Project Management

Why you need Science as well as empiricism to enroll management in Agile

From the Manifesting Business Agility Blog
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I read many articles from Agilists about the difficulties they have with management. I believe that many of these problems spring from many in Agile (Scrum in particular) being based on empiricism alone and not the scientific method. 

Empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. The scientific method adds rationalism to add theories as to why we get our experiences. The scientific method includes empiricism to validate its hypotheses. Without this ‘model of understanding’ people tend to discount new ideas – especially people who have been successful and think highly of their own ideas.  See Evidence Without Theory Is Often Ignored.

i think much of the challenge with enrolling stakeholders and management in Agile is that many Agilists don't present a model that they can understand. Stakeholders and managers have often risen to where they are by being competent and fixing problems. Agile not only has a history of ignoring them, but with Scrum, for over a decade vilifying them in a subtle way (chickens and pigs). This hasn't fostered trust. 

This background should not be ignored - it certainly isn't by many managers. When the time comes where a manager feels they need to get something done, they probably don't feel very included or respected by the team.  So managers having a bad attitude with Scrum teams shouldn't be a surprise. But let's look a little deeper. How can the team convince the manager that interrupting them is a bad thing? What rationale can they use? The answer is - "it's against the rules of Scrum." Do you really think a manager cares about this? They may feel they are against the rules of Scrum."

What managers need to know is why the interruption would be a bad thing. Not from the team's perspective, but from the organization's perspective. This is where Flow and Lean thinking are quite useful. They present a scientific hypothesis on why injecting delays add waste, slow development down and increase the chance of errors. Now, I'm not saying managers will necessarily listen to this either. But a good one would - at least if the cost of the interruption were higher than the cost of not doing the interruption.

It also provides a basis for conversation and collaboration between the manager and the team. Empiricism alone won't enable this conversation - at best it would only create an agreement to try things. But managers have certainly experienced problems with imposed delays. If the situations are quite different, the abstractions (theory) that Flow and Lean provide may bridge the gap between manager and team. But without that, the manager may feel compelled just to impose his thinking on the team instead of just trusting them.   

Posted on: January 04, 2020 05:55 PM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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Dear Al
Interesting reflection on the topic
Thanks for sharing

The example you illustrated is very curious.
Use new approaches and work methods without changing organizational structure

I am not sure I understand your comment. Are you suggesting we use approaches without changing organizational structure? Many times that's what's required.

But can you comment on the connection I've made - whether you see it or don't agree with it.

Dear Al
Thank you for responding to my comment on your article.

I think new ways of working will only be possible if organizational structures change

At the very least you have to change the organization's management philosophy

I believe that often happens a manager interrupts the work of a team
My question is: is the manager who interrupted the work in line with the company's management philosophy?

On the other hand, I consider it important to clarify the concepts:
Empiricism and Scientific Method

Hi Al, I’ve enjoyed this chat on Twitter. I think you could invert the sense of the title and say “Science is better than empiricism through explanatory power” or use that as a subtitle. I like where you are going with this.

We are in total agreement. My point is that with empiricism as the Agile driver this is not going to happen. There is not motivation for the manager - no understanding that she can hang on to.

Management is the key to change in an organization, and Agile's empiricism does not give a manager anything to hold onto. It is the manager's role to change the structure of the organization so that it is more effective.

See Improving Your Company's Culture

So while I agree with your comment - it appears to not address my supposition - that without a model of why Agile works, managers are likely to not abide by it.

Hi AI,

Really good knowledge I have learned from this blog.


Rajon - thanks for letting me know. I was afraid it might be a bit tenuous to folks.

Thanks. I might rename it to :
Why you need Science as well as empiricism to enroll management in Agile.

Great post- liked the read. I liked the point of the managers and interruption and explaining why the interruption is bad for the organization.

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