While waterfall and agile projects have similar or even overlapping project activities, the cultural difference is very significant.

In contrast to classical project management, where the project manager assigns activities to team members, authorizes them and checks them for compliance, in an agile project there is no one who gives explicit instructions. The team organizes itself and everyone is committed to the team to do what is necessary to ensure success. This is a completely different approach and also the big advantage (or disadvantage if the team is not right).

Not every project team member can cope with the agile approach. A team member in an agile project must first and foremost be able to work in a team, i.e. to place his or her needs under the success of the group. In my experience, very extroverted people have more trouble than introverted people, because they tend to focus too much on themselves and not let others have their say.

For introverted personalities it is not easy at the beginning, because they do not like to exchange ideas with others, but the longer the project lasts, the greater the trust in the team will be and the employees will start to open up.

It is also very difficult for people who come from hierarchically oriented cultures to get involved in an agile team, because the work process is characterized by placing and receiving orders. Even class thinking, as it occurs in monarchy or caste cultures, is not really conducive to team thinking. This is all the more important the more global the project teams are set up.

What does it mean to be a team player? The following points (not exhaustive) are important here

  • To recognize the basic group democracy
  • Being prepared to place oneself in a group to an appropriate extent
  • To act together in a task-oriented way and to support the common cause
  • To have the will to communicate with others
  • Being able to leave one's own position in favor of compromises
  • To be able to accept other members and their opinions without wanting to dominate the group all the time
  • Accept different types of people and roles in groups
  • Working together to find a constructive solution in conflicts

However, the ability to work in a team does not mean

  • Complete subordination
  • loss of identity or personality

In addition to the ability of the employees to work in a team as a very important factor for a successful, agile project, there are other complex and not easily measurable components; the social competence and intelligence type.

The diagram below shows how these two factors affect the agility of a team

project phychology en

Crystalline versus fluid intelligence

Fluid intelligence includes the skills of problem solving, pattern recognition and learning. Someone with fluid intelligence likes to solve patience puzzles.

Crystalline intelligence, on the other hand, correlates with abilities that depend on knowledge and experience. These include vocabulary knowledge, general information and analogies.

There are several tests that can measure fluid/crystalline intelligence, such as

  • The Cattell Culture Fair IQ Test
  • Or the Raven Progressive Matrices (RPM), which is one of the most widely used measurements of fluid abilities. It is a non-verbal multiple choice test.

Fluid intelligence, like reaction time, has a peak in young adulthood and then decreases continuously. This reduction may be due to local atrophy of the right cerebellum.

 A lack of exercise associated with age-related changes in the brain could also be one of the causes. Crystalline intelligence increases gradually and then remains relatively stable throughout life. Only at the age of 65 does it seem to decrease again. Working memory is also closely linked to fluid intelligence.

These may be some of the main reasons that agile teams usually consist rather of younger project members, while older teams feel more comfortable in waterfall projects.

Social competence

In companies, the term "social competence" is often used synonymously with the so-called soft skills. However, the term "social competence" goes much further and also includes, for example, the ability to criticize and other personality traits such as resilience, frustration tolerance, etc.

Social competence is a key qualification for management and in this context describes the ability to bring 'team spirit' and motivation into cooperation with others (colleagues, customers, superiors, employees) and to use them for common goals.

In the context of projects, this means above all that you can deal well with other people from other professional circles or cultures. This is especially important for complex and/or global projects. There are no clear test procedures for social competence, which is why the manager's experience and "common sense" are paramount.

At project level, the two factors intelligence type and social components result in the following combinations

  • For projects within the functional area (e.g. lifecycle projects), the social competence requirements are rather low, since you work together with your own team and the project scope and technology are clearly defined, so that you can build on the experience you have already gained and apply it. Most of these projects are carried out as waterfall projects (see also Stacey Matrix).
  • In the field of innovation, one usually limits oneself to one's own area of expertise, but wants to improve something or do something different, which is why a higher degree of fluid intelligence is appropriate in the project. These projects are being carried out more and more in an agile way.
  • In cross-departmental projects, the demands on social competence increase as different groups from the organization work together. This also means that the scope of the project cannot always be well aligned, which is why these projects are classified as being complex. Here, too, agile project methods are often advantageous.
  • For interdisciplinary projects with high innovation one needs to be successful so-called pioneers, i.e. team members with a great need to cooperate with others and to pursue a goal paired with a desire to acquire and discover new knowledge. Such projects are by nature very agile.

Psychology in projects is currently not very well researched. However, such factors are very interesting for portfolio management because a properly assembled team for a specific project can reduce the risk and thus the project costs, which in turn increases the project benefit.

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