The Second Movement

People are the most complex elements in any software project. This makes them best qualified to directly control their own projects because people (not processes) are the only parts with sufficient complexity to deal with the variety of states that they are confronted with.

With this quote Jurgen Apello (in his book, Management 3.0) describes the “Law of Requisite Variety”. Frankly, I don’t care why he put it in there. This MAKES the book for me.

Agile has come a very long way. Our use of it’s most common practices has become widely engrained in the development game and it’s leaking (fast) into other fields.

That’s great of course, but (as with any “movement”) the spirit of what began as a radical idea, can be lost through the commoditisation and misinterpretation of its founding principles. The speed at which the world has adopted Agile, and the nature of (some of) the organisations that have taken the ride, have led to a focus on practices at a micro (team) level, without time to express and instill the cultural principles that gave birth to those practices.

In English, Agile’s spread so fast that it’s tended to be all about the things we DO, and not the things we BELIEVE.

I am not about to get on any high horse here. This blog, my working life and my current job all have an occasional focus on discussing and teaching agile practices. We’ve seen wave after wave of literature that helps us to “do” Agile, and I’ve eaten it up. I am just glad that we’re seeing more literature like that of Appelo. The kind that helps us to Think Agile. To BE agile.

In recent times I’ve been exploring new ideas and old, looking for an answer to that age-old question “what’s it all about”? And. . . . . . . It’s about people. You know it. You’ve worked with or participated in something with people who got it. Whatever “it” was.

Those people didn’t sweat the small stuff, the didn’t shirk an issue and they didn’t obsess over process. What they did was take responsibility. For their actions, for their output and their understanding of other’s needs. They worked hard towards group goals and they cared for themselves and their working companions. They seemed to know when to make personal sacrifices and when to stand their ground. They definitely did both, and without ever betraying their values. They were good communicators when they needed to be, even if that didn’t come naturally. They wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves.

I could go on of course and so could you. Whilst such people have at least a few things in common (they get great things done!) there’s a million different traits that we might admire in a high performer. Traits that appear on my list may not appear on yours. People are complex systems. The most complex systems going. The only systems complex enough to sufficiently influence the outcome of any endeavour (mother nature excluded – earthquakes tend to put the brakes on even the best human intentions!).

Agile practices emerged from the types of people like the ones above. Those manifesto signatories were (and I’m sure are) exactly like that. So take close notice of the fact that when they met to discuss a better way of delivering software, they emerged with not a set of instructions, but a set of values.

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.

It really does need the top and tail. The bits they could agree on, they bits they shared, were their values. What they actually did each day in demonstrating their beliefs was secondary and to a degree, immaterial.

The challenge as an agile coach, is that values are a hard thing to teach. A great quote from a coaching panel at the recent Agile Australia conference was “I don’t believe in teaching, I only believe in learning”. A person can’t be forced to “get it”. They need to arrive at the realisation that there’s someting they need to understand, and then put their trust with somebody that they believe is able to help.

It’s a magic combination, and one that can take a long time to form. It’s the difference between empty agile “training” and moving along as a collective. The forwarding of the movement.

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