Monday, September 8, 2014

"I Like that Old Time Rock 'n Roll"

I'm am constantly amazed with the power of first impressions. As much as we may try to avoid it, the initial impressions we get when we're first introduced to a person, place, or idea tend to stick with us for the rest of our lives. This sentiment is embodied in the classic Bob Segal hit, "Old Time Rock and Roll". The song starts with its thesis:

"Just take those old records off the shelf, I'll sit and listen to 'em by myself. Today's music ain't got the same soul; I like that old time Rock 'n Roll"

This same phenomenon happens in Agile as well. When people think of Agile Transformations being hindered by first impressions, they usually jump to those who "didn't do it right", who failed and were left with a bitter taste in their mouth. I would argue that, in the long-term, the more hazardous first impression comes from those who have greater-than-anticipated success with the first thing they try. From that point on Agile is defined solely by what they did the first time.

Let's say your first approach was Scrum - and I mean by-the-Scrum-Guide Scrum. It works so well for you that you scoff at Kanban, DevOps, or anything else that violates your 5 ceremony, 3 role, pure and holy Agile approach. Nevermind that you are supposed to be looking for ways to improve every Sprint. Nevermind that the best way to improve team performance is adjustments to the process, not the people. "I'm sorry, you don't use time boxes?" "How do you plan without using User Stories?" "Clearly you don't know what Agile means."

I find it telling that the first line in the Agile Manifesto states that "we are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it" (, emphasis added). They didn't say that they had uncovered the best way of developing software, they were in the never-ending process of uncovering better ways. They didn't come up with the Manifesto by getting doctorate degrees and jumping into a think tank, they came up with it based on their experiences in doing it and helping others.

I find it highly narcissistic for anyone to have claimed the best way to do anything. Given how long mankind has been on the earth and the fact that nothing has yet been proven beyond improvement, saying that you've "figured it out" means you're either selling something, deluding yourself, or both. Those who really get Agile know that it's about the journey, not the destination. If you keep reliving the glory days of your first Scrum team then you'll never give proper attention to challenging the status quo and innovating the next big idea for delivering software in a better way.

I know, I know, it's hard to give up those first impressions, the glory days, the golden years when everything was perfect and your selective memory hadn't kicked in yet. But you have to if you want long-term success. It's risky business, but somebody's got to do it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Is Agile Skub?

On a long wall at work, there's a glass board (probably 40 feet or so wide) on which our CIO will ask questions and anyone passing by can answer using dry erase markers. The question most recently posed is something to the effect of "What are you doing to be more Agile?".

I found it interesting that somebody wrote "Pro Skub" on one end of the board and "Anti Skub" at the other end. What is Skub, you ask? It's a reference to a Perry Bible Fellowship comic, penned by Nicholas Gurewitch.

This raises an interesting question for me: is Agile nothing more than a meaningless buzzword that arouses passion on the fringes that comes across as absurd to everyone else? To at least one person in my organization, it would seem the answer is "Yes!"

To me, this is an indicator of the "Trough of Disillusionment" on they Hype Curve. It reminded me of an article titled "The End of Agile: Death by Over-Simplification". To me, the points made by this article and others that it references indicate an over-emphasis on practices or principles in silos. In other words, teams will focus on one specific principle, practice, or approach under the banner of Agile and claim that it will solve all of their problems. Of course it doesn't, and when it doesn't it leads to disillusionment and cynicism.

It is so crucially important that we take a step back and look at the whole Agile Manifesto, with all of its Principles, along with complementary principles and approaches (such as Lean and Flow). Practices, approaches, and methodologies are all tools, and none of them sacred, in an attempt to align more with the Lean|Agile paradigm that will drive successful teams.