18 January 2013

A Personal Approach to Agility

I will always appreciate the spirit of the Agile Manifesto. I revisit the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto on occasion, particularly after experiencing recipe-driven nincompoops who use the principles as blunt instruments to flog me and fellow developers.

I am also increasingly surprised by how disconnected Conference Circuit Agilists have become from producing software. Pithy anecdotes don't often jibe with in-the-trenches experience.

A Personal Approach

As an itinerant software maker, I enjoy the inter-personal stuff of software teams. I also enjoy the process stuff, but mainly in environments where the process remains in a state of continuous improvement.

Improvement has little to do with output and a much more to do with making software that people like to use. My approach is born from trial and error. I hope my approach remains in continuous improvement. I hope it remains simple.

I try to understand the context of the product challenges. I like to think I have become less dogmatic and grown more pragmatic. I try to be sensitive to the social dynamics of the organization that has invited me in. Some truisms are:
  • Recognize every product is different - There's no one-size-fits-all in producing software.
  • Build capital by getting stuff done - There are few bigger chits than working software.
Assuming you have banked some capital with your benefactors:
  • Protest & respectfully resist process ceremony - Process ceremony wastes everyone's time.
  • Practice the things that make sense - If it has to make sense, it's always a fluid practice.

My approach is a state of mind, rather than a recipe.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few"
Shunryu Suzuki

Commoditized Agile

Commoditized Agile is a market-driven, largely failed, money-making machine. It is a prescriptive approach that metastasized from what began as the agile movement. Behind the guise of agile, ne'er-do-wells seized the chance to make a living lecturing people about The Best way to make software.
It's the product of opportunists and lazy organizations.
Lazy organizations, seeking the easy pills, threw money at a state of mind believing it would somehow morph into a prescriptive remedy for unhappy employees and crappy software.
  • Opportunists packaged prescriptive service offerings and over-featured software products around a set of principles that were probably never intended to be prescriptive.
  • Organizations seized on something new, so they had to throw money at the something new as proof they were doing it.
Commoditized Agile as troweled out by Conference Circuit Agilists, several of whom couldn't possibly have time to produce software, is mostly snake oil. Commoditized Agile, as represented by a host of crappy software products targeted at organizations who are "doing agile", is poorly conceived.

The lessons are simple. Find a personal approach that's an aggregation of trial and error. Co-opt the best ideas of others. Apply those ideas where they make sense. Deep-six any process with the scent of gratuitous ceremony. Remain skeptical of shiny new things. Get rid of tools that hinder your progress. Beware of charlatans selling snake oil.
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
- R. Buckminster Fuller


I've been told in a tweet that this post is a bit cynical. So readers should know that I almost always enjoy the smart people I work with. In fact,
The joy I get from the people I work with invariably outweighs the profound organizational stupidity I encounter.