Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So if Agile Principle #4 was kind of heavy, Agile Principle #5 is a bit more philosophical – but also is very thought-provoking. It states:

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

This one makes a lot of sense. Make sure you have motivated people, give them what they need, and trust them. It’s a great principle, and having seen the opposite applied, I can assure you it leads to failure when you don’t do this.

But some creatives are solo acts. So let’s add on to this:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. This applies to any size of team, from yourself to a large group.

There. Now it applies to everyone from a hundred people to you alone working on a project. In fact, imagining how this applies just to you helps you understand how it applies to a team. Let’s take a look at this Principle:

Build Projects . . .

It may seem weird to focus on just two words, but the fact this is about projects is important. Projects have defined goals (even if they change) and ends (or potential to end). It’s important to have bounded activities and goals – and not just for direction or signoff.

Having a project focus means you can evaluate progress, know what you want to accomplish, and know when you’re done. That’s vital to retain motivation and interest in these projects. People who feel motivated may loose it if they’re going in loops and don’t know if they’re accomplishing anything.

This is even more important when talking Agile for creatives. Creative projects can go in all sorts of directions, never end, never be broken down. Infinite possibility gives you infinite ways to never complete the work.

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Having defined projects helps you set goals and directions for yourself.
  • Having defined projects keeps you from trying to keep all the information in your head – having notes, spreadsheets, etc. keeps you from having to juggle that in your head.
  • Having defined projects will keep you motivated.
  • Having defined projects lets you share them when needed – say, if you need help.

 . . . around motivated individuals.

Quick, when’s the last time you worked iwth unmotivated individuals? Did you measure it in years, months, days, or minutes? Were you an unmotivated person?

Forget any happy motivational speaker talk, let’s be honest – unmotivated people do awful work. Many, many projects fail or are done halfway because of poor motivation. Many managers and leaders never pay for their awful job at motivating and finding motivated people.

Meanwhile, truly motivated people can achieve a great deal. Motivation is instinctive, and thus it guides and directs, inspires and drives; a truly motivated person brings their entire set of skills and interests and knowledge to a project.

If you want to have a project succeed, you want to find people who are motivated and motivate those there. I will state for the record many, many people are utterly terrible at this.

Motivation is a necessary part of any Agile method as it’s a light, adaptable approach to work. It doesn’t rely on someone directing or provoking work, it relies on feedback, direct communication, and initiative. Un-motivated people give poor feeebdak, ask poorly for feedback, have issues with communicating, and have no initiative. Agile methods of any kind don’t work without some motivation.

That means it’s up to you on any project to encourage motivation in yourself and others – and to find it. This is an entire area you could study up on to improve your work and leadership, by the way.

For creative work, you can guess that this is somehow even more important. Creativity is visceral, and the gut-feel of motivation is necessary to drive creative work – or even to feel creative. Creatives who are unmotivated often have trouble doing work or their best work as they don’t have that visceral drive.

And most work has some creativity in it.

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Understand and evaluate your motivations – honestly.  This helps you appreciate, follow, and continue your motivation.
  • If you aren’t motivated, ask why.  It may be something to address – it may be a sign you’re on the wrong path.
  • It helps to have someone or someones to help you assess your motivations and state of mind in creative work.
  • Learn how to coach and motivate yourself.  Besides, it may be good practice for coaching and motivating others.

Give them the environment and support they need . . .

People need the right environment to succeed of course.  The right technology, the right information, the right lack of noise (or lack of lack of noise).

When it comes to creative works, this is even more important because creative activities require certain technologies, environments, equipment, and more people aren’t always aware of.  That monitor better have damned good color resolution for subtle artistic tweaks, you’ll want to get that bulk membership to a royalty-free photos site for digital work, and if your team works odd hours have the right chat software.  Creative work’s “right environment” may be something not easily apparent.

It helps of course to ask people what they need- and listen.  Which leads to . . .

People also need support.  They need someone to solve problems, address issues, back them up, give them the professional and personal help they need.

(If you ever worked with a job without good support, well, you know how well that went.  And why you’re probably not there).

For creative work, support is, much like the environment, something that will take effort to provide because of the many variables of creative work – and creative people.  Listen to people doing the work like writing, art, graphics, and so on to figure what support they need – and provide it.

If you are a creative, learn to listen to and support other creatives on your projects.  Creativity isn’t some magical spigot we turn on and off, and if you know that, you can help others.

By the way, on the subject of helping others, let’s get to helping yourself  . . .

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Be sure you have the right equipment for your creative works.  That may seem obvious, but it’s easy to miss (as I once found using the wrong monitor).
  • Make sure you develop an appropriate creative environment to work in.  Imagine you had to set it up for someone else, and go from there.
  • Support yourself as a creative – taking care of yourself, figuring what helps you be creative better, learning to take breaks, etc.
  • I find that for creatives, having a group of like minded creatives helps you in solo work – they have good advice and insights.  As may you.

. . .and trust them to get the job done.

Once you give people who are motivated the right environment, once you’ve got their back, go ahead and trust them to do the job.  Help, enhance, guide, offer, so what you can to assist.  But trust first (which may be hard when a mistake is made, but often they’re honest).

This is challenging in any situation – we’re taught not to trust people.  One of the most revolutionary things about Agile methods is the emphasis on trust and transparency, which is probably why they can be so disruptive.

Creativity, which is often variable, unpredictable, and personal makes that trust harder to give as it’s harder to understand what’s going on.  If you’re working with creatives, you’ll want to go the extra mile to trust them.  That’s also because . . .

. . . trust is somehow even more vital in creative works.  Because of the many variables there’s personal opinions, trial and error, and the need to experiment.  This means that creative works, in some ways, can go further afield before coming back to the point and may need even more feedback than most works.  Trust is essential for this – and to navigate the more esoteric issues you may encounter.

On a personal level, I think there’s also a kind of mistrust of creatives among people.  Folks may see them as lazy as their job seems enjoyable.  People may think they’re strange because of their work.  Others may assume they’re unreliable because of the many variables in their work.

Most of that is B.S.  But it’s a challenge for people.

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Trust yourself.  This is probably harder than trusting other creative people; we tend to be hard on ourselves.
  • A good way to trust yourself is to keep and review successes in recent works (I do this myself).

The Right People, The Right Environment, The Right You

The Fifth Agile Principle is one of the most wonderfully obvious, no-nonsense ideas that really calls out how easily you can do things wrong.  Get motivated people (or motivate them), give them what they need, stand back and trust them. Stuff gets done.

It bears repeating because, like many Agile Principles, the obvious gets missed.  That’s why we need them.

When it comes to creatives, this principle requires thoughtfulness and discretion because supporting creative works may require extra effort – especially if you’re not a creative type.  It’s one to keep in mind as you help people out.

And if you are a creative, hey – support yourself.  And support others doing creative work.


– Steve

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