Here’s Why Agile Team Members’ Brains Grow Constantly

Here’s Why  Agile Team Members’ Brains Grow Constantly

Prabhaker Panditi - Agile and Neuroplasticity If you are working on an Agile team, chances are your brain’s physical structure changes every day.  It is  growing more neural connections and making strong neural wiring. In effect your brain is evolving in ways that you did not realize.



“O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circle orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable” cries Juliet to her love in William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’   What Juliet and even Neuroscientists until recently did not know was that  the very brain that swears changes its structure and function with each experience, each thought and each act including, unfortunately for Juliet,  swearing!  Your brain evolves continuously by forming new neural connection throughout life – a process known as Neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is good news. You can rewire your brain with every thought.  Any activity that needs mental focus like sustained thinking and problem solving improves your brain.  The more you use reasoning skills, the better your brain gets at it.  Even your IQ score may go up!

Frequency of thinking

Not being a Neuroscientist myself, I am using the word ‘thinking’ in the limited sense of planning, focused problem solving and exploration of alternatives.  All project teams have to think, regardless of the process used.  This is obvious.  The method adopted, though, alters the frequency and type of thinking needed at each stage of the project. In waterfall, a lot of thinking goes on in the beginning. Team then move on to execution, which itself will need a different type of thinking. Agile teams, however, explore more often.  The cycle of problem solving and execution repeats every two to four weeks, depending on the iteration length.   

The following table shows some Agile activities, their frequency and the thinking that goes on in each activity.

Stand-ups Daily Achievements since the previous day, plan for the day and impediments.
Pair programming Daily The observer pays total attention to the code being written, constantly thinks about alternatives, possible bugs, larger picture and design improvement.
Sprint planning 2-4 weeks Each team member thinks about the problem and the solution, considers others’ views and constantly adjusts his own thoughts.
Sprint retrospective 2-4 weeks What was the commitment and how well did the team do? What went well and what did not? Does the team need to change anything or introduce new practices?

Agile and Neuroplasticity

The activities shown in the table above or topics discussed in each one are not exhaustive!  There are several other situations and ceremonies that make Agile teams think more often.  The sheer frequency with which teams shift between thinking and doing is unique to Agile. And the results on their brains will be different.   

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”90%” height=”” background_color=”#f6fcc7″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” rounded_corners=”false” ]The sheer frequency with which teams shift between thinking and doing is unique to Agile. And the results on their brains will be different.[/dropshadowbox]

Compare a person who exercises for an entire week continuously to someone who spreads the same exercise over several weeks. Even if the total amount of exercise is identical, the results will be dramatically different.


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3 Signs of Radical Agile Transformation

Agile Transformation (Image Courtesy - Roland Ally,

What indicates  radical Agile transformation?

a)  All the organizations’ projects now using Agile.

b) The organization now follows most of the Agile practices.

c) None of the above.

If you have answered ‘C’, congratulations. “Radical Agile Transformation” indicates a larger change. A shift in the culture of the organization. A rewriting of its DNA.  Using Agile in projects is a good step, but no guarantee that transformation has taken place.   Agile Principles and Practices are only the means. They are not an end in themselves.

Ends may vary.  One company may set a modest goal while another aims for a complete metamorphosis. Regardless of the goals, three broad things show a radical organization wide Agile transformation.

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The Shrink Law of Agile

Shrink Law of Agile, Prabhaker Panditi -

Parkinson’s Law meets its match: The Shrink Law of Agile

How long does it take to paint the Statue of Liberty?  If a team has hundred days to clean The Titanic, how many days will they take to do it?  What if they have fifty days, instead of hundred?  Though hard to believe,  the answer to each of these questions may be same.  Each task will take the time allocated for it!

That’s Parkinson’s Law at work. Work increases to fill the time available.

C. Northcote Parkinson introduced the Law in his article in the Economist in 1955.  “The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may… leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil” he declared. Originally aimed at the  bureaucracy, you can see the Law at work in everyday situations.   The Law may sound funny, outrageous, irrational, insulting…until you look at others’ work.  Not yours of course, other peoples’. 

The Law applies to almost all human endeavor.   Exceptions are only few.  Agile  is one of them.

When the going gets tough, the tough…lower goals.

Agile not only ignores Parkinson’s Law, it actually reverses it…to start with. 

In Agile,  work reduces to fill the time available. Reduces!  I call it the Shrink Law of Agile.

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