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In Agile, a Little Pain is Good

Discomfort leads to growth

11 August 2017

Why be afraid?

Why are we so afraid of being a little bit embarrassed, ashamed, flustered, frustrated, or criticized? These feelings are usually negative, putting many people into an uncomfortable position. But I submit that there is also some good to experiencing these emotions. These different types of pain, among others, spur us to grow, to adapt, to become better so that the pain doesn't happen again — at least not in the same way.

Taking responsibility for a shortcoming is painful. Criticism is painful. You’re left feeling exposed and vulnerable. But this pain also generates resiliency and learning opportunities. Failing is not the ideal state of work. But the fear of failing is worse, and it is itself a type of failing — a terrible kind of failure, because it doesn't come from action but from inaction. If we actively choose to ignore or circumvent events or actions that may lead to embarrassment, frustration, discomfort, or criticism, we are failing on many important levels. We are willfully ignoring pain that should push us to be better than we are. We cease to grow.

If I touch a hot stove, the pain should immediately tell me to remove my hand and not do that again. If a development team fails to hit a date or the product owner is writing poor requirements or the ScrumMaster isn't creating an environment of constant improvement, there should be at least a little pain to move us toward improvement. In these scenarios, we should feel a bit embarrassed, a bit ashamed. And we should look at our behavior with our eye toward being better tomorrow. This pain often comes in the form of feedback.

Striving to be better

There is no perfection in Agile or in software development. Don't get me wrong; there are ideals. But they are mostly unattainable in reality. Should we then stop trying, stop growing? No! We should press onward. We will always have opportunities to grow because we are so often wrong, but the name of the game in Agile is being less wrong today than yesterday. We should not never fail, but we should fail less often unintentionally (meaning that though we will take calculated risks, we don’t want to be blindsided by avoidable circumstances). We should strive to be less wrong tomorrow.

Using this method, we can close enough triangulate correct actions and get closer to our ideal. But ideal in Agile is not a destination; it is a journey of constant small improvements, self-reflection, humility, and fearlessness. Don't get me wrong — fearless does not equal reckless. We should be thoughtful in our actions, and yet not hesitate to take action.

If we fail intelligently, then the result is to learn and move on. Let's not be paralyzed by fear from a little embarrassment, a little shame, or a little critical feedback. Rather, let that be the compost that allows us to grow our best selves, moving ever upward in our journey to becoming Agile.

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” —Aristotle

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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