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Eight Components of Enjoyment

12/18/2006 by David Höhn

"All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire." —Aristotle

This is not a scientific article and while it may be based on facts, it is meant to be a thought blender—some agile juice, straight from the source, to get us thinking.

I indulged, with a friend, in a very interesting conversation recently. He told me that one does not need passion to do a job well. A bold statement to make. Yet, after some thinking on it my conclusion is as simple as his is bold. To do a job well you indeed need no passion; to excel, however, you do.

Passion has to do with enjoyment, with fun, with liking what you are doing. Passion is based on emotions, a strong source of intrinsic motivation, and while the intensity of our emotions may need to be moderated, our emotions should never be ignored. My passion for my job helps me to adhere to certain moral guidelines and forces me to look at the cube as if it were a ball—even when things start to frustrate me or circumstances force me to bend my own rules. To truly excel, we need to develop our passion and believe in the things we do. That is where Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi enters our little thought blending experiment. As esoteric as it might sound, "flow" refers to a simple set of recommendations Csikszentmihalyi defined in his book, Flow:The Psychology Of Optimal Experience. A proper flow, as described by Csikszentmihalyi, seems to be a good way of achieving happier employees and thus more efficiency.

Let's dive into his list of recommendations and dissect it from an agile bartender's point of view.

Point 1: Confront tasks that we have a chance of completing.

We can actually achieve this goal through timeboxing and sensible planning. By allowing self-organization to bloom, we allow little seedlings to grow into strong plants. Those tasks are then freshly picked from the strong flowers and consumed. We only take as much as we can handle and thus are one step closer to the flow.

Point 2: Concentrate.

Silence is bliss. Being left alone is a key part of self organization. Trust your employees. You hired experts; they will do what is in the best interest of the company. Allowing them to concentrate without interruption is crucial to sustained success. As such, proper agile implementation should help concentration. Find a way to ensure that your environment allows uninterrupted cadences of work.

Point 3: Concentration is possible because the task has clear goals.

Well-written user stories, clear and concise acceptance tests, a customer that is involved, and some business domain knowledge. Every iteration on an agile project should exhibit the above constraint.

Point 4: Tasks provide immediate feedback.

Immediate feedback might not be possible at all times. A mixture of test driven development, a deeply involved customer, automated acceptance testing, and proper sprint reviews should result in relatively instantaneous feedback, especially when compared to the feedback loop one has in a classically managed project.

Point 5: A deep, effortless involvement removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.

Supporting one's employees is not confined to agile methodologies. Any environment that fosters trust and an understanding of mutual respect would help to remove the everyday fears we are confronted with.

Creating a safe, sane, and fun work environment is something that would help any company, and many are starting to invest a lot of time and money into making this happening. Another key factor one should not forget is the working culture, labor laws, and work history in the country in which this recommendation is being applied. More flow to come.

Point 6: Enjoyable experiences allow one to exercise a sense of control over one's actions.

Creating something that works and being responsible for that success will naturally result in a positive reinforcement. You need to ensure that even when self organized teams are asked to implement complicated tasks, they are given every opportunity to succeed. In short, trust your employees, leave the team alone, and let common sense prevail as you march towards flow.

Point 7: Concern for self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.

When you're in the flow, "getting it done" becomes the focus. Empowered to do everything that I need to do, doing it becomes my only concern. I am less worried with sticking to company policies or rules enforced from above. I get things done for the customer so that this iteration is a success.

Reinforcing these positive deliveries by practicing sprint retrospectives will allow us to do what rule seven suggests. If we can implement sprint retrospectives that focus on the positive aspects even when delivery failed, we should be able to continually improve a team. On towards flow.

Point 8: Sense of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes.

Once this happens, we have arrived. Welcome to the zone. While we are flowing along, enjoying our agile juice, let's consider why this is happening. Given that no empirical studies have ever been executed on this particular problem, we might simply be experiencing what we refer to as being “content.”

Final Thoughts

I strongly believe that agile methodologies are not only about improving software development processes. These approaches need to take in account that we need to adjust the prevailing picture of how the workforce should be managed. People shouldn't just be going through the motions and doing the job well. They must have passion to achieve the excellence necessary to execute these methodologies properly.

Part of fostering this passion is learning to actively focus on fun, just as relentlessly as we learned to implement cost control. How much does an unhappy employee cost? How much time do employees who are only going through the motions waste when compared to someone that goes to work only to enjoy his personal “zone?”

I believe in passion and fun. I like to be in the zone. Come and join me?

Editor's Note: The spelling of certain words throughout this article were changed to reflect standard US dictionaries, as is consistent with the style guidelines of