The Chore Problem

In an equal partnership, both sides feel like they are doing more than their fair share.  It may seem like a paradox, but consider that the work that you do is immediate, tangible, and fully known by you.  Every bit that had to be worked out is in your memory, because you did the work.  Your partner’s work, on the other hand, while you may understand the outcome of it, cannot be as detailed in your own perception as your work.  Thus, two people, each doing the exact same amount of work, each feeling like they have done more than their partner.  In a successful partnership, both sides accept this inequality with grace, invert it through humility, or fail to register it entirely.  Others argue about who’s doing more of the chores.

This problem can be explosive in project management.  If you have one or two, even a handful, of people on your team who feel like they are doing more than the people around them and – this is key – feel this is an injustice, you’ve got the seeds of dissension.  Let these things simmer, and they will boil over.  Agile has a number of tools for handling this.  For example, at the daily stand-up, the group establishes a consensus about where they are and where they will be when they next meet.  This helps make the work that everyone does more visible; sprint planning has a similar function.  Even more powerful is the sprint review, because there people can demonstrate the work they have done, what they have accomplished, how they have contributed.

Agile is not the be-all and end-all.   You can accomplish the same goals through milestone reviews, team meetings, peer review processes, pairs programming, etc.  But, keeping your team calibrated, efficiently communicating how everyone is contributing, acknowledging and rectifying any deficits, and celebrating the accomplishments of the team (through individuals) can help to promote a culture of mutual respect.  In diverse, cross-functional teams, this can be a challenge, but leadership is about stepping into those vacuums when no one else even recognizes the dynamic.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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