught by extroverts. It's time to have an honest conversation with empathy and understanding for both introverts and extroverts and to employ certain practices that will help them both."

The Elephant in the Collaboration Room

Howard went on to explain how Agile practices can be difficult for introverts. "A lot of [Agile] practices are collaborative. People are asked to be involved in sessions, meetings, meetings and more meetings. All the collaboration [ends up] driving introverts crazy."

Research supports the significant advantage of collaboration. Howard cited research into the "wisdom of crowds" and the experiment that involved guessing the weight of an ox. According to PBS.org, 800 people attending a fair competed to guess the weight of an ox. Participants included butchers and farmers as well as many people who knew little about cattle. Most individually misjudged the ox's weight by at least 30 pounds, but the crowd as a whole averaged a guess of 1,197 pounds, just one pound less than the animal's actual weight.

While collaboration is important, leaders must recognize the importance of the individual in collaborations as introverts prefer uninterrupted time to focus on their work while extroverts prefer group work. By recognizing these differences, leaders can better prepare teams for the work ahead of them. This includes understanding people have differing motivating factors, such as recognition versus financial incentives.

"Human beings are way more complex than just introvert/extrovert," Howard said. "[However] the introvert/extrovert issue is one that can be addressed head on."

Introvert Strategies for Agile Success

One strategy introverts can use is the creation of structure in the collaborative process.

"There are a lot of ceremonies in Agile…daily Scrum meetings, backlog grooming, etc., and an introverted Scrum Master may dread the daily Scrum meeting, but by giving themselves a structure, i.e. when, what and how long they will spend on each thing, they have a focus and goals along the way that makes it easier," Howard said. "These aren't things that have to be announced or written down, they are just for the ScrumMaster."

Extroverts have strategies they can follow as well, and the first is recognizing the adverse effect of interruptions. Research has shown that only 40 percent of the time do people return to their work after being interrupted, the other 60 percent of the time, people wander away from the task they had been working on previously. This implicates the high cost of interruptions on any project.

Howard recommends the implementation of quiet time within the office. Based on the needs of the particular company, a set block of hours ensure will everyone on the team has uninterrupted alone time to work. It will help the productivity of the entire team and introverts will be more open to participate in group work when they know they have a safe period of time in which they can focus on their tasks, Howard said.

"It's not that introverts can't or hate to collaborate, however group work is more draining and they need the solitary work time to recharge," Howard said. "They recharge by being alone, while extroverts tend to avoid much down time, drawing their energy from being with people."

Introverts to the Spotlight

The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001, yet there are still places where Agile methodology is just beginning to be recognized and implemented - although, people are still largely focused on the Agile practices. Howard believes it won't take as long for the introverted nature of IT professionals to be recognized, with teams as the driving force to compel people to address the needs of individual team members.

"Organizational behavior has been taught by business schools a long time. IT has been able to get away with not paying much attention to it because old practices didn't require it. That's not the case anymore," he said.

So what's an introvert to do when their company begins the transition to Agile?

"Don't just focus on the mechanics, focus on team dynamics in addition to Agile practices," Howard said. "Employ team building exercises and overcome the elephant in the room."