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Scrum Field Guide: Agile Reform and dealing with "your reality is not my reality"

 
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Mitch,

I've been skimming over your book on SafariBooks Online. I really like Part III First Aid and Part IV Advanced Survival Techniques. You describe many of the dysfunctions that my teams and I have experienced and a few that we continue to experience. Rambling and bloated daily stand-up meetings in particular are very common and I find that most teams don't even address this problem during their retrospectives, opting to focus instead on other things, particularly technical issues.

If you look around in this forum, you might notice that there's a bone that has been the subject of quite a bit of contention around here and that is the fact that different people have different perceptions, and therefore realities, as to what Scrum/Agile is. From where I stand, I see folks conflating poor interpretations and executions of Scrum/Agile guidelines with what Scrum/Agile is.

It's kind of like the difference between being on the losing side and being on the winning side of a football game. The players on the losing side are probably thinking "This game sucks!" while the players on the winning side are saying the opposite: "This is the greatest game in the world!" And to those who would jump in to shoot holes in that analogy, I know there are many ways that the analogy doesn't work and quickly falls apart, but that's exactly my point. If you look at it one way, it works. If you look at it another way, it doesn't. Yet, it's still the same analogy. It's all a matter of perspective. But I do recognize that in many ways, perspective is reality. Maybe a better analogy is that from inside a shark cage, you could see a great white shark as a magnificently beautiful animal. If you're outside the cage, you're probably going to think that it's nothing short of horrific and want nothing but to get away from it. Still the same shark but both perspectives are reality.

So here's a real problem: as Scrum and Agile become more and more mainstream, the number of misinterpretations and poor implementations will continue to outnumber the good ones and I don't see that trend reversing itself any time soon. You see the same thing with Java programmers. As more people join the ranks of "Java Programmers" the ratio of bad vs good increases. I used to have to interview 10 people to fill one position. That number has nearly doubled more recently and I don't think it will get any better. It's even worse when I try to find people who have done TDD before (not just claim to have done but actually have and know how to do it). I see the same thing happening with Agile: as more teams try to adopt it, the ratio of failures to successes increases. Perhaps not surprisingly though, it's almost to a point that it's like playing the lottery: you know you probably have a snowball's chance in hell of winning but you play anyway because the potential for a huge payoff is so inviting.

My wife works for a major bank and her team "does Agile". However, from all her descriptions of their issues and the things they do, I think it's a totally farcical implementation, complete with functional silos, multiple hand-offs, etc. You name a dysfunction for agility, they probably have it. And yet despite that, they continue to deliver at a pace that's faster than the normal "quarterly enterprise release" cycle that's still prevalent in the rest of the bank. I think they even consider themselves a successful agile team. I've told my wife that it's good that they do what works for them but to think that this is what Agile/Scrum is supposed to be is not right. To me, that's almost as dangerous, if not more dangerous than an outright failed implementation of Scrum/Agile.

Chris Webster, one of our moderators here at the Ranch, suggested that it's time for an Agile Reform. I think it's a great idea but I've been mulling over how it can take place and I'm drawing a blank. There's already a lot of movement in either direction with adoptions and transformations getting launched about as fast as ongoing efforts flounder and fail, sometimes spectacularly, as described in the article that Chris cited in another thread.

I guess the question I'd like to discuss in this topic is "How can we start reforming poor implementations of Agile/Scrum and repair the damage done to Agile's image and reputation?" More importantly, how do we make amends with those who have already been burned and perhaps have been scarred for life from bad experiences with Agile/Scrum/etc? What can we do, if anything, about the number of folks out there who are now anti-Agile/Scrum because of their bad experiences with it?
 
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Hello Junilu

Thank you for the well written and thoughtful post.

I often hear the argument of "my scrum is not your scrum" or something along those lines. It's frustrating. Your post reminds me of a story I tell in leadership sessions. It goes like this.

I ask people the benefits of being clean. The most common answers are habit, feels good, helps me wake up, hygiene. Then I tell these three stories.

When my kids were young, like 3-5 years, they'd play outside. Imagine a nice summer day. Birds, sun, bbq is going. The kids play in the mud and make mud pies. My wife and I say "time to eat lunch, get cleaned up" and they go to the hose, rinse their hands (at best) and come to the door and say "food!" - we say "you are filthy, go take a bath" and they say no. So we explain the benefits of cleanliness - they won't be stinky, they won't get sick, they won't spread disease and germs, etc. After this, what do they say when we ask them to take a bath? "NO!" - Toddlers.

When the oldest learned to drive, I asked her to take a box to a customer for me, about 1 mile away. She asked where it was, I told her and she said "oh, I know right where to go, easy, thanks" with an eye roll. I continued "but it's hard to see, there are trees, if you pass the grocery store, you've gone to far..." I did this because the building was well hidden. "I know where I'm going, geez, don't treat me like I'm 10! I'm 16 now, you know! I know what to do! Why don't you trust me?" Fine, then go, and she does, and comes back almost an hour later. "What took you so long?" I ask. "I don't want to talk about it!" she yells. The boy chimes in "she got lost and wouldn't listen to me even though I knew were to go!" - Teenagers.

Now, for the rest of us. As adults, we know what we want out of life, what we're comfortable with, our values, our principles. We ask for help if we are stuck or don't understand something. We seek opportunities to learn. We help teach others. We have a passion for success - not just ours, but for everyone - friends, co-workers, etc.

If I explain why being clean is important, the adults will get it; the teenagers will tell me I'm wrong and that their way is right, and the toddlers will just say no. Why? Teenager and toddler mindsets prevent learning, accountability, ownership and all the things that make adults what they are. I see this mindset in companies far and wide, and when people at large companies say "oh, we do agile" I ask and they describe what you describe - a wolf in sheeps clothing. Then I say I can speak 10 languages, they name them and I say yes, then I continue speaking in English and ask "how was my Afrikaans?" when I'm done. The point is made.

Now, do we need agile reform? Yes. Can we do it in a big movement? Maybe. My approach is to start one (or 10) at a time and just help them understand why the way of thinking is of far more value then the way of doing. Ownership and accountability is a funny thing, and I don't think we can help the people that have been burned unless they want to come back to the fire.

Thoughts?
 
Junilu Lacar
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Mitch Lacey wrote:Then I say I can speak 10 languages, they name them and I say yes, then I continue speaking in English and ask "how was my Afrikaans?" when I'm done. The point is made.

Now, do we need agile reform? Yes. Can we do it in a big movement? Maybe. My approach is to start one (or 10) at a time and just help them understand why the way of thinking is of far more value then the way of doing. Ownership and accountability is a funny thing, and I don't think we can help the people that have been burned unless they want to come back to the fire.

Thoughts?



I think I got the point of the 10 languages thing but just to make sure I didn't totally miss it, it's that it doesn't matter that you say you do something if that's not actually what you're doing. Just saying that you do something doesn't necessarily make it so.

I agree, don't DO Agile, BE agile. That's why in my own circles, I tend to promote principles and values more than practices and prescriptions. Even with things like TDD, I talk more about principles of design and development more than anything else.

There's a spectrum that Ahmed Sidky shows in one of his presentations where you have a few principles on one end and a bunch of practices on the other end. I definitely tend to start on the principle side of that spectrum. For me there's longevity and depth of understanding when you start with principles move towards adopting various practices even though it takes longer to see tangible benefits from them. When you start with the practices, there might be some short term tangible results but without deeper understanding of principles, the practices become cargo cultish and are not sustainable or very effective in the long term.

I hope to be able to attend Agile 2016 in Atlanta this year. I was in DC last year. I have submitted a couple of session proposals, a tandem actually, on TDD. If by some major stroke of luck one or both of those get selected, I hope I get to see you there and maybe talk about this some more. In the meantime, I too will try to win hearts and change mindsets where I can exert my influence and hope for the best.

One last thing, my former manager, current manager, and I were relatively successful in promoting a healthy agile mindset on our teams. One of the things we used was Christopher Avery's Responsibility Framework. We thought that the idea of ownership and responsibility over accountability aligned well with our own personal values and working relationships and that's what we tried to instill in the rest of our team members.

Best regards,
Junilu


 
Mitch Lacey
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Junilu Lacar wrote:I think I got the point of the 10 languages thing but just to make sure I didn't totally miss it, it's that it doesn't matter that you say you do something if that's not actually what you're doing. Just saying that you do something doesn't necessarily make it so.


Correct. Just because you say you do it doesn't make it true.

Junilu Lacar wrote:I agree, don't DO Agile, BE agile. That's why in my own circles, I tend to promote principles and values more than practices and prescriptions. Even with things like TDD, I talk more about principles of design and development more than anything else.


You got it! BE agile is the key. It's the mindset, not the action, that drives the change.

Junilu Lacar wrote:There's a spectrum that Ahmed Sidky shows in one of his presentations where you have a few principles on one end and a bunch of practices on the other end. I definitely tend to start on the principle side of that spectrum. For me there's longevity and depth of understanding when you start with principles move towards adopting various practices even though it takes longer to see tangible benefits from them. When you start with the practices, there might be some short term tangible results but without deeper understanding of principles, the practices become cargo cultish and are not sustainable or very effective in the long term.

One last thing, my former manager, current manager, and I were relatively successful in promoting a healthy agile mindset on our teams. One of the things we used was Christopher Avery's Responsibility Framework. We thought that the idea of ownership and responsibility over accountability aligned well with our own personal values and working relationships and that's what we tried to instill in the rest of our team members.


Yes, both are good. Starting with the practices without knowing why is always cause for failure down the road.

I'd love to see you at Agile2016! I hope you get accepted!

Mitch

 
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Mitch Lacey wrote:

Junilu Lacar wrote:I agree, don't DO Agile, BE agile. That's why in my own circles, I tend to promote principles and values more than practices and prescriptions. Even with things like TDD, I talk more about principles of design and development more than anything else.


You got it! BE agile is the key. It's the mindset, not the action, that drives the change.



Mindset? You mean the values? Ah, this is one of the core points of what I do not like about agile guys, sorry. This 'religious' aspect. Now I will say something completely different and strange, but: I am here today after a short holiday, at my job location, doing scrum again, basically because my daughter needs new books for college, and if possible I will help my ex wife, her mother with her first travel expenses when she gets that new job. These are the people I really share values with, not my colleagues.

Do you need to share values with your colleagues? Does a baker do that when he makes bread, a miner in the coalmine? Does a postman sit around at the lunch table and discuss the values of delivering mail? Come on, they don't. They just want to put food on the table. As do I. At the moment you start about values, you will lose my attention. I am not in a Kibbutz or communist cult. (No offense, my apologies given in advance!)

Also I can see resemblances with other political or religious currents. First you define what is good, the values. Then you say your idea implements the good... Then you force it upon to others if they don't agree. It is not unique for scrum. In the big you see this with socialism and the Gulag Archipelago, in islam and the Ridda for apostates. In scrum you don't kill people off course, but there is a same sort of 'you are standing in the way of progress' reaction if you oppose it. At the moment you start pushing it like a new value system, you will scare people away from it. People don't want a value system, they want to do their job.

 
Mitch Lacey
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Hi Jan,

First of all, let me say I don't want to convert anyone to anything. People should be who they are and do what they like.

Here's my view. I see software as a creative process. I see the IDE as a canvas and the system as the art on the wall. I see that in our field of software that people (developers and more) need to work together, and in order to work together well, people need to be on the same page. Consider this an understanding of how things work, and how those people work together to deliver something that the customers would appreciate, just like an artist in a studio building a piece for a show for prospective buyers. A baker, depending on if they are creating to cro-nut or just making twinkies, may or may not be a creative person. The cro-nut certainly is, the twinkie, not so much. A coal miner? Not really creative unless they are looking for ways to prevent deaths, either by cave in or long term health issues, but most coal miners just mine coal. A postal worker? Same thing. Put letter A in box B and repeat. And they want to put food on the table just like me and you and everyone else.

The friends I have in life are very distinct. I grew up basically on a farm, shooting guns, driving tractors, riding dirt bikes, but now I do software. The friends I continue to have share the same values as me. We have the same mindset on many things in life, not all, but many. Of the people I work with, I find that the ones I best get along with are the ones that have a similar mindset - approach to life, values, whatever - as I do. We "get each other". And there are plenty that I don't get, or don't get me, but we still work together - we just don't have that personal bond that I find I have with others of similar values, even with widely different backgrounds and life experiences.

Now, if you've come across people that are zealots (the religious part of your post), then yeah, I agree, they are d-bags. Nobody should define what is good for a population, large or small. History, past and recent, has plenty of examples where this is a bad idea. "You are standing in the way of progress" is an excuse for egocentric, authoritarian auctions that just don't have a place.

Lastly, you say people don't want a value system, they just want to do their jobs. That's fine. There are plenty of companies hiring people to just "do their jobs". Chrysler in the 80's had plenty of that, just look at their products of that era - doors didn't align with the body - but it wasn't the fault of the guy who installed the door if the body joints were not aligned properly, he's just doing his job of installing doors. Most people I find in this agile camp want more than to just do their jobs, they want to make their customers super stoked by giving them what they meant, not what they asked for, and doing it in a timely fashion in a budget range that was expected. Basically, these workers want to have a good relationship with their customers and stakeholders built on trust. Agile or not, Scrum or not, this is what I strive to do, and when people ask me for help, I help, but I never try to convince.

Enjoy my book. I wrote it with the perfect page count to be used as a monitor stand, so you've got that new benefit which will be in the mail soon. And if you decide to read it, even better.
 
Junilu Lacar
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In a bakery with many bakers, I think there's going to be a serious discussion coming if most of the bakers value cleanliness and there are one or two bakers who don't wash their hands after using the restroom or who smoke cigarettes while they're kneading the dough. I'm sure miners value safety as well, so someone who tries to light up a cigarette while inside the mine will quickly get rebuked or worse.

Are the other bakers and other miners being "religious" about their beliefs and values regarding how they maintain cleanliness and safety in their work?

In any working situation, there's a certain level of conformance to a standard of behavior that each and every member of the group needs to have. Otherwise, bad things start to happen. That level of conformance and how "oppressive" it is to some members depends on what the majority of those in the group think or at least are willing to accept as a matter of course.

When you have a group of reasonable people who are working together towards a common goal and one or more members are feeling that the norms are particularly onerous, then those members should be able to discuss their issues with the rest of team. A good team can work together to figure out what can be done to make it less onerous and still keep norms and standards effective in motivating people towards the right behavior. If you can't discuss your issues and find a compromise, then you either keep pushing for reform until it happens, or suffer and be quiet, or leave that group for another whose norms and standards of behavior are more acceptable to you.
 
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Junilu Lacar wrote:A good team can work together to figure out what can be done to make it less onerous and still keep norms and standards effective in motivating people towards the right behavior.


Let me restate that before Winston jumps all over it again - A good team can work together to figure out what can be done to make it less onerous and still keep the norms and standards effective in guiding people's behavior towards achieving the team's goal.

So let's take the bakery setting as an example. The value is Cleanliness. The rule that most establishments have which is displayed on signs in most bathrooms shared by employees, is that "Employees must wash their hands before returning to work." What if an employee is sensitive to the soap that is supplied in the bathroom? He can use his own hypoallergenic soap and still adhere to the rule. What if he has some temporary or permanent condition where he is not able to wash his hands? I suppose he'd have to resort to wearing sanitary gloves whenever he handles food or ingredients. That still stays true to the value of cleanliness without necessarily adhering to the "Must wash your hands" rule, right? That's all that's really meant when most people talk about "values". It's not a religious thing. It's a sticking to the principles without necessarily being a stickler for the rules thing.

Of course, there are the "rule police" who think that everyone must toe the line without exception. I agree with Mitch, they are d-bags.
 
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I think this is partly a cultural gap - not between Agile and non-Agile but between people in the European and US working cultures. I accept most of what Mitch and Junilu seem to be saying about the team sharing common goals at work, but I also share Jan's frustrations at all this talk of "values", because to most of us Europeans that sounds like an intrusion into areas that are personal, not work-related. We abandoned feudalism and serfdom centuries ago, so I'm not selling my soul to some employer just to build a better website. And I'm not expecting my customers to feel "super stoked" about a piece of software, because they're grownups with lives and families outside work that are far more important than software: I assume that they might feel super stoked about a family wedding, their kids getting into a good college, and so on.

I get the impression Americans are more comfortable with all this evangelistic rhetoric in general, so it probably feels less intrusive when your team leader insists you share their "values". But to a lot of us, this feels quite coercive and it can be hard to resist this kind of conformism when it is imposed at work, because you still need to earn a living, after all.

The example of US car manufacturers reminds me of British Leyland cars in the 1970s, which were shoddy, uninspiring and failure prone, so people started buying Japanese and German cars instead because the quality was much higher. Companies like BMW or Mercedes have a strong working culture of quality engineering, which is why people pay for their products. Even the recent emissions scandal at Volkswagen illustrates this point: people are shocked and angered by this precisely because they expect better from companies like VW. If this had happened to British Leyland, the general response would have been "What else would you expect?".

So if my local Agile preacher wants us all to aspire to a strong, productive and effective working culture, that's fine with me because that's what I've been trying to do all my working life (including the years I worked in Germany). Just keep your talk of "values" to yourself, thank you very much: if I want religion I'll go to church.

Another common problem with any ideology that insists on people internalising a particular dogma is the risk of group-think (white Oscars) and exactly the kind of hostility to non-believers that Jan and I have seen emerging from the less enlightened end of the Agile spectrum. The Agile movement likes to present this ideal of common "values", so it needs to deal with this common problem instead of insisting that any problems are the fault of unbelievers for not drinking the Kool-aid with sufficient enthusiasm.
 
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Thanks for your response, Chris. I think I'm starting to get a Vizzini-Montoya vibe here, as in "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

Maybe you're right that it is a cultural gap, although I have heard about many good Agile teams from that part of the world. In particular, I have colleagues from Norway and Sweden who definitely shared the same kind of mindset.

Maybe the word we should be using instead is "ethos". The definition given by MWD includes things already mentioned above although "belief" might still be the deal breaker that elevates it to the level of religiosity that you and Jan rail against.

I find it difficult to wrap my head around the idea that your cultures wouldn't have some kind of notion around "work ethics" though. To me, there still a kind of value system involved. I mean if you don't value quality, timeliness, and efficiency, and customer satisfaction, and are only doing the work to put food on the table and clothes on your children's backs, it seems like that kind of work would not be enjoyable at all to me. In fact, it would seem quite dreary and depressing.
 
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Junilu Lacar wrote:I find it difficult to wrap my head around the idea that your cultures wouldn't have some kind of notion around "work ethics" though. To me, there still a kind of value system involved. I mean if you don't value quality, timeliness, and efficiency, and customer satisfaction, and are only doing the work to put food on the table and clothes on your children's backs, it seems like that kind of work would not be enjoyable at all to me. In fact, it would seem quite dreary and depressing.


I do value all those things, Junilu, they're part of what I call "being a professional". The difference is that I generally assume that those basic ideas are shared with most other professionals I encounter in the workplace - even the ones who don't work under an "Agile" regime - so I don't need to insist they share my "values", follow my religion or drink my Kool-Aid. It's all this pseudo-religious nonsense around Agile that really gets up my nose. If the ideas and practices are effective (and I'm willing to accept they often are), that will be evident from putting them into practice it: you should not need to brain-wash people first. It's the brainwashing and sheer volume of evangelical BS around Agile that I find truly dreary and depressing.
 
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I think there's also a big gap in perception here. Quite frankly, I find it a bit offensive to call the things I consider as "values and principles" that have guided my actions and form the core of my work ethic as "religious, evangelistic rhetoric". To me, things like responsibility and ownership are not rhetoric. As I mentioned, these are things that I really take to heart. I was talking to my former manager, who by the way is Romanian and who still speaks with quite a heavy Romanian accent, yesterday afternoon and she said that Christopher Avery's Responsibility framework is probably the most important thing she got from me in the almost 10 years that we worked together.

I don't know, maybe what we see as just a "passion" is what you take to be "religion". I don't think that's fair though. I may be passionate about playing the guitar or the TV show "Breaking Bad" but I don't think that it gets to the level of evangelism or religiosity when I talk to people about how much I enjoy these things and tell them to try it. Sure, I'll probably look at people funny if they say they don't like Breaking Bad but then again, those people might look at me the same way because I don't particularly like to watch shows like "Duck Dynasty". I certainly wouldn't impose my tastes on people though and I'd never force people to watch BB if they didn't want to. I, too, would be resentful if I were forced to watch DD. People have different preferences and to impose your preference on them would be oppressive.

On the other hand, if you went to the movies with a group of people and the majority of the group want to watch Star Wars instead of something else that is more to your liking, what are you going to do? You could say that you're going to see the other movie and catch up with them later, right? And the people in your group may or may not be OK with that. But wouldn't it be a bit awkward if later on they were laughing and carry on about how they enjoyed their movie while you feel a bit left out because you can't relate to what they're talking about? And wouldn't it seem odd and perhaps even offensive if you were to say " I hate you guys, you're just a bunch of religious Star Wars zealots!" Yeah, well that's kind of how I see it from my end.
 
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chris webster wrote:Another common problem with any ideology that insists on people internalising a particular dogma is the risk of group-think (white Oscars) and exactly the kind of hostility to non-believers that Jan and I have seen emerging from the less enlightened end of the Agile spectrum. The Agile movement likes to present this ideal of common "values", so it needs to deal with this common problem instead of insisting that any problems are the fault of unbelievers for not drinking the Kool-aid with sufficient enthusiasm.



Thank you so much Chris! That is it exactly!

I do not want to draw politics into it. We then really start flaming, my apoligies but the resemblance is astonishing. To show you more simularity. This it is 'the fault of unbelievers', well. I am fifty years old. In the eighties, the socialists thougth they had good values. When you talked about the Soviet Union, the answer was, well that is not real socialism. Socialism are those values and mindset. If something bad comes out of socialism, it is not real socialism. Okay, I was twenty, I thought this social behavior was unique for that group. The funny thing is, nowadays I can see something likewise with islam. If you point to the Islamic State, the answer of the moslim is, well that is not real islam. Islam is something perfect, if something bad comes out of it, it is not because of islam but because of people are fallable. Hey familiar.. Now you have scrum... and if scrum results in something bad it is not real scrum. Because the values of ..... (and then I stop reading, since I heard that 'cyclic reasoning' before.)

And I humbly apologize if my posting here offends any socialists, moslims or scrum zealots, in advance. :-)
 
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chris webster wrote:The difference is that I generally assume that those basic ideas are shared with most other professionals I encounter in the workplace - even the ones who don't work under an "Agile" regime - so I don't need to insist they share my "values", follow my religion or drink my Kool-Aid. It's all this pseudo-religious nonsense around Agile that really gets up my nose. If the ideas and practices are effective (and I'm willing to accept they often are), that will be evident from putting them into practice it: you should not need to brain-wash people first. It's the brainwashing and sheer volume of evangelical BS around Agile that I find truly dreary and depressing.


And therein lies the rub and the Great Divide, I suppose. You'll often hear it said that Agile is a mindset, an attitude, a discipline, a culture. The practices are just implementation details. It's the abstract ideas, the ones that can only be expressed as "values and principles" that matter, IMO and I suspect most people whom you see to be these "brainwashing evangelists" probably feel the same way. Without these abstract ideas as their foundation, the practices become hollow and effete, they become cargo cultish. That's why you'll hear people, myself included, go on and on about values and principles.

I think that's one thing to be careful about though and develop more sensitivity around: that folks who haven't experienced it won't really get it no matter how much you describe it. Kind of how you just need to feel and see people react to a proper application of the Yonkyu technique in Aikido to appreciate its effectiveness in pain compliance control. If you watch the video that search brings up, you'll probably wonder how the heck pressing down on the forearm can cause the person to react like that. You might even try it on yourself and odds are very good that you won't feel anything.

To the uninitiated, Yonkyu is difficult to understand until you have felt it. It's even harder to do because there is a specific pressure point that you must manipulate in a certain way to "get" it. It requires a lot of practice to do effectively. And it requires knowing how it feels and understanding some basic principles. That's how I relate Agile with Aikido.

I would say that Aikido is easier than Agile because Aikido only needs an understanding of the physical aspects of the principles of centeredness and body position. There are philosophical aspects of these principles as well but those come later when you develop a deeper understanding of Yonkyu and how it fits in with Aikido philosophy of promoting Peace and Harmony. With Agile, it's mostly philosophical so the principles are more difficult to relate to by the uninitiated and inexperienced.

So maybe one of the first steps in an Agile Reform is teaching would-be coaches and consultants how to deliver their message around values and principles in a more meaningful and relatable manner, one that's more experience based rather than along the lines of "believe me, it's true, it really does work." That's going to be pretty challenging and perhaps even a Catch-22 because it's hard to feel those things until you do it right and doing it right depends a lot on how much you feel those things.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Chris, I really appreciate your honest responses about this subject. It can be challenging to separate feelings and perceptions from reason and logic in these types of discussions but I think we've managed to find a balance here. I really do want to figure out how to resolve some of these issues you have highlighted or at least make them more tolerable and less oppressive.

Hopefully the pace at which Badgile is spreading will ring out a loud and clear wakeup call to those who get carried away with their enthusiasm/passion. I know I'm still learning how to mellow out after all these years but with the help of folks like you who are willing to come to the table and talk rationally about it, I see that there might still be some hope in escaping the undertow of Badgile. I really like that term. It's very fitting.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Another way I can relate all this to my study of martial arts is that there are many different styles and branches. In Aikido, which has its roots in Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, there are many different branches, each with their own particular style and flavor of the same basic techniques. There are some, especially students who have not progressed far enough to be more "enlightened", who would see other styles is inferior or less effective. That may be true to some extent, but it largely depends on the context and the proficiency of the practitioner. That's why people will sometimes say " Aikido works, your Aikido doesn't" which I realize does not go over well with whomever is on the receiving end. But the truth behind that statement doesn't change and with more study, introspection, and practice, the practitioner usually discovers that truth for himself. Then he can say to himself, "They were right. Aikido works, my Aikido before didn't."

I think I was lucky in my study of Aikido in that my sensei also taught elements of its roots in Aikijujutsu. There I could see how the brutal battlefield-tested effectiveness of Aikijujutsu were transformed into the more humane, gentle, and welfare preserving techniques of Aikido. Likewise, I have been through bad traditional life cycle projects as well as a few good ones that did all right. I have also been exposed to poor implementations of Agile and have experienced what it's like when it's done in the right spirit and mindset. I can recognize the difference and I like to think I can tell when a problem has to do with the people or if it has to do with a practice not being applied in the right context. I have yet to encounter a case where the values and principles are wrong though.
 
Mitch Lacey
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Junilu Lacar wrote:Chris, I really appreciate your honest responses about this subject. It can be challenging to separate feelings and perceptions from reason and logic in these types of discussions but I think we've managed to find a balance here. I really do want to figure out how to resolve some of these issues you have highlighted or at least make them more tolerable and less oppressive.


I'll add to this, I appreciate all responses as I'm sure Junilu does. My goal is not to come across as some preachy American - we have enough of those. Maybe "work ethic" or "ethos" is a better term to use than values. I'm in Austria now with some customers and I'm going to pose this question, and raise this conversation, and see what their thoughts are. I've got a wide range of folks from Austria, Germany, Czech and Slovakia - and that was a week ago when I looked. I'm sure I'll have even more.

In particular, I have an exercise I do around the agile practices that my friend Simon Bennett introduced me to years ago. Basically, we map the agile principles to quadrants. The left side is "we see this in our company" and the right side is "we don't see this in our company". Top to bottom is "we value this" to "we don't value this." Maybe value is the wrong word, and that's where our dialog will come into play. I'll time box the conversation after we do the exercise, as I'm sure it could run all day long, but we'll see.

FWIW, I am in Europe once a month. I have been having these value conversations for years and every now and then I see someone get frustrated, calling it religious zealotry, often referring back to history on how certain cultures thought they had all the right answers and forced solutions on people. Changing my wording from "values" or "mindset" to "work ethic" or "ethos" might be good. We'll see what tomorrow holds.

Thanks for the dialog guys.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Mitch, perhaps on the top to bottom, would it work if you had Ethos on top and Pragmatic below. That is, we value this and it's part of our Ethos. We value this because it has Pragmatic value for the company. We don't value this because it's not aligned with our ethos. We don't value this because it's not Pragmatic for the company.

And then you can ask Five Whys. I think I like that, actually. I'll give it a try next chance I get.
 
chris webster
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Mitch Lacey wrote:FWIW, I am in Europe once a month. I have been having these value conversations for years and every now and then I see someone get frustrated, calling it religious zealotry, often referring back to history on how certain cultures thought they had all the right answers and forced solutions on people. Changing my wording from "values" or "mindset" to "work ethic" or "ethos" might be good. We'll see what tomorrow holds.

Thanks for the dialog guys.


I'd be interested to hear what kind of response you get if you dig into these "cultural" questions, Mitch. Good luck with the book in the meantime.
 
Jan de Boer
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Junilu Lacar wrote:I mean if you don't value quality, timeliness, and efficiency, and customer satisfaction, and are only doing the work to put food on the table and clothes on your children's backs, it seems like that kind of work would not be enjoyable at all to me.



Well, it is not that black and white: To put food on the table you have to do good work, and to do good work, you have to be efficient and have customer satisfaction. Meanwhile from time to time you get personal satisfaction because you have made something that is of good quality.

But in the end, basically, the hapiness of my family is indeed more important than customer satisfaction, yes. By the way, a little side step then, but for example, when my daughter was ten years old, I could have gotten a job I would really like in another city. Then her teacher told me she seemed depressed the last week. It came out she was worried about moving to another city leaving school and her friends. So I chose to reject that job offer. In the end she is infinitive more important than a customer, a company, a boss.
 
Mitch Lacey
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Mitch Lacey wrote:
In particular, I have an exercise I do around the agile practices that my friend Simon Bennett introduced me to years ago. Basically, we map the agile principles to quadrants. The left side is "we see this in our company" and the right side is "we don't see this in our company". Top to bottom is "we value this" to "we don't value this." Maybe value is the wrong word, and that's where our dialog will come into play. I'll time box the conversation after we do the exercise, as I'm sure it could run all day long, but we'll see.

....Changing my wording from "values" or "mindset" to "work ethic" or "ethos" might be good. We'll see what tomorrow holds.


So I ran the exercise this morning. I have people from Romania, Czech, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Russia, Armenia. I went back and recapped our thread with the group and people said they could see how folks might understand this could be a religious / communist / socialist type message by saying "values and principles." However, most came to agreement on that agile (their words) "is a philosophy, not a set of rules, and if you don't understand why you're doing something, then seek it out." What they did not agree with was that there was a single type power saying "this is right and this is wrong and if you do it right then you're in and if you do it wrong then you're cast to the bowels of hell". Someone then asked me why this would be a point of contention to begin with. They continued by saying "just focus on the customers and do a good job with excellence and don't cut corners" and you're fine.

A few people had said they heard the concerns Jan shared, but they themselves did not share those concerns.
 
Jan de Boer
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Mitch Lacey wrote:A few people had said they heard the concerns Jan shared, but they themselves did not share those concerns.



Yes. But people like me probably won't go to a Scrum course, Mitch. You don't go to a course of something you do not really like. Also, I got to dislike it after I had 'done the course'. Or in my case, after about a year of experience, and especially after reading a few books about it. My first thoughts were, "okay that is all true, but not unique nor new for scrum". See an earlier posting I did about a year ago here. It has now shifted to the negative "take something out of it, but most I was already doing, and more or less avoid it". Probably if you would have sent me on a course a year ago, I would have said the same as your pupils yesterday.
 
Mitch Lacey
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Jan de Boer wrote:Yes. But people like me probably won't go to a Scrum course, Mitch.



Oddly enough, I'm in a executive training session not focused on agile or Scrum, not in a Scrum course. So I've got that going for me.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Thanks, Mitch. There are at least two things I'm getting out of this discussion.

1. Whether or not people see Agile tenets as philosophy or religious zealotry seems to be less a matter of regional culture than of context. If you have a hostile audience, then it's prudent to go easy on the philosophical and intangible/abstract and focus more on the practical and tangible practices. I'm sure there are still certain words you should use carefully and maybe find more acceptable alternatives in certain geographical regions. Once the benefits of the practices can be seen, you can start working the more philosophical aspects in. This can be a chicken-or-egg situation so coaching and guidance through the practices is essential to avoid cargo cult and starting a vicious cycle that devolves into Badgile.

2. Sometimes there's just no point in trying to win people over. In those cases, you have a few reasonable choices: Make an exception and just let the nonconformist "do their thing" and try to juggle work between him and the rest of the team accordingly, give the person time and opportunity to reconsider as the team sets good examples (sort of a ”honeypot" strategy) and gives ways for the nonconformist to participate, cut your losses and part ways with the nonconformist. The last option would be a last resort when all else fails and does not necessarily mean termination. It could be a rotation and eventual transfer to another team or a change of role that didn't require involvement with the agile team. There are, of course, other options like cajolling or coercing but I don't see those as reasonable or fair.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Also, if I were consultant or even an internal coach, I would think twice about coming in to try and turn a hostile audience around. The really tough part, and I have seen and experienced this, is judging just how hostile the audience is. It could range from simple apathy to skepticism to passive-aggressive to jaded cynicism to outright dislike and open defiance. I think it could be worth a shot and even a fun challenge up until you get to passive-aggressive. At some point you just have to accept the fact that you can only lead a horse to water or open the door of the burning barn.

The one thing that gets me is knowing that there are indeed some consulting companies out there that will be happy to take money and help put into play, knowingly or unknowingly, the elements and dynamics that make the situation ripe for Badgile. And while I understand that many consultants come in with all good faith and intent, I'd like to see more of them take some of these PHBs who hold the pursestrings but not the mantle of servant leader out behind the woodshed and set them straight about their roles and responsibilities in the whole process of adoption and transformation. I have seen what happens and how bad it can get when the leaders themselves don't get it. But I've also seen how awesome it can be when the leaders are the ones on the front lines and leading the charge. We just need to try to have more of the latter than the former.

Of course, I'm not implying anything about you, Mitch. You seem like one of the good guys.
 
Mitch Lacey
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Junilu Lacar wrote:Also, if I were consultant or even an internal coach, I would think twice about coming in to try and turn a hostile audience around. The really tough part, and I have seen and experienced this, is judging just how hostile the audience is. It could range from simple apathy to skepticism to passive-aggressive to jaded cynicism to outright dislike and open defiance. I think it could be worth a shot and even a fun challenge up until you get to passive-aggressive. At some point you just have to accept the fact that you can only lead a horse to water or open the door of the burning barn.



Agreed, and I never, ever do this. It's not my job, nor should it be anyones, to sell or convince, it's our/my job to help those seeking more knowledge and understanding. How's that for sounding all religious and preachy? Man, even I cringe at that sentence, but what the heck, lets leave it.
 
chris webster
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@Mitch:
Thanks for coming back with that feedback from your group - interesting responses. Although your sample may biased if they're executives, who are after all famously susceptible to management fads!

@Junilu:
As I've already explained, I've been exposed to years of Badgile dogma from people who know little or nothing about software development and have far less experience of flexible iterative approaches to development than I do, even if my experience was before the Agile revolution. Right now we're going through yet another cycle of this at work, which is perhaps why my frustrations with Badgile are even closer to the surface than usual! My only reasons for still believing there may be some good in Agile are:

1. My own experience of similar approaches (RAD, DSDM, not to mention good old JFDI) in the pre-Agile, pre-Java world.
2. The experiences of people like yourself who are doing this successfully on real projects in a supportive environment.

I just wish we had more people like yourself who can demonstrate the value of Agile practices by example, and fewer overpaid, meeting-moth, born-again Badgile preachers who couldn't tell the difference between Agile and Badgile if it came to life and bit them on the ass. Our local versions of Agile have all been proclaimed a great success by the preachers, but this is true only in the sense of the old line about the surgeon who declares "The operation was a success but the patient died".

As I said previously, I honestly hope I get a chance to work on a good Agile project in what remains of my career. But it certainly won't happen at my current workplace, no matter how often they insist "We're all Agile now - just look at all our meetings and post-it notes!".

Thanks to all for an interesting discussion.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Chris, believe me when I say, I'm working on it right now. I don't want to jinx anything so I'll leave at that for now. Just keep on keepin' on, my friend. Or as Black Beauty said, "Do your best and leave the rest 'twill all come right some day or night."
 
Junilu Lacar
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Dave Thomas, the Pragmatic Programmer, not the late founder of the Wendy's hamburger chain, posted the article Agile Is Dead (Long Live Agility) on his blog in March 2014. What he says there and in the talk that he has since given at least a couple of times at conferences is pretty much along the same lines as what many folks like Jan and Chris, and maybe even myself sometimes, are saying.

Of course, Dave, being one of the original signers of The Manifesto for Agile Software Development—he says calling it "The Agile Manifesto" was a mistake—has to be a bit diplomatic about criticizing the very thing that he makes much of his livelihood from. I'm sure he's still doing fine though. Here are some of his main points:

Agile is an adjective, not a noun - those who sell their services around these ideas found it difficult to sell an adjective though, so the word "agile" was soon transformed into a noun. In fact, it was made a pronoun: Agile, with a capital A. He is, of course, right about this. Looking back through my posts, I noticed where I consciously put "agile" instead of "Agile" in an attempt to go back to the word's use as an adjective instead of a noun.

Agile is now an industry - this is true. Expensive two-day courses for "certification", which Dave unapologetically calls BS in his talk, to training, to consulting, books, conferences, etc. There's a lot of money being made by people around this. And while many consultants have good intentions, the economies of scale can push consulting companies to favor large, enterprise engagements over smaller ones. There's a lot of money changing hands in these enterprise transformation consulting engagements.

The problem with these is that few of them really benefit the customers, much less the development teams and their individual members on whom all sorts of "rules" are imposed. Plus, many of these efforts quickly lose their grounding in, to use Dave's words, the values that are on the left side of the Manifesto and instead focus on the things on the right side, which is totally opposite of the sprit of the Manifesto.

The selling of Agile as a noun based on fear and the promise of better things if you just follow "the rules" and the elitist airs and attitudes that accompany statements like "I'm right, you're wrong" and "We're doing Agile (therefore we must be doing better than you)" is impeding and maybe even reversing our progress towards the agility in software development that the Manifesto was meant to promote.

It is time to Reclaim Agility - Dave pronounces that he still profoundly believes in the values on the left side of the Manifesto. So here's what he offers as a way to reclaim those values and get back on the intended path to agility, the one they envisioned in February 2001 in Snowbird, Utah:

Agility — What to Do
  • Find out where you are
  • Take a small step towards your goal
  • Adjust your understanding based on what you learned
  • Repeat

  • Agility — How to Do It
  • When faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier

  • I find the similarities of the above to the thought process I have when I do Test-Driven Development and the kind of thinking that is promoted by the Lean Startup movement very striking and telling. To me, TDD and Lean thinking make a lot of sense.

    But wait. Let me correct myself there before I head down the same path as we did before with "Agile". I should say "To me, test-driven development and lean thinking make a lot of sense." Because those too are adjectives, not nouns.
     
    chris webster
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    Thanks for the Dave Thomas links - good to know it's not just me!

    And thanks for yet another thoughtful post on what we shall henceforth call "agility". Have a cow!
     
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