Sustainable Pace

April 3rd, 2011

Scrum and Happiness Research

In contrast to conventional economic theories, in which utility is solely modeled as a good (like money) and people base their decisions on rationality alone, happiness research introduces another aspect of utility, called procedural utility. It doesn't measure the result of a process, but assumes that utility is also generated as a byproduct.

For example, a typical aspect of procedural utility is the experience of fairness, for example, in democracies compared to dictatorships: People may not live differently in any of the above, but the feeling alone of having a say has been measured as contributing to well-being. Or think of the different ways of price-generation in markets: forbidding cartels or monopolies lets people assume a price is fair, even though it might not be different without these laws.

Psychologists have identified three main sources of procedural utility
- Autonomy
- Relatedness
- Competence

Autonomy means that you are in charge of your actions and are not controlled by other individuals or institutions. Relatedness is the desire to be connected to others, being a respected member of social groups. Competence is the feeling of being capable and to be in control of the situations you are in.

To me, the parallels to Scrum are obvious. In Scrum you are part of a self-organizing team, which allows the experience of autonomy. No other party interrupts during a sprint, and the team is responsible for its actions. Being part of that team caters to the need of relatedness. It's not up to an individual to solve a problem, people can rely on each other and support each other. The exchange of ideas in a cross-functional team results in steady learning, which presumably fosters not only relatedness, but also competence. If you are stuck with a problem, you easily feel isolated, but within a team these situations should not be an individual's burden. So it's not only competence, but also the absence of helplessness.

So Scrum is not only a way to become more efficient, it's also designed to enhance well-being. I think it's important to have both aspects in mind when introducing Scrum. Its purpose lies not exclusively in finding a better way to make people go faster, but also in respecting and trusting people in order to build long-term relationships, which results in continuous win-win situations. I truly believe that these long-term benefits will become measurable in future economic models.

(This blog post is based on a chapter in "Happiness - A Revolution In Economics". I will write a review in the near future.)