Use Agile Wisely

For the past few years, I have been bothered by a nagging urge to write a pamphlet on software titled “Common Sense” — an homage to Thomas Paine’s great work.

This may be a stretch, and I may counter this point once I actually try and research and draw more parallels — or not. So here I am just thinking out loud, as it were. A risky means to formulate my ideas, I know.

The Agile Manifesto is akin to the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. (Not in its impact on the world, and I make the comparison in complete deference to the greatness that were our Founders.)

Agile is about freedom and individual responsibility grounded in an agreed-upon framework of overarching ethics and morals. The beauty of our Founding Fathers, was that they got to the essence of human behavior — including the depravity and moral weakness, and corruption by power, that we humans suffer from. They designed a system of government that accounts for such weaknesses, and that provides a means of feedback and correction. Correcting in the small (local and state government), and in the large (amendments to the document itself).

The Agile Manifesto is similarly poised. The four main tenets of the Manifesto are irrefutable, getting to the essence of software development. The Manifesto sets the stage up for great success without the shackles of a tyrannical, command and control form of management. It works from the bottom up.

There are many in the software world that decry the freedom of agile developers practicing their craft. Some organizations still drive a tyrannical structure within a framework of bureaucratic control. While many “Freedom Fighters” see the errors in these organizations, those on the inside are somehow oblivious, and probably believe in the superiority of command-and-control.

The lure of the bureaucratic layers to many managers always confounded me. Is it a lack of education about what freedom means? Is it a lack of courage to be individually accountable? Is it an allegiance to a known and friendly tyrannical structure — versus the unknown and scary individualism? Is it a belief that somehow a complex human organization can be broken down into its constituent parts, such that if each cog does their small bit, then the whole achieves its ultimate goal? It is, undoubtedly, simply part of human nature. Some folks are comfortable being risk takers and sticking their necks out, while others enjoy the comforts of a more controlled system within which to toil.

Over the past few years, our community has been inundated with “enlightened” Scrum Masters. The Church of Scrum has literally popped up overnight, anointing new converts at an alarming pace. With a relatively trivial-to-acquire certification, many organizations seek out said experts to be their savior on the road to riches.

Scrum itself is not the issue, after all it is Agile. But much like freedom in the hands of the uneducated often has disastrous results, so too does being Scrumified in the absence of understanding Agile.

Our young democratic republic worked hard to teach children about the US form of government and the hard-fought liberties we were blessed to enjoy. The children all studied from primers that helped them be educated about just “how” our form of government works. And they learned about the context… the “why” the framers of the Constitution chose their forms of checks and balances to stem undersirable side effects of human nature.

In the absence of much formal education about what the intent of the Agile Manifesto means, Scrum filled the void. That’s the beauty of a free market. Ideas can compete.

Much like our venerable representative democracy, Agile isn’t the most perfect form of s/w development, but it’s the best that has ever been. There are no guarantees that being “agile” will result in fabulous wealth and riches through the killer app. Just like there are no guarantees of outcome in a free society (at least there shouldn’t be any).

As with the United States of America, with great freedom lies great responsibility. Use agile wisely.

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