Enemies of Agile: Bad Language #1 “Resource”

Words and phrases are like viruses in that they spread from one person to another who essentially then become ‘infected’. They become an engrained habit. There’s a word which I have been trying to kick for some time. As a word in its own right it’s quite beautiful. It sounds great. However, within the context I refer to in this article, it really is a bad word, a terrible word. Like all words, it underlies a world view, a way of thinking.

The word in question is:

“Resource”

More specifically, it’s when the word resource is used to refer to people. This is so engrained in business and project management culture that people do no not even blink when it is used. We refer to “human resources” and almost all businesses of any size have a dedicated “Human Resources” department (more on that later).

If you look up the definition of resource in the Oxford English Dictionary, people are ranked alongside money, materials and assets. I personally find that a bit degrading.

Interestingly, if you look up the definition of “natural resource” it refers to “materials” and “components” such as timber, fresh water, mineral deposits, etc. This is what the average person would think of as “natural resources”. Note that animals are not prominent in this definition of “natural resources”. So the animals managed to escape the moniker ‘resource’. It’s only us, the highest order of animals that are stuck with the label! We have only ourselves to blame of course, so that’s OK.

What has this go to do with Agile? Well, everything of course. Agile is ultimately about people. People working together collaboratively to achieve common goals. People treating each other with respect, the bedrock of teamwork. So let’s stop referring to each other as ‘resource’ please. Isn’t that just a little bit disrespectful? I would say more than a little bit.

Language is the vehicle for thought. Thoughts are the furnace of behaviour. Behaviour is the driving force of any business. While ever we refer to our fellow colleagues as ‘resource’ this will influence the way we think about them and ultimately behave towards them.

One behaviour which I see a lot is that people move ‘resources’ around from one place / team / project / department to another. On paper and as a ‘resource’ it makes perfect sense and is easily executed’. The aspect that is so commonly overlooked is how this change is going to affect this living, breathing person. Are they consulted or at least informed in advance? In advance of the rest of the company? Are they asked how they ‘feel’ about it? Yes, some resources have feelings.

You may be thinking this is really unfair and I am exaggerating but I see this time and time again and have been on the receiving end of this sort of treatment many times.

Is the word ‘resource’ really to blame? I strongly believe it plays a significant part in such bad thinking and bad behaviour. It smacks of the old business world, the ‘Waterfall” world of Projects, management hierarchies, business silos and HR Departments.

OK I said it. HR Department. The answer or phrase “You need to speak with HR” has such bad connotations doesn’t it? The usual response is probably to not bother. This is unfair as most “HR” people or shall we say most HR ‘resources’ (irony intended) I have met are wonderful people. Actually ‘people people’ as they say.

Instead of “Head of HR”, how about “Chief People Officer”? If people are so important, the most important thing of all, then this role deserves to be ranked along side CFO, CEO, CTO, etc.

This really is a simple problem to solve. Although a difficult habit to kick. Bad language sticks. But the first step like any bad habit is to see it for what it is, a bad habit. Then the journey of recovery begins.

The solution doesn’t even need stating. Just call people, people. Our people. The team. The designers. The developers. If you really have to, call them staff. After all, the people are the ‘Staff of Power’ :)

People are resourceful, they are not resource.

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