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  • This post is excerpted from the Connectedness chapter of Cultivating Attention: the Paradoxical Secret of Team Success.

    Agile software development includes a wide range of practices. The common characteristic of these practices is an incremental and iterative approach: do the work rapidly and in small batches, get feedback early and often, and repeat. At its founding in 2001, the Agile movement tied together many existing methodologies, and it has had a profound influence on many more methodologies since then. But at the heart of Agile is the concept of connectedness. The first phrase of the Agile Manifesto, the document that defined and continues to shape Agile work in all its flavors, is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” A bit later the Manifesto raises the importance of connectedness still further: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.” These are simple words, butpowerful in their implications. Your relationships with the people you work with—and the people you are doing the work for—are more important to successful software development than how you do the work. In short: connectedness matters.

    The abstract principles of the Manifesto are borne out inthe day-to-day of technology delivery. Incremental and iterative development emerged in response to the need for results that are fast, responsive, and flexible (it’s not called “Agile” for nothing). In the chaos and swirl of a complex delivery project that’s constantly changing, it is ridiculously easy to get out of synch with the teammate in the cube next to you, let alone a customer on the other side of the planet. As the Manifesto suggests, all the processes and communication tools in the world can’t outperform a healthy habit of human connectedness.

    As Agile has matured, it has helped spawn a number of important movements. Two of the most widely used and critical are SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) and DevOps. SAFe, as the name suggests, takes the concepts of Agile into large enterprise contexts. Heavy-duty processes to coordinate extended teams with hundreds of members loom large in SAFe. If anything, the greater complexity and potential for miscommunication on a large project makes developing the habit of connectedness in an explicit, deliberate way even more important. The DevOps movement (a term that mashes up “development” and “IT operations”) emerged to expand the scope of close collaboration across organizational boundaries to include operations, information security, testing,architecture, data management, and more. Given the increased complexity and intensity of these interactions, there’s all the more need for cultivating the habit of connectedness.

    A practice for better Agile

    All the Connectedness practices will strengthen the relationships within your team and between your team and those you collaborate with. Anything you do to improve your ability to stay connected and overcome tribal boundaries will make you a better Agilist (or SAFe or DevOps practitioner). But there’s one practice that may be especially helpful:

    Make it a practice, individually or as a team, to Expand Your Circle of Concern.The simple act of bringing to mind those individuals and teams you work with elsewhere in the building, across the country or around the world—with an attitude of concern—will increase your connectedness. At the same time, it will improve the quality of your work and help you deliver better results.

    There are many different ways to expand your circle of concern. From my base in Seattle I was working with a team in Calgary, Canada,and could see that my understanding of their world had its limits, and those limits were impacting the Agile development work we were doing together. So, I paid a visit. At it happened, I arrived during the week of the Calgary Stampede,a huge midsummer rodeo and festival that (as I thought) perfectly captured the spirit of the city. Thinking to build some solidarity, I went to the Stampede,watched some cattle roping, and bought a black cowboy hat. At lunch with the team the next day, I discovered I was the only owner of a cowboy hat at the table: for that group, the Stampede was not really the place to go. They had a good laugh at my expense—but my attempt to build a connection strengthened our relationship.