Uncharted Waters

Jan 26 2018   10:59AM GMT

Motivation Matters

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser


MotivationImagine for a moment you come into a small team and see a gaping problem with the infrastructure — the test process doesn’t find the right bugs. Instead of running the same tests over and over again, you want to pivot, to address emergent risks. Or perhaps you want to add change the performance tests to run under secure mode to be more accurate. It doesn’t matter what needs to be done as much as your motivation to see it done.

You write a bunch of cards defining this new work, which will take about the next two-week sprint for the whole team. Then you get team buy-in. Next you talk to the product owner about changing the entire flow of the work for two weeks to this new approach.

What’s going to happen now?

The answer, of course, is “It depends.” Most people will recognize it depends on how much schedule pressure the product owner is under, as well as the company culture.

What we often miss is that it depends on the Product Owner’s personal motivation style.

Motivation, not personality

Flag Page

Don’t get me wrong; I am not talking about personality here. I haven’t found how turn knowledge that someone is INFJ on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator into value. Nor much value in their DiSc score. It seems wrong to e to know who someone “is” to manipulate them. But knowing what motivates them so you can give it to them? That seems more like the golden rule.

For example, some coaches use encouragement and positive reinforcement. I thrive on that. Others prefer the stick to the carrot, removing time and attention from the second and third-tier player who aren’t up to snuff. Some people will take heavy criticism and negative feedback and rise to the occasion. Others, like me, may just find someone else to talk to.

Neither of these is “wrong”, except perhaps the extreme of one over the other – the person who cannot take any criticism, and the person who secretly wants to be a victim, who rejects any positive reinforcement as “fake.”

The ancient greek Hippocrates used works like “sanguine” and “choleric” to define his four temperament types. Mark Gungor popularized a modern variety of those four, called The Flag Page, which includes motivations for “Peace”, “Fun”, “Control”, and “Perfect.” Most people have a dominant motivation and a secondary one, which the Flag Page refers to as “Home Country” and “Adopted Country.”

Let’s get back to the product owner.

Different responses by motivation

Motivation ResponseIf the entire team wants to use the new approach, and the product owner (PO) is not pressed for time,  and the product owner’s dominant personality is Peace, they’ll likely accept the change. By allowing the change, the PO gets what they want — peace. Someone who is perfect or control is likely to oppose the change. Changing stories mid-sprint is a violation of Scrum principles (it’s not perfect) and forces them to lose a sense of control — exactly the opposite of what motivates them! Run into a perfect or control PO, and you are likely to get a response like “Yes, please feel free to add infrastructure requests to my backlog. I will review them and put them into priority, and if I decide they are important enough, we can start them next sprint. But please, let’s follow the process.”

Did you catch that? The “If, my, I”?

I suspect that some readers had the same reaction of “no way!” by the end of my introduction. “What heresy is this? This guy isn’t following the proper Scrum guidelines!” This is no proof, but I suspect that if you had that reaction, you might have perfect or control in your motivations. A control/perfect PO would need to be approached in an entirely different way. They would need to understand the value of the change, would need options, would want to pick from one of the options, and need to understand how the change fit into the organization’s rules for software process.

When we don’t understand the motivations of the people we work with, we tend to assume they share our motivations, which can be incredibly counter-productive. As a trivial example: Imagine someone who values relationships, who is soft-hearted (another part of the flag page) working with someone who is conscientious, who only cares if the work gets done on time.

You likely don’t need to imagine; you’ve seen these conflicts play out.

We use the flag page in our consulting work. At $25 per test at ten minutes to take, it is ideal to know what motivates someone before you are deep in the work. Note that I have no relationship of any kind with the makers of the flag page except as a customer and I collect no referral fee.

Of course, you don’t need to flag page. A simple discussion about what motivates someone can get you pretty far – you just need a little trust to get started.

Trust? That might just be another blog post.

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