The Reluctant Agilist

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Generation Agile


When I posted on twitter earlier this week about the presentation my wife and I gave at the Global Scrum Gathering, Paris 2013, on The Agile Girl Scouts, a friend of mine asked me to put some context around it. He was able to understand that this was a pretty big deal to me, but was't sure why. My hope is that this blog post will provide some explanation around that.

 

The Waterfall

Most adults in the workforce today have learned how to manage work using a waterfall model. That means work follows something along these lines:

  • Initiation - We figure out what we need to do
  • Planning - We figure out how we are going to do it
  • Execution - We do it and try to follow the plan as best we can
  • Monitoring and Controlling - We check to see if what we delivered is what was wanted
  • Closing -  We shut it down and capture what we've learned along the way.

 

Bag of Oranges Days

For many of the people who adopt this method, success comes from a command and control approach. This approach tends to view people as "resources" which are expended on a project to achieve a specific end. In the IT space, it has a history of being successful about 30% of the time. For the person acting as Project Manager, it often leads to a lot of "bag of oranges" days.

When I learned and later began teaching this model, I kept wondering why no one had taught me that stuff before. The simple tools it provided, seemed more like common sense. Just having the simple capacity to see an overwhelming amount of work and have the basic tools to break it down into manageable, workable elements was very enlightening. Since then I have been looking for ways to go back and teach my younger self some tools that would have made life a lot easier. 

Those tools were great, but using them was a bit like Frodo putting on the ring. The more I used them, the more I started to feel that I was supposed to try and control the uncontrollable and the more I started to view the humans I worked with as "resources" and not people. They were pawns on a chess board and I was playing chess against an opponent I could not hope beat because the only thing I could be sure of was that whatever I was able to imagine, predict, or plan for, was the only thing that was not going to happen. 

When I entered the workforce and started to work for people who had been taught that success came through control, I was often the pawn on the board. In many jobs I was micromanaged, condescended to, accused, blamed and generally treated like someone who could only be counted on if they were bossed around and threatened. I, in turn, reluctantly learned this approach and tried, to apply it (with limited success). This didn't happen all the time. I was lucky to have a few really great bosses and teams along the way and I was fortunate to find myself in situations where I really was able to be creative and collaborate with other people who cared as much about the work as I did. Those moments were invigorating. 

The Agile Manifesto

As part of a response to the waterfall approach, in 2001, a bunch of smart guys got together and came up with the Agile Manifesto, which says: 

 

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

In my journey towards adopting the above and learning to use the models and frameworks which support the Agile Manifesto, a lot of what I do is a reaction against the traditional command and control approach I had been taught.  I often joke that I am in a state of recovery, but I do tend to view it that way.  One of the reasons I get so much joy from what I do for a living is that  I get to help others on their transition as well. But I do think it is important to acknowledge it as a corrective action. 

Hope for the Future

Any parent wants their child to have a better life than they did. We all want for our kids to experience less adversity (or at least different adversity) than we did. If Agile is about creating a work environment that values people, their ideas and ability to collaborate in an effort to deliver higher quality work, then it is a very positive and healthy response to a workspace that did not support creative collaboration and self-organization. 

Each new generation finds that certain things which were common in previous generations, are no longer good for us. When I was a kid we'd go to the Jersey shore in the summer. If my Mom was able to get some Coppertone SPF2 or 4 on me it would only last until I was able to get to the water and scrub it off. I'd play, swim and lay in the sun until the blisters formed. The blisters were an indicator that maybe it was time to put on a t-shirt, a baseball hat, or in extreme cases, SPF 15. My daughter has been spared that due to how much more we know about the damage the sun can do to our skin.

My goal with teaching Agile to young people is similar to educating them about the dangers of too much sun. My hope is that if they learn about Agile first, their experience with it and exposure to the benefits it can provide will "inoculate" them against some of the challenges they would otherwise face if they entered the workforce as "resources" to be used up on a waterfall project. My hope is that they will see Agile not as a response against something else, but as a natural, organic way for empowered, creative people to deliver high quality work. 

Posted on: September 27, 2013 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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