An Agile Guide to Being Less of an Introvert

Yes, this is a personal post, and I’m trying to get across ideas I’m not hugely comfortable talking about. You’ve been warned and feel free to ignore it and wait until the next Alexa post.

So, a little context

So yeah, I’m an introvert, if you look up the definition you get words like “withdrawn” and “unsociable”. That’s me in any social setting; I can have a deep and meaningful conversation with one person I feel comfortable with – but I struggle to say anything if you put me in a group situation or with a stranger. And being around people, frankly, wears me out.

This logo at RedBubble pretty much sums it up

So this is fine, I’ve been used to it for a long time and I’ve accepted myself – I can’t change the way I think, and I wouldn’t want to because the strange way my mind works gives me the stuff I like too. I’m all good.

Except there’s a wrinkle in my plan to just trundle on the same as ever. I caught wind of a tech meetup that I was really interested in, and despite my worry I’m so interested I attend…and I really enjoy it.

Meetups on the outside

When I first started attending meetups I was how I always am, it was just another social setting.

  • Tried to sit on my own if I could
  • When someone nearby tried to make conversation, I struggled to answer with more than one word.
  • Didn’t engage in the Q&A at the end of a talk, even if I had questions

The tech community here are incredibly welcoming and I did this for quite a while, and that was okay, I was learning and finding out about new things and I never once felt forced or under pressure to do or interact in any way I didn’t want to.

Except it wasn’t okay, Part of being used to be on the outskirts of social situations is that you get very good at observing people and behavior, and the more I turned up the more I saw the people who were catching up with friends and saying hi to those they hadn’t seen for a few months and really interacted and they got so much more out of the event than I was.

I wanted that.

But I also knew who I was, not my first rodeo so to speak. So I spoke to my family about the desire to do this, and the fact that even talking about doing something “social” genuinely scared me.

So, as much as I dislike the phrase, I started a journey. I tried out some ideas we’d had and I tried to see what worked and what didn’t and I am now, I feel, getting better at the whole social thing. Still a long way to go – but I can have conversations with people (I very rarely start them myself, but I can have them), when I turn up at meetups there are people I catch up with and come catch up with me. It’s a start.

Okay. But Agile?

Well, yeah. Yesterday I was asked about any tips that I might have to handle this kind of scenario, and I really struggled to put what had happened to me into words. I kept coming back to the idea that it’s a mindset change. That for better or worse – resonated with how we often have to discuss Agile when you’re trying to describe it from the outside in. Taking situations you’ve handled a hundred times and learning to handle them in a new way.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to fit into Agile, I’m using it because it allows a technical person to better get to grips with the conceptual side. I’m going to take liberties with it straight off the bat, if you’re reading this because of your love of the agile framework – you probably aren’t the target audience and continuing will only get you angry.

1 – Right now you’re thinking epics and initiatives, not stories

You know what you want, you want to be “more sociable at a meetup”, or even more plainly “I want tech friends I can hang out with outside of a meetup”.

Good. But understand that’s like writing “I want to write a website” and you’ve just done File->New

Really think about what good looks like in your mind, what characteristics does that entail? For me – being able to do the small talk thing was a big one, that’s a thing I can work on, and that’s not the same as starting a conversation – that’s a seperate thing, I can handle that in my own time, ramp up.

If this is scary, start small. Tackling the whole thing in one go is an easy way to feel like you’re failing when in fact you’re learning.

2 – Clear acceptance criteria

Okay, so we’re focusing on small talk. That’s our thing. How much do you hate it when you’re working on a story but you’re not sure if you’ve really ticked the box because there’s no or badly written acceptance criteria?

“Do small talk” isn’t going to help anyone. But there’s that meetup next week, maybe try and hold small talk with 1 person once at that meetup. Would that tick a box? Okay then – that’s what good looks like for this.

(Now really if you do that, it’s done, so maybe “small talk” is still an epic? and each of these is a story, or you add tasks to your story? Again, Agile isn’t the big issue here!)

You may not achieve this first time, or second, but the important thing is to have the goal and make it achievable eventually. And actually….

3 – Fail fast, fail often

I failed a lot, especially when I upped my goals to “two small talks”, and the first one either wiped me out or made me withdraw because it was uncomfortable.

This is not easy, it’s not quick, and there’s no bootcamp you can take to get to grips with it. The best way to tackle this is to keep trying, and understand that you won’t like it at first. You may never like it – but you’ll understand the experience and appreciate the end result.

You’ve got three meetups in a week? (lucky so and so) don’t overreach, keep the goal, but attempt it at two. You need to keep enjoying the events, and if you push too much you can have a negative reaction to the event rather than the fact you’re pushing too hard.

You fail in code, you figure it out, you try a new approach to make the goal work.

This. You’re the code. Refactor.

4 – Retros are still super important

You had a goal, you tried, did you succeed? You have to take time to objectively look at what happened and how that’s made you feel.

If it worked – what made it work? If not – can you really look at why not?

Like all retros it’s not blame, it’s outcomes. You’re trying, but maybe you were tired after a long day and not in the right mindset, maybe you’d grabbed a coffee beforehand and were a little more energised so it worked out?

You’re a tech person, you’ve an analytical mind, use it to your advantage.

5 – You need a scrum master

My daughter was my scrum master. She made sure I was doing the ceremonies – that I had a story to work on when I went to a meetup, the morning after “how was the meetup, did you get your small talks done?”. She was the one I had the retro with – because she loved feeling like she was helping her dad be as sociable as she already was.

Find someone you trust and be honest about the goal you have. They don’t have to help, that’s on you, but they’ll give you the nudge to think about it, to stick with it, to talk about how things went and help that objectivity you may lack when things aren’t going well.

6 – Build your project around a good team

This one. This one I’m struggling to write.

Okay – so you’re the development team, you’re the PO with the priorities, you’re a stakeholder in the result. But the team? They’re the most important thing. They’re the people you’re building this with. The people you meet.

You won’t get on with everyone. Not everyone is going to be a small talk success, and not everyone is going to try and be. That’s okay.

But when you find someone who makes your evening better, that makes you think and laugh and care and want to genuinely know more about whatever thing you’ve started talking about? They’re part of your team.

I use this analogy because introverts often have trouble admitting they have “friends” – because that is a big thing, a rare and scary thing, something that they struggle with understanding and keeping.

But a team? We’ve often had those. And as with any new team they’re worth spending time on, putting effort in to get to know – because it makes your goals easier to achieve. Because they’ll help without a second thought, and you can go to them and say “I’m struggling getting this story done”.

I’m incredibly lucky in this regard. The community I’m part of have been accepting of my difficulties long before I was prepared to admit them and way before I was prepared to talk about them. I would do anything for them, they’re the best.

I’ve done small talk – I’ve completed all the stories – now what?

You finish the log in journey on the website, are you done?

There’s always another feature, something more you want to achieve.

There’s tech debt – things you messed up on the way. Actively work to fix them, tidy them up, make things better, talk to the person you messed up.

Because it’s easy to write advice you don’t follow, if I had to put a title on my current epic it’s “staying on the team” – I have people I want in my life even when there aren’t meetups, but I don’t feel I know them well enough to randomly reach out – to find them on social media and say hi, to check in when I have nothing to say.

My current story is literally that: “say hi to someone you wish you could talk to outside of a meetup” – because normally I just wait until the meetup, and that’s not right, how can I make a friendship without the effort? And it’s not the effort that’s stopping me – it’s the fear of intruding, of crossing a boundary (in my head there are lots of lines that you need to worry about crossing, none of which anyone else has had yet – that’s a common retro item!)

If you’ve been through an agile process in a team then you know it takes time to get your head to think about things right, going against your learnt behavior and your natural instinct is very much the same. You’re an introvert – but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways of achieving the social goals you’re after by applying the same logic you would to any other problem you’re asked to solve.

Let me know if you’ve any other suggestions I can add to the list. I’m going to hit publish before being this open about personal stuff stops me.