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The Basics: Compassion

Updated: Jan 25

A blogger activating their videocamera with a thoughtful expression

It’s not widely known, and you might never guess if your only exposure to “Agile” has been the workplace, but compassion is part of the original Agile Manifesto: 

...through this work we have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools...” 

Compassion (and its close relative, humanism) was repeatedly emphasized in the workshops, meetups and conferences I participated in during the 00’s and 10’s. Much emphasis was placed on our duty as Agile leaders to create an atmosphere of trust, since team members who knew they could trust one another were willing to admit their mistakes and vulnerabilities, thus empowering the team to overcome them. 

But in practice, after 2007 or so, most of the places we worked at were large corporations. And such corporations regard their human employees as “resources” to be exploited and (once exhausted) replaced. Under such conditions, personal transparency morphs from a means of team empowerment into a political weapon for assigning blame. This widespread dehumanization of the workplace and deterioration of Agile practice within it eventually broke my heart and led to me leaving the industry.

A solitary Agile practice requires the development and use of self-compassion. As a corporate Agile coach, my team retrospectives began with the promise that - while we reviewed the progress and pitfalls during the previous sprint - we would do so with the assumption that each team member had done the best they could with what they had at the time. 

You need to be able to make this promise to your past self: You did the best you could with what you had at the time. It’s easy to mistake knowledge you have now with knowledge that “should have been obvious” in the past. This is a form of hindsight bias, it isn’t real. Most people do the best they can at any given moment. It’s just that some moments are better than others.

You can use this simple process to learn about yourself. Practice it for a few weeks. Or - if you don’t trust yourself to persist for several weeks (difficult enough without a coach, that’s why we had scrum masters), increase the frequency of your retrospectives. As I explain in iteration, learning happens at the end of a cycle. So if you want to learn faster, do more cycles. 

Or, you know, hire me.

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