Agile Practices and Social Nudges in the Workplace

Nudge-coverIn their best-selling book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness“, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein propose the adoption of interventions to “attempt to move people in directions that will make their lives better.” A nudge “alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.”

One classic example of a nudge is the “fly in the urinal”. Many public bathrooms face the problem of men’s lack of attention. To solve this problem, they place a sticker with the picture of a fly inside the urinal, and the result is that men aim at the fly as a target. Trials showed that this simple idea reduced spillage by 80%!

A special kind of nudge is the “Social Nudge”, which results from the interaction with other people. According to Thaler and Sunstein:

“Social influences come in two basic categories. The first involves information. If many people do something or think something, their actions and their thoughts convey information about what might be best for you to do or think. The second involves peer pressure. If you care about what other people think about you, then you might go along with the crowd to avoid their wrath or curry their favor.”

I believe that the success of Agile practices may be partially attributed to the Social Nudges created by changes in the team dynamics and by the richness of interactions among team members. Let’s consider the two social influences categories as discussed above:

Exchange of Information

Agile practices increase the amount of interactions among team members and also the depth of information exchanged among them. For example:

  • Daily stand-up meetings allow all team members to know what their peers are doing and to become aware of their particular contribution to the project.
  • Retrospective meetings allow the team members to think about ways to improve their own processes based on past experience.
  • Code reviews allow team members to learn from each other and develop improved coding standards and shared patterns.

In this environment rich of information exchange opportunities, the natural tendency for the team members is to adopt best practices and increase both their productivity and their satisfaction.

Peer Pressure

Agile practices increase the visibility of the work being performed by each team member, and thus increase also the peer pressure. For example:

  • Burn-down charts display clearly if a team member is making progress as originally estimated or if he is late in his work.
  • Velocity charts show the productivity of the team and will be negatively impacted if there is a team member who is working slower than others.
  • In the daily stand-up meetings each team member must say what he is going to do today, which serves as a public commitment to perform his task.

In this environment in which there is so much visibility of the progress and the commitments of each team member, a person certainly will not feel comfortable if he is under-performing in comparison to other members of the team.

In summary

Agile practices promote more opportunities for the exchange of information and for peer pressure, and thus create social nudges that result in improved performance and satisfaction.

What do you think? Did you experience these social nudges? Please share your opinion in the comments below.

About Hayim Makabee

Veteran software developer, enthusiastic programmer, author of a book on Object-Oriented Programming, co-founder and CEO at KashKlik, an innovative Influencer Marketing platform.
This entry was posted in Agile, Efficacy, Psychology of Programming and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Agile Practices and Social Nudges in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: The Psychology of Agile Software Development | Effective Software Design

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