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Motivation in an Agile Team

Motivation is an important personal skill to inspire individuals to reach a goal or diminish some kind of feelings like pain. Moreover, it may be beneficial to have a good motivation skill throughout your life.


The interesting image (left) shows an impossible thing–an ant is holding up a length of wood which is several times it’s own weight. But this picture reveals that weakness can turn into great strength with excellent motivation.

Did you ever see a horse or a dog jump through a fire ring during a circus performance? They have been trained to complete the action.  It’s human beings nature to encourage and overcome difficulty, get better, rise to the challenge in his/her job and life. In different context, the motivation technique may be different while there are some general ones:

Write down a good feeling of accomplishment. Each time you complete a task or activity, write down the good feeling on a board. Next time, when you doubt going to do a task, look at the board and recall back the good feeling you felt once you completed that task.

Step little with little feet. When you are overwhelmed and tasks are in backlog, breakdown tasks and think of them as little hurdles.  Divide a task into manageable units using time limitations, which helps you to take little steps to get major things done incrementally, rather than get overwhelmed up front.

Make use of Vision-board. To use a vision-board is to collect the images such as your favorite person, sport and which will help you to be more focused on a goal. In software development engineering, we can also draw up our roadmap and put it on the wall. Each day by looking at the vision-board we will feel the valued work and feel that it is progressing and developing through the completion of the challenging task.

Not sure if you know a top popular book about motivation by Dan Pink titled “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“. In this book, Dan contrasts the traditional motivation techniques (rewards and punishment) with three new essentials critical to motivation in today’s creative industries: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Motivation techniques are also the key to an agile team, particularly for a scrum team.  These key elements mentioned in the book are also quite essential and could be well mapped to agile team principle.

  • Autonomy – Originally it stands for the desire to direct our own lives. In other words, the people (or the team) should have the ability to make decisions by themselves. This is crucial to the natural characteristics for an agile team. Each individual in the team is supposed to be self-committed and the team can make decisions for each item in most all activities. In a scrum team, the scrum master is responsible for building communication between the team and the product owner, helping remove any hurdles that interfere with work progressing. The team can feel empowered to express ideas, propose solutions reacting to the change. In agile 21 principles, it clearly states the autonomy for the team:


Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.


  • Mastery – The concept is quite simple: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. This is a natural characteristic for an individual, and it is not different in an agile development team. Individuals and interactions are important in an agile team and they are respected and paid much attention to by team management. Each individual in an agile team works hard to catch up with schedule, pursue an excellent architecture and ensure a working product for the customer. To make the team responsive to environmental or requirement change, the team has to improve their business understanding, technical ability – motivating themselves on the road to become a Master. At the end of a single sprint, the team reviews the historical activity/plan and lists out action items in retrospective, which is also a great part for Mastery.
  • Purpose – the last one brought up by Pink is purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. Usually we do something with a reason, so the agile team should have a big picture for their development work. The lead (or scrum master) should make sure that the team knows about the values that need to be delivered to the customer. The final goal is to delight the customer. It is encouraged to have a team member work with a business person frequently so to ensure the  project is moving forward in the right direction. The scrum team will do a demonstration to the client at the end of  the sprint to showcase the added values to the customer. Note that the good demonstration for deliverables can also motivate the team due to accomplishments.

Comparing to traditional software development model, the agile team has many advantages such as self-organization that enables them to be a well, self-motivated and creative team with the support from their manager.


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Kent Jiang

Currently I was working in Perficient China GDC located in Hangzhou as a Lead Technical Consultant. I have been with 8 years experience in IT industry across Java, CRM and BI technologies. My interested tech area includes business analytic s, project planning, MDM, quality assurance etc

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