Volunteering for Agile

I’ve spent my life participating in volunteer work.  It started when I was very young doing charitable things with my family and church.  It expanded to wider interests and included leadership opportunities too.  At 14-years old I served on an organizing committee for about 350 youth doing clean-up work on a large non-profit farm.  Several years ago we had a “lawn mower gang” traveling the neighborhood mowing our neighbors’ front lawns, one after the other.  I am continuing this life tradition by leading and participating in volunteer groups ranging from the high school band parents organization to the Phoenix Scrum User Group to Ignite Phoenix.

It’s Work

When I contemplate why I do all this extra work in my spare time, I sometimes conclude I must be cazy.  Extra meetings, lots of email and phone calls, sometimes dealing with difficult situations or people, giving up evenings, days and weekends for the priviledge of working in the hot sun or wrangling a meeting.  Whew!  Am I nuts?

What I get out of such work is valuable to me as a person.  The thrill of helping others, enjoyment of a back-stage pass to a special event, working with great people and learning about myself make all the extra work a small price to pay.

It’s Beneficial

Think about the last time you volunteered to do some work for a community group.  Might have been small, like ushering for one evening event or maybe large like months of planning for an all day festival.  Why did you do it?  How did the leaders of the group “rope you in” to giving up that much time in your life?  You might answer similarly to me.  Here are some other possible reasons:

  • You want to help achieve a great goal.
  • You enjoy recognition and feedback about your work.
  • You seek an avenue for personal growth.
  • You wish to give something back to the community.
  • You want to bring about social change on a larger scale by working with others.
  • Your family needs help and support.
  • You are seeking friendship, support, bonding and a feeling of belonging.

When we volunteer based on any one or more of these reasons we are motivated, energetic and worth our weight in gold to the communities we serve.

Agile Connection

You might ask what volunteering has to do with agile practices.  The more I work with agile, the more connections I see.  Some examples:

  • Introducing Agile Practices – When introducing agile practices to a traditional environment grass-roots and top down support must both be present.  The agile evangelist must gain the support of many at both the developer and management levels in the organization.  In other words, people at multiple levels of the organization must volunteer to participate.
  • Planning – Frameworks like Planning Poker help draw all participants into the planning process.  The Product Backlog, estimating, etc. rely on input from stakeholders and developers alike.  They are expected to volunteer this information into the process.
  • Daily Meeting – A fully performing team does not wait for the Scrum Master or other person to direct the meeting.  Each participant volunteers to report what is done, what will be done and any impediments.
  • Retrospective – Ever been in a retrospective where the participants don’t offer any input or feedback?  Doesn’t work unless people volunteer information and honest evaluation.
  • Self Organizing – Teams used to being told what to do have a hard time volunteering for self control.  And that is what it takes to self organize.

Command and control is the antithesis of volunteering.  A leader that uses command and control will never get the high energy, power and creativity that a dedicated team of volunteers can produce.

Getting Agile Volunteers

I have found that participating as a volunteer worker or leader in community projects is a valuable experience.  I watch myself and others to learn why we volunteer.  I watch the leaders to learn how they nurture the volunteers and the organization.  Look at the list of reasons one might volunteer for a community organization.  It’s probable the developers and managers in your work place are looking for many of those same things!  Volunteering experiences can be reapplied to transform reluctant agile participants into powerful volunteers!

Do you volunteer or lead community volunteer organizations?  What have you learned about creating “volunteers” for your business and team’s success?


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  1. Ignite Phoenix: For the Agile Mind « Dayley Agile - September 30, 2009

    […] Phoenix: For the Agile Mind 2009 September 30 by dayleyagile In a previous post on volunteering, I metioned my work with Ignite Phoenix.  It is a powerful force for creativity, energy and […]

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