The 7 Habits of Highly Effective…Agile Teams, part-1

In 1989, Stephen Covey published the book – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. At the time, the book took the business world by storm mostly because it scaled beyond the individual, to the team and the organization.

I was teaching an agile workshop the other day and I used the phrase “Sharpen the Saw” as an example of continuous learning and continuous improvement. I caught myself and I asked the class who had heard of The 7 Habits and this notion of sharpening the saw. Only about a third of the class raised their hands.

Then it hit me that The 7 Habits has a generational nature to it. In my boomer generation it was nearly a universally known model. But now 25 years have passed since it’s publication and many of today’s team members and leaders haven’t been exposed to the thinking framework or model.

That’s the first intent of this post, to (re) expose you to The 7 Habits. The second part of the post is to “map” the habits towards agile teams. I personally think there’s great synergy (pun-intended) between The 7 Habits and the agile methods. But that mapping and the value of it are up to you to determine.

I’m simply pointing you in that direction…

To set a baseline, here are The 7 Habits with brief explanations drawn from the :

  1. Be Proactive

Talks about the concept of Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. Work from the center of your influence and constantly work to expanding it. Don’t sit and wait in a reactive mode, waiting for problems to happen (Circle of Concern) before taking action.

  1. **Begin with the End in Mind

Envision what you want in the future so you can work and plan towards it.

  1. **Put First Things First

Talks about the difference between Leadership and Management. Leadership in the outside world begins with personal vision and personal leadership. Talks about what is important and what is urgent. Priority should be given in the following order:

1) Important and Urgent

2) Important and Not-Urgent

3) Not Important and Urgent

4) Not important and Not-Urgent

  1. Think Win-Win

Genuine feelings for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

  1. Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood

Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.

  1. **Synergize

Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals that no one could have done alone.

  1. **Sharpen the Saw

Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. It primarily emphasizes exercise for physical renewal, prayer (meditation, yoga, etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. It also mentions service to society for spiritual renewal.

** – particularly focused towards the agile methods.

The Agile “application” of – The 7-Habits

  1. Be Proactive

I see a lot of agile teams who get “stuck” in their retrospectives, with 80-90% of the points that come from the retro pointing upwards or outwards. That is, they are someone else’s responsibility to change or improve. The teams feel that they’ve done their job in bringing them up, now it’s someone else’s responsibility to actually fix them.

While there are certainly many things outside of the teams’ sphere of influence, I’d argue that many of the items I see ARE for the team. They just need to take a more proactive, incremental change approach to things in order to effect improvement.

Another example is with the ScrumMaster. Often teams view the SM role as some sort of administrative assistant to the team. For example, for cross-team dependencies (within the team and across to other teams) they look to the SM to “glue things together”. I instead look to the entire team to be proactive in staying on top of and “managing” all of their dependencies.

  1. Begin With The End In Mind

Ah, this is one of my favorites. The first thing that comes to my mind is the anti-pattern I often see in agile teams where they sprint too quickly. That is, before they know where they’re going. This is one of the reasons I’m so bullish on Release Planning and Chartering for agile projects and teams. These tactics give the team a chance to plot their course at a high-level to assure they’re going in the right direction.

And don’t misunderstand me. I’m not recommending a level of planning or mindset where you don’t make adjustments. Of course you’ll need to make course corrections. But getting a sense for the “general direction” is never a bad idea.

I’ve been emphasizing sprint goals as a fundamental focus for teams in their sprint planning and execution. To me, this again points to beginning with the end in mind. Focus your sprint goal towards your demo. In other words, the entire team should be focusing on “what” will be demonstrated every day of the sprint.

Wrapping Up

When I started writing this post it wasn’t clear to me that there would be a great mapping between The 7 Habits and agile methods. But as I wrote and thought about each habit, I found strong and broad connections.

In fact, I think I’ll “dust off” The 7 Habits and start using it more in my classes and coaching. It resonates that well with me.

I hope you see the connection and this inspired you to dig a bit deeper into The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We’ll finish with habits 3-7 in my next post…

Stay agile my friends,


Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. Contact: [email protected]