Tips From The Agile Virtual Summit: Improving Inclusion

July 13, 2021
Joyce Carr Schwab

In my last post, we focused on increasing engagement, which may have suffered over time as teams have been working remotely. Improving inclusion was another key theme from the Agile Virtual Summit in June. Discussions about inclusion challenged me to think about how Agile teams can bring more diverse people and ideas to the table.

How do we support all team members, but especially some that might be more marginalized, to realize their potential as technologists and future leaders?  How do we create environments that welcome diversity, are truly inclusive, and treat people equitably? How do we help new employees that have never met their teams in person feel included? Check out Agile in Color and Women in Agile for some thought-provoking perspectives.

How to Work with Me: Consider inviting team members to complete a User Guide to Working with Me or build a whiteboard like this one on Mural. This time investment reinforces trust, collaboration, and teamwork because everyone understands better how to interpret each other’s rhythms, distractions, quirks, and passions. It’s also a great way to integrate a new team by inviting them to share something about themselves beyond work. Before COVID, my coffee mug, hockey day sports jersey, or family and vacation photos on my desk helped coworkers understand a bit about me. We’ve lost these cues to understanding each other now. In the new world of working remotely, we can help team members to communicate about busy times when they are fixing lunch for children between classes, supporting an elderly relative at home, or otherwise have limited availability and attention. We can help our employees interact in as full people and not simply transactionally at work.

Limit Decisions: Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and felt overwhelmed by the decision of what to eat for dinner? Just one more decision was too much. Human beings like choice, but too many choices can be paralyzing. Check out this study for some cool facts on decision fatigue. Agilists realize the importance of minimizing decisions to preserve focus. For example, daily stand-up and other ceremonies are scheduled at the same time. This frees our brains to think about harder problems instead.

When we plan our Roadmaps, Sprints, or Product Increments, distinguishing priority #57 from priority #63 is too hard. More importantly, it doesn’t add business value. However, human beings are excellent at choosing between two things – like at the eye doctor. Try using a sports-style elimination bracket to help a Product Owner or group of stakeholders narrow down priorities to their number one. As a demonstration of this concept, one speaker led an exercise combining Challonge and Menti to invite listener participation in choosing a favorite movie from 36 choices in about 12 minutes.

While March Madness brackets shouldn’t replace all traditional prioritization methods, it might be useful to achieve focus or introduce a new way of thinking about priorities. If these free Internet tools don’t work in your environment, virtual paper or whiteboard brackets work just fine. Use online chat to have folks submit their picks instead of a tool. An approach like this can stimulate stakeholder discussion about priorities, even if there aren’t office pools about which feature will come out on top – like the real March Madness.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with decisions, but maybe one or two of these ideas resonate as an enhancement to your team’s Agile practice. Give one a try – iterate, get feedback, and improve. Whatever you do, work to extend inclusion and diversity on your team. The outcomes may just surprise you.


Joyce Carr Schwab

Program Manager

Dev Technology