Is There a Correlation Between Employee Happiness and Agile?
We all know that Google has managed to sit atop the Fortune 100 Best Companies to work for in 2015. Which of these others made it? Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Apple, or Amazon?
Going beyond the subjective interviews I did with employees at these companies, I looked at their job sites. While some have agile positions, it's hard to see any evidence of Agile penetration at Google, Apple, or Facebook. Why?
My first thought was that maybe they don’t go to conferences? Maybe they’re so brilliant and so busy that they don’t need any help and they can’t share due to onerous NDAs. But that seemed unlikely. These companies do have their own conferences, so I’m sure that’s expensive, and if you’re doing your own conference, why go to anything else?
Second thought: they’re just natively agile. Startup culture is a quasi-religion for this group, and they strive to protect it. This makes sense: it's naturally iterative, focused on delivering working code in weeks or even days. Agile has focused on managing the work and this may reek of control, which is an anathema to these companies. According to Steve Dennig, the flat nature of these orgs is the defining factor of this new economy. This is consistent with the self-organization concept of Agile. Still, a lot of their customers are at Agile conferences. Maybe they could teach us? The Tech Titans aren’t showing up at all, even behind the podiums.
Third thought: Agile is just wrong. We’ve heard this before: Agile is for old people and for consultants to make money or Agile is simply a bad idea, adopted by companies with employees that simply aren’t as good. Yet, beyond the random blog posting, it's hard to find substantive written critiques on the topic. And even if so, if Agile is so off-base, I would think these companies would jump at the chance to correct many of the companies that go to conferences for a nice consultancy fee.
Fourth thought: Their Leadership Does Not Want Agile. This initially felt like the least likely reason the Tech Titans aren’t showing up. After all, even if they’re natively agile, when they scale (and they do) you’re going to need some help balancing the needs of the business with developer autonomy. What, then, keeps them away? It must be a culture thing, and perhaps it's related to what keeps them off the Fortune 100 list.
Then a pattern started to form.
Then I recalled Showstopper, a book about the launch of Windows NT, and how people literally lost marriages and loved ones over/during the creation of the thing. Then the two Steve Jobs movies and countless articles resurfaced in my mind.
And those reminded me of the heart wrenching article in Wired magazine article that showed Silicon Valley's culture as nothing but a giant R&D farm for venture capital and big business. Its cheery title? No Exit.
Yes, a pattern was forming, and with it, an answer to my question. The Tech Titans leadership doesn’t want Agile because Agile isn’t good for their questionable labor behavior. Notice I didn’t say labor practices - that smacks too much of unionization and blaming the execs, which I’m not going to get into. The labor behavior is different. It comes from a tightly wound knot of employee expectations, peer pressure, and management dictate - the social norms of a company, its culture. And from these brief mentions and countless others, this labor behavior has nothing to do with coding at a sustainable pace. These guys can’t even go to the bathroom in peace.
Let me pause here. I’m not judging people who are currently at their Dream Job. I work full time, I take classes, I have a family, and I have my consultancy business LifeSparcs, where I am focusing my energies on helping people focus on their true life dreams. I endeavor every day to uncover better ways to help people accomplish their dreams and goals, without sacrificing happiness. Because those are different things.
The fact that the Tech Titans aren’t at these conferences turns out not to be the issue. The issue is quality of life. It is a flight of fancy to believe that tens of thousands of men and women are sacrificing their youth for their dream. It’s likely a combination of money, status, doing something “big,” and being considered top tier or cool. I know I’m painting with a broad brush - these massive companies are really amalgams of smaller business units, and an employee’s quality of life usually depends on which unit you’re reporting to. But overall, many of these companies have the power of being Cool, and they’re misappropriating that power.
Power is a curious thing... Three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? ... Power resides where men believe it resides; it's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow.
―Varys to Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
This summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that "it's really too early to tell" if our marriage will in fact succeed.
I know that’s a joke, but it's not terribly funny. In his case he reports that he was having the time of his life at this company, so it seems he has his dream-focus intact, but did he really have to miss all of that for it?
I know a few folks who worked like crazy in the first .com boom. After that died, they were in their late thirties and wondering if they were going to get to have kids, see the world, write that book, or donate some time. They wondered if they were going to do what mattered to them, finally, and many of them left after the bust. And, unlike Mr. Pichette, not all of them left with a golden parachute, or any parachute at all.
We all know excessive hours might be necessary for brief stints. Sometimes products are being co-developed and sure, everyone wants to have “first to market” on their resume. But this cannot possibly be the case all the time, the de facto labor agreement for the Tech sector. I’m not speaking against simple hard work, I’m talking about a slavish duty to one aspect of your life to the exclusion of all else indefinitely. As for the tripe that this is how lawyers and doctors and stock brokers work - how does that change anything? Those careers have been historically some of the suckiest in the world, happiness-wise. Do we really want to emulate the ethics of Wall Street? There could be no louder clarion call for change if we do.
On a side note, I’d like to ask where in the heck are the Agile consultants on this Amazon article and on the whole culture of Silicon Valley? I searched and searched and I find very little on the overwork that these companies pride themselves on. I asked Skip Angel, a very experienced Agile Coach that I’ve known for years, why more high-profile Agilists aren’t commenting on it, and he had a great take on it:
"Because we [the Agile industry] didn't think about people, we didn't focus on leadership and how to move towards a culture that embraces transparency, collaboration, teamwork and other values held by Agile. So while we focused our training and coaching of teams, we weren't spending time changing behaviors, mindsets, and capabilities needed by people to lead an organization that has greater agility." - Skip Angel, Director of Services, CA Technologies
Tech Titans, you’ve got a culture issue. It’s a startup culture mindset gone rampant. It has mutated and metastasized, and it's eating your life and your humanity. It's bad for your company and it's bad for your family, and it's bad for you.
It's not good for your company. The company suffers because overwork is not good for innovation. These guys are fooling themselves into believing that they can do this by sheer willpower and shaming. Dan Norman states that fear creates focused, depth-first thinking, while happiness creates breadth-first thinking.
It's not good for your family, even if they’re not human. Look at the design of your life. You need to ensure that you have the right mindset to succeed at all portions, not just one. Recognize the beauty of a well-lived life of variety.
It's not good for your health. Read that article No Exit - they had so many health issues, and these are young guys. There are so many studies on this it’s too easy to Google. Here’s one and another one.
It is no wonder few of the Tech Titans show up on the Forbes list. But then there’s Google, the Outlier.
They have defied the odds and have stayed hot, gotten large, split into two companies, and remained at the top of the Forbes list. Some of my conversations with those folks tell me that they’ve cooled the intense demands for overtime there, so perhaps that’s part of it. While they’re still guilty of the sin of omission by not being part of the Agile community and sharing, this is changing through the books written on this company. Also to their credit, Google is making changes for their people. At Google you can now get up to twelve weeks of fully paid baby bonding time. Google also provides $500 of “Baby Bonding Bucks” to all new parents to use during the first three months of their child’s life. Now that is pretty cool and should show folks leading the Tech Titans a different way to deal with the people that are their company.
Only by understanding the journey involved in each of the three marriages and the stages of their maturation can we understand how to bring them together in one fulfilled life. - David Whyte
This article has pointed at the Tech Titans, but really, we all should heed the call when our work is bumping up against our own principles.
As individuals, what can you do? Perhaps first you codify your own life principles. Write them down. Get a journal and write down your goals for the next three to six months. Not your employer's goals. Not your mate’s goals, or your parents’ goals for you. No. Your goals. Once you have them down, break them down into chunks, and start working them, using either my adaptation of agile principles I call LifeSparcs or something else; anything that makes you stop, pause and listen to yourself. Read something from the OD community; I like Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer. Start living that examined life.
If you want to change your company culture, then you have to get out there and become a change agent. You might be surprised to find out that there was a whole field of study dedicated to culture change, flying under the banner of Organization Development. Try out a conference with those folks, or at least read some books in this space. Start with Joining Together, by Johnson and Johnson, and move from there, or shoot me an email for recommendations, since that will change based on where you are and where your organization is. Rebel management books are also fun. Anything that Gary Hamel, Steve Demming, or Seth Godin have written will light your fires directly. Have the courage to break out!
What do you think? Is there a tie between the egregious demands of these jobs, their company’s lack of support for Agile, and their lack of presence on the Forbes list? Before you answer that, note that Twitter and SAS show up on the list and both of them have had Agile-specific positions on their sites. Coincidence? The start of a movement? You decide, and comment below!
About the Author
Joe Fecarotta is an IT Project Manager and Agile Coach in the Pacific Northwest. He is the owner and operator of LifeSparcs.com, a coaching and consultant company that uses Agile and Organizational Development principles to help organizations work better and people lead more fulfilling lives. In his twenty year career he has held positions in software development, project management and agile coaching. He has a BSEE in Computer Engineering from Washington State University and an MA in Organizational Development from Seattle University. When not working, Joe enjoys writing Science Fiction and spending time with his family.
Developers don't go to agile conferences
But as agile has matured the conferences have changed, now technical practices aren't discussed anymore and the conferences are dominated by project/product related practices and for a lot of developers agile is now the domain of the manager, it's all about the secondary value of a software product (shipping features) rather than delivering working software.
Uncle Bob wrote a article about just this The corruption of agile where he provides more insight.
Correlation doesn't mean causation
One thing to note is that Google has a 'Peoples Ops Group' and a dedicated 'Jolly Good Fellow' called Chade-Meng Tan. His job is to promote emotional intelligence and happiness within the organisation. He's written a good book on this too called Search Inside Yourself. Maybe this is partly why Google sits at the top of the best companies to work for?
Maybe a Nutshell
If you want your employees at their desks 80 hours a week, Agile will help you with that. You just schedule that much work per sprint. Agile provides frequent feedback on just which employees are slacking off at home with their families. Like coding, coding, coding, with no icky planning? There are agilist supporters for that. Love planning? There are agile planning and scheduling books. Those behaviors may offend your notion of what Agile is. Sucks for you, because there is no definition.
Clearly the author considers being treated like a human being as a core Agile practice. The Agile Manifesto says so. But treating human beings with dignity is like Pair Programming. Not every Agile shop does it. Wishing that "Agile" meant the same thing to everyone that it means to us personally is a waste of time. The best you can do is ask some questions before taking a job so you won't be dissappointed. 'Cause everybody does Agile.
Agile concepts are no so difficult to grasp that Agile conferences are really all that necessary. And developers don't have much say in what process their boss wants to run at work. This, plus crazy schedule pressure, may explain the absense of Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook devs at Agile conferences.
Re: Developers don't go to agile conferences
Re: Correlation doesn't mean causation
Re: Maybe a Nutshell
Re: Doing Agile
Your last sentence is one of the core issues I hear. If these folks are too busy ( or afraid) to take a vacation for a few days, there's zero chance they're going to fight to go to a conference.
Re: Maybe a Nutshell
So, Apples cash reserves are roughly equivalent to what Morrocco adds to it's overall worth every year
Re: Economic note
A new rebel resource
In this book Sandy and David outline why Self Selection is a wonderful thing, when it is appropriate to consider it, and include a step-by-step guide to how to run a Self Selection exercise.
This book uses a case study of a large e-commerce company in New Zealand to demonstrate the thinking behind a Self Selection process, but also includes real life anecdotes for what works and doesn't work when a company takes on this significant re-organisation at scale.
The book has just come out, and is available on Pragmatic Bookshelf and Amazon :)
Re: A new rebel resource
Thanks for the reference!
Update- Google Developer Expert program