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In agile, “Resource” can be a 4-letter word

By Agile Velocity | Sep 13, 2016 |  Article,  Leadership,  Team

cubicles house people, not resources -- resources can be a 4 letter word in AgileSometimes I get emails from recruiters inquiring if we have open positions. The following is an example:

Good afternoon,

I was just wondering if you got any open spots for BA ( Financial ) or Network Admin.

I have these senior resources based out of CA but open to relocating nationwide.

Each time I receive these emails, I have to think about what he’s really saying. “Resources?” Oh…he’s talking about people. Then I get this icky feeling similar to when people hear the word Voldemort.

I grasped early on in my agile journey that “resources” can be a dirty word when used interchangeably with “people” or “person”.

By definition, it is accurate to refer to a person as a resource. According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Resource (n): A stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.

It’s the connotation that makes its usage provocative and careless.

A resource, like a computer, is easily replaceable. When it breaks, you can go to Best Buy, Apple, or Amazon and get the same model and it will perform in the exact same way.

This working definition breaks down if you need to replace a team member. It is much harder to find your next developer, test engineer, or ScrumMaster. While you can find candidates with similar skill sets, individuals have unique traits which are irreplaceable and contribute to a company’s culture. Culture has nothing to do with skills and everything to do with personal values and beliefs and can affect the company’s bottom line. The Society for Human Resource states that bad culture fit can cost a company 50 – 60% of their salary because of the resulting turnover.

Perhaps the usage of resources as people is a remnant of the assembly line. The first moving assembly line began in 1913 in an effort to make the Ford Model-T more affordable and thus “available to the multitude.” Ford created an 84-step process that lowered waste and increased production speed by analyzing flow, adjusting machines, creating new interchangeable parts, and utilizing division of labor. Ford staffed his assembly line with workers trained to do one task perfectly over and over again.

In the world of Knowledge Work, the assembly-line environment is not applicable. Creative problem solvers are needed to effectively deal with uncertainties and systems coming together. They are not easily swappable.

Next time you’re surveying the landscape, whether during team chartering or sprint planning, remember that agile values individuals over interactions and processes and tools. Using resource synonymously with “team member” dehumanizes the process and debases individuals.

Instead create a separate group–Genius Tribe, Human Capital, Winners, Family, Talent, Team –to describe the available brain power.  

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