Religion, Politics, and Agile

WRITTEN BY Mike Cottmeyer

Dinner party

Most folks have heard the old adage that you never discuss religion or politics in polite company. Frankly, I’m guilty of both because I think it’s fun and I can take it. As a society, I think it’s time to consider a third category of zealotry that needs to be banned from our fancy dinner parties… agile methodology.

You’re probably wondering now what it’s like to go to a party with me, and why the hell would I be talking about agile at dinner for anyway… but that is beside the point. The problem is that some of us can’t seem to talk about agile without getting really upset and taking disagreement way too personally.

The past few nights I’ve been entertaining myself by posting controversial topics on my Facebook page. My goal is to see if we can spin up some lively discussion. Last nights topic was on the minimum wage in the US and the role of government in controlling such things.

People have very strong opinions about these topics. Many folks come at the discussion from the position of social justice and doing what’s right. Some approach it from a systems perspective and the impact such controls have on society. Some believe a free unregulated economy should determine the prices on goods and services.

What was interesting about the discussion, and I was really trying hard to facilitate a discussion… not a debate… was how personally people connect with these topics. It’s not some abstract political discussion, it’s about the people we know, our families, and how we perceive the world around us.

Religion as you might imagine is even more difficult. How do you have polite conversation about what you believe about God? It transcends the academic and moves into our soul. Questioning my faith isn’t about examining historical facts, it’s about the very foundation of my belief system.

Often, religion has a huge role in how we were raised as children, the relationship we have with our parents, our social structures, and how sure we are about the afterlife or the lack of it. It sets the tone and the underlying foundation for how we view the world around us.

Folks have a hard time distinguishing between a simple academic discussion and a personal attack on who I am as a person. The issues strike that close to our core.

Sometimes I feel like we get this way about agile… at least those of us that live, breath, and eat this stuff. Those of us who are zealots about one methodology or the other. Those of us who write books, publish blogs, and tweet incessantly about the topic… we are all pretty strongly opinionated.

Sometimes the conversation isn’t really about the merits of my methodology against your methodology… it’s more personal than that. It’s more about my perception of the world (and my place in it) in violent opposition to your perception of the world (and your place in it).

It can tie into issues of economic security if my business is built around one approach or the other. It might trigger ego issues if I happen to be heavily invested in one particular approach… as either an inventor or well known thought leader. It might just be that my experience simply isn’t your experience.

Many of us have a lot of experience and we’ve seen lot’s of stuff work. What I find absent from many of the online conversation is context. We are so busy arguing about what is right, what is wrong, what works, and what doesn’t… sometimes I think we forget that all of this stuff has worked in one context or the other.

Personally… I have made waterfall work beautifully at scale. I have made textbook RUP work. I have made Scrum, XP, RUP, and Waterfall hybrids work. More recently we’ve blended Scrum, XP, and lean program and portfolio governance into dynamic, situationally specific models for our clients… and it works.

I tell my clients quite often that most everyone they’ll talk to in this space is a consultant. We all have a point of view, we all have something to sell. Sometimes having something to sell get’s in the way of doing the right thing, or even going off message for the sake of the clients success.

I’d love to see more of our conversation start with context. What did you experience? Why did you experience it? What was it about the context you were in that led to your choices? What were your constraints? What worked? What didn’t? What would you have done differently next time or in a different context?

Wether it be religion, politics, or agile… I think some genuine desire to understand each other, and each other’s perspectives, would go along way to more constructive dialog and more meaningful outcomes.

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3 comments on “Religion, Politics, and Agile”

  1. Bob Williams

    This brings back memories. There was a sign on Peggy Turner’s cube (at former employer) that said “Be reasonable, do it my way.”

    Reply
  2. Matt Badgley

    I like this post Mike and I like the statement of having an academic discussion. It is most always a situation of experience and when I see folks very dogmatically define the boundaries of doing something or some topic (or your not doing something — as some will say) — that is what deters and limits the success of transformation. I often ask people to express their concerns or share their experiences of when something they tried or observed from afar went bad and caused them to feel one-way or another.

    In most situations around coaching people that may have some experiences other than your own, I simply encourage folks to try. Give things a shot. Or, simply observe and do your best not to be an impediment. Often the opinion or taste in someone’s mouth is based on experience at a particular date and time under parameters that have probably changed — remember no two moments are the same.

    Finally, any time you want to share a contrarian opinion, let me know — I appreciate it and hope to learn something new.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous Coward

    What’s the point of having a discussion about no real problem?

    I mean, an academic discussion is still one based on facts, otherwise it’s not academic. Facts differ wildly among software projects. How can you argue about one methodology or another when there are no facts you can relate to (since you’re obviously not talking about a particular project)? I think this is the fact many people miss, when starting a discussion. Not just about politics …

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