The existential joys of agile practice: people over process

At Agile NYC I presented a pecha kucha. 20 slides. 20 seconds per slide. This is the third of four parts.

People over process

Cathleen P. Black, who took over as New York City schools chancellor in January, at the Tuesday meeting of the Panel on Educational Policy.

Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Cathie Black was Chancellor of New York City Schools for three months. She was hired despite having no education experience and no affinity for public schools, parents, teachers and students because she was, “an excellent manager”.

I love that agile doesn’t celebrate management. It relies on individual contributors. It relies on community.

painting by Eiko JudyThe oozy failure wrapped in the chocolatey success of agile is when we focus on process mechanics and lose sight of people.

If we do, our practice becomes arbitrary and abstract.

There’s a study that claims the best and worst performers have more in common with each other than those in the broad middle.

NYC Lego First PitsWhile the best are energized by their caring and use that passion to drive to the best outcomes, the worst are demoralized and ruined by it.

The indifferent middle, they just plug away.

When we impose a process upon a workplace to avoid failure. We rob the best performers of opportunities to engage and care.

Sunset Big IslandWe preclude the best in an attempt to avoid the worst and ensure mediocrity.

I acknowledge that successful products can emerge from awful workplaces. And that that good teams often create failed products.

But working in a way that tears down talented people’s desire for work is tragic. To repeatedly do this this is to sap the world of its limited supply inspiration, creativity and joy.

The existential joys of agile practice: I want to live in our imperfect reality

At Agile NYC I presented a pecha kucha. 20 slides. 20 seconds per slide. This is the second of four parts.

I want to live in our imperfect reality

Extreme beyond this pointAs agile becomes popular it becomes a buzzword. It gets promoted as a tool that solves problems when at its heart it is a set of values that encourage you to confront problems.

We should all recognize these organizing principles…

  • Collaboration over negotiation
  • Working software over specification
  • People over process
  • Responding to change over following a plan

In addition, Bob Martin’s “Quality over crap”

Worship the plan. The plan is good.Let’s talk about following a plan… worshipping a plan

I think of this every time I think of worshipping a plan…

A driver put her faith in her satellite navigation system. It told her to turn onto a bridge. Problem was the bridge had been washed away. She drove her $160,000 Mercedes into the flood where it was swept away. She had to be rescued as it sank.

black holeWhere the customer doesn’t entirely know what will succeed… Where they aren’t entirely steeped in the technology…

Specifications become a black hole so dense with detail that even light cannot escape.

Project schedules become the most boring fairy tails ever told.

Mocks mock us.

dandelionAnd process gates (“handoffs”) kill collaboration.

We put a lot of energy into delivering the wrong thing on time and on budget.

And we don’t even recognize or care about that thing by the time it goes live – if it ever does.

walk don't walkI want to live in our imperfect reality.

…Focus on what I did, what I’m doing and what I want to do next.

I want to know what we are trying to achieve and converse with people I’m achieving it with.

Dart arrows missing targetI accept failure if we call it out as we recognize it, applaud the attempt and make changes so that we don’t repeat that exact failure again.

In short, I love an iterative, reflective way of working because I dearly want to spend each day doing a little less crap and a little more not crap than the day before.

And I want to do it without simply handing off my crap onto others.

The existential joys of agile practice

  1. A family tradition of care and craft
  2. I want to live in our imperfect reality
  3. People over process
  4. Angel on your shoulder

The existential joys of agile practice: a family tradition of care and craft

At Agile NYC I presented a pecha kucha. 20 slides. 20 seconds per slide. I’ll post in four parts.

A family tradition of care and craft

Brocade ClothMy mother is college educated but made her living through physical labor. She made valances on fancy drapery and upholstered fine furniture.

She took pride in her work matching the pattern at the seams no matter how complex. And she worked long hours.

She has arthritis from years handling heavy fabric.

Vacuum TubesMy father is a retired engineer.

He’s always pursued hobbies with an engineer’s precision. Book binding, restoring tube amplifiers, annealing, reshaping and tempering fishing hooks into an authentic 19th century fly fishing hook shape.

If people offered to pay him for his hobby, he’d move on to something else. He did these things for pleasure.

Fireworks by Ken Judy, All rights reserved.My ten-year old daughter aspires to be an engineer or scientist. She been a member of a Lego FIRST Robotics team since she was seven.

When she first tried out, her teachers wrote:

“You were chosen based on your ability to work well with your team and how well you cooperated with others.

We also looked at your ability to problem solve, on your own and within the group, your endurance, enthusiasm, and your handle and care for the pieces.”

My girl is a born agilist…

The existential joys of agile practice

  1. A family tradition of care and craft
  2. I want to live in our imperfect reality
  3. People over process
  4. Angel on your shoulder

Earning trust (agile adoption)

yellow rope with knotIn order to adopt agile practices in any meaningful way, you have to change your organization.

This includes the members of the team, the people who describe and prioritize work, and the executives who hold everyone accountable for the outcome.

In order to drive that kind of change, you need authority commensurate with your responsibilities.

But you also need influence with people over whom you have no authority. Who may, in fact, have authority over you.

The best path to this is integrity. Be the same person in all contexts. Accomplish things for people. Keep your word.

Never assume you’re entitled to trust. Earn it. Work toward a shared definition of success and continue to earn trust as you progress through your change program.

Life lie (Excuses)

Are there lies you tell yourself to face work each day?

“If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well” — The Wild Duck Act V, Henrik Ibsen

Developers often feel powerless in their workplace. At agile conferences I’ve heard:

  • it’s the nature of the business
  • it’s not my responsibility
  • I don’t have the authority
  • I do what I’m told

Yes, we have to pick our battles and yes we can’t always win. Fear is a hard thing. But it seems obvious that a way of working doesn’t mean anything unless we use it to change what we do.