Motivation Over Talent and Process

Processes are not enough to make people more competent. You need motivation first, or everything else won’t work.

At the Agile Eastern Europe conference in Ukraine I did a session about competence. It got great feedback from the audience. Comments like “best of the conference” and “this should have been the keynote” were expressed multiple times.

Am I bragging?

No! YES! OK, just a little. But I’m trying to make a point here:

I believe I got great feedback not because I’m more talented than others. I’m not! And I don’t get such reviews because I have the best process for doing presentations. I don’t! (If I was good at the process I would be supplying hand-outs, instead of insulting half the audience.)

I’m convinced I only got this feedback because I’m better motivated to be competent. I actually read the books about presenting, and blogs about public speaking. And I actively pursue feedback from audiences, so I can learn how to do better. Why? Because becoming competent is my intrinsic motivation. I might be weird. (Actually I am, since I’m Dutch.) But I simply like it much better than being incompetent!

I am highly motivated to learn and develop myself, to grow relationships with peers, to understand how to make best use of presentation tools, to learn how to express ideas so other people understand them, and to grow into a role as a competent speaker. I think it’s this motivation that pays off. Much more than “talent,” or processes. (I admit I’m good at insulting people of other nationalities. But that’s not a talent. It’s a genetic defect in Dutch DNA.)

One of the slides in my talk showed the CMMI model, which tells us that a level-5 organization has a focus on continuous process improvement. When I asked the audience what was wrong with the CMMI levels, Mary Poppendieck called out to say that continuous process improvement should be the first level. Because that’s where real competence development should begin. And I agree. It’s why I believe that continuous reflection should come before other practices.

However, there is another reason why I think that the CMMI framework is insufficient. My concern has to do with the focus on process in each of the five levels. I believe the processes we use in our work are just one part of software projects, and just one part of ourselves as professionals. A competent speaker, and a competent team member, does more than just continuously improving processes. The first thing he does is to motivate himself.

Being competent means: being eager to learn and develop oneself, growing relationships with peers, understanding how to make best use tools, coaching other people, and growing into a role as an informal competency leader. And apologizing sincerely to Belgians for offensive honesty.

Of course, talent and process will help you achieving competence. But first of all, you must want it.

I very much want to be competent at what I do.

Do you?

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  • Sameh Zeid

    I think “process” and “software development” are oxymoron. CMMI advocates documentation of the processes. CMMI implies that people are fungible, because the process can be implemented by anyone.
    For me this is untrue!
    I totally support that “motivation” is the way to bootstrap improvement and to become competent!

  • Bruno

    Excelent article!
    I have this constant concern that processes overlook people. And some implementations I “survived” in the past were a lot focused on the metrics rather than the problems they should solve.
    And somewhere in the middle there goes creatively.

  • Eric

    Improving the process will get you some improvements in your end product, but the real returns on investment can come from improving your people. By getting your teams well-trained, or even better, highly motivated, or, even better, truly inspired, you can make great strides. The challenge is finding the right people and giving them a challenge that gives them that inspiration.
    ‘Being good at what you do’ is a great place to start. The right people will gravitate to that vision instinctively.

  • oddbjorn

    What you’re describing is more a journey than a destination, so I’m not sure ‘competent’ is the right word here. My dentist may be competent for the tasks at hand at the moment, but without learning and curiosity of better ways of doing his craft, will likely not remain so in an ever-changing world. Continious Personal Improvement, if you will.

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