The point is missed

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Why would anyone want to become agile?

with 5 comments

I’ve seen it time and again “how do you become agile?”-style of headlines on papers, workshops, blogs etc that are selling “agile”. What’s up with that? Surely being agile is not a goal but a mean to accomplish something else like working more efficiently, making more money, having more fun at work or whatever is what you are actually after.

As an example I see some debate about whether one is really doing scrum or not. One way to find out is to do the Nokia test: which I by the way think is nice and concrete. As the author of the blog-post points out you really can’t say you tried scrum and it didn’t work if your teams don’t pass the test.

Fair enough, but I’m not really interested to prove to someone that they were or were not really doing scrum, in fact, I don’t care about scrum though i think it is a very neat and useful package. I want to help my clients be more successful in developing software. I find that agile methods, including scrum, work really well for this which is not that strange since it is really all about observing and adjusting continuously towards a goal. This is a tactic that always works for process control, though it is not the most efficient way to do things if the problem is well defined (an attribute that developing software typically does not display).

I am of the opinion that there is way too much focus on the means and too little at the ends. What do we want to accomplish? Why are we looking at agile methods in the first place? I would say that the most important thing regardless of process is to have a well defined goal that is clearly communicated to each and every person involved in the development work. If you have that, the rest becomes really natural: “are we closer to the goal today than we were yesterday?”, “does this contribute to reaching the goal?”. When I say goal I don’t mean things like “all our code should have a cyclomatic complexity below 5” which while having value and being easy to measure do not really help the end-user experience other than indirectly. I’m talking about the reason money is spent on the particular work we are doing.

I’ll leave you with yet another of those tedious martial arts metaphors made by guys like me that have no actual personal experience in the subject:

They say that if you want to break something, like a piece of wood with your fist, a common mistake is that you try to hit the piece of wood really hard. That will likely result in you hurting your hand rather than accomplishing what you want. In order to break the wood you must aim beyond the piece of wood and hit through the wood. Whether that is actually the case I’ll leave up to someone who really knows martial arts… but true or not. It illustrates my point, in order to succeed in being agile you better aim beyond being agile and go after what it is you really want!

Written by johlrogge

August 24, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Agile

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. I was sitting at Agile 2008 the other week with several people in a session on the “Questioning Agile” stage. J.B. Rainsberger (a leader in this community) raised a very interesting point which I will try to channel as well as I can here (apologies to JB for stealing and tweaking):

    Every agile adopter is going through a journey of stages, and if we believe this theory (it is a budding theory), we might identify the maturity of an agile coach or practitioner by this path and even predict where the agile community might be going. It points out that we continuously evolve our view and flip between pragmatist and purist. These are the steps:

    0- The Agile Convert attempts to understand and learn all the Practices.
    1- The Agile Purist follows all the Practices (this is the evangelical recent agile convert).
    2- The Agile Pragmatist starts to realize that not all practices work in all situations and pursues the Agile Principles molding the Practices to their specific environment.
    3- The Agile Purist follows all the Principles.
    4- The Agile Pragmatist starts to realize that not all Principles work in all situations and pursues the Agile Values molding the Practices and Principles to their specific environment.
    5- The Agile Purist follows all the Values.
    6- The Agile Pragmatist starts to realize that not all values work in all situations and pursues the ??? molding the practices to their specific environment.
    7- The self-actualized agile follower realizes that Agile is the embodiment of some higher understanding that can be applied in part or whole to any environment to help deliver more value… forget the boundaries of values, principles, or practices… these are just simple mechanisms to enable the education of agile to others.

    I find myself finding myself comfortable at step 2. J.B. was saying he and his peers were around 3. He was predicting that soon, someone might declare the statement in step 4 and be called a heretic for letting go of some of the principles.

    Interesting theory. It resonated with me. It reinforces what you are getting at which is that it is not about the name of what you are doing, or even how you are doing it. Agile is a philosophical approach to delivering a better working environment that produces a better outcome.

    Kevin E. Schlabach

    August 25, 2008 at 2:34 pm

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I was also at Agile 2008 but for some reason I managed to miss that particular session, how is that even possible :)

    Sorry for taking such a long time replying. I appreciate your comment and I needed some time to figure out how to relate to it. It feels related to what I posted but not to the point I was trying to make. I think I know why now:

    I do believe that there is truth in the above. What I’m addressing is what I believe to be -1 on that scale.

    Agile Laggard tries to imitate practices he does not understand – “I don’t know why I need to do this but it seems a lot of other people are doing it so I should be doing it too.” I have no goals by doing it other than to conform to what is in at the moment. I think this is closely related to resume driven development. To me it seems level 0 on that scale still talks about someone who wants to make a difference in his environment but is still learning by doing. I believe this to be a good thing since the drive comes from the wish to improve and not just to “go where the money is”.

    I may be wrong about my observations but it is something that bothers me. That there appears to be personal gains from “pretending” to be Agile.


    August 31, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  3. Kevin, that is an interesting sum up of stages one agile practitioner might be going through. I see the point, and while it sounds logical, not everyone starts at point 0. I do not know whether the numbering has that meaning, maybe the phases may be put in circular order? Or some function in 3D or 4D space?

    I think that I am at 5 and 0 at the same time, sort of, while sticking to my values. I still have to learn that they do not always work, I definitely see the 6 might follow. Are my values clearly agile?

    While I like to think that there is a bijection between agile and my internal values, I feel a certain resistance when I even hear “agile” that I did not feel some time ago. Coming to Joakim’s point now – while agile was an alternative set of methods, or philosophy and more, until recently, I feel that it is becoming the mainstream. “Agile” now seems to be the favourite buzzword of a set of people that do not leave impression (on me anyway) that they have some higher aims, or ideals behind. They just want to “be in fashion” in a way and raise their value on the market having “an agile practitioner” in their CV. Or, even worse, a Scrum Master certificate… let’s not digress.

    I am not saying that agile is bad, far from that, it is great, it is even – noble, in my world, but I am concerned about its misuse that I see more and more. We will see what happens. I am not sure. Will we have the agile bubble burst some time in near future? Whatever happens, the values and the philosophy behind will hold since it has an universal dimension to it.


    September 12, 2008 at 7:06 pm

  4. […] check out these two posts: Why would anyone want to become Agile? and Two steps to become agile written by Joakim and Daniel, respectively. Those are two guys […]

  5. […] – bookmarked by 4 members originally found by LearnerWoerner on 2008-12-02 Why would anyone want to become agile? – bookmarked by 3 […]

    Bookmarks about Scrum

    December 23, 2008 at 6:30 pm

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