“Seventy-one percent of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their work,” according to a recent Gallup poll. This is certainly a dismal message for those interested in an Agile revolution, since the heart of agility is based around intelligent adaptation, and those who don’t care are unlikely to expend energy adapting.

Methods like Scrum and Kanban focus on creating environments where team members can get into flow, but they by no means assure that workers will be imbued with the drive necessary to be truly outstanding. Much of the coaching work we’ve done over the years at LitheSpeed has shown that simply getting people interested in improving can be quite the challenge.

While there are no pat solutions for this complex issue, we’ve been working hard to discern effective approaches. From fun exercises that engage the mind in learning to facilitation tricks that make work seem a bit more like play to team building exercises that leverage emotional connections, the “engagement tools” in coaches’ toolboxes are often even more useful than the process and technical expertise that are so often focal points.

One somewhat unusual tack that we’ve lately adopted is approaching things from the tooling angle; while this might seem strange as a solution to something so arcane as engagement, it turns out that many people turn to pursuits like games for this very reason. The fields of game design, psychology and marketing offer myriad insights into ways to excite people, and it is to these that we’ve turned in the development of Sensei, our first tool. In a nutshell, it focuses on continuous improvement, sidestepping the usual focus on backlogs and burndowns and attacking the problem of focusing, tracking and visualizing individual, team and organizational improvement activities.

Velocity, the most commonly touted metric used to measure agility, is unfortunately a poor indicator for engagement and team satisfaction, product quality, customer satisfaction, and even process quality. What Sensei does is gather observations about these elements, and show where they’re improving.

Our initial incarnation, focused on running retrospectives for local and remote teams, should be out within a month or so, and you can then see what the fuss is about. Until then, sign up to be notified of our first release, and let us know what you’d like to see in a continuous improvement tool, or ways you’ve found to drive engagement in your own teams.

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