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My, How the Times Are a Changin’

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: My, How the Times Are a Changin’

@mcottmeyer: Interesting Post… [Agile Guide] – Rotating Responsibility for Scrums and Retrospectives

@davenicolette: “Take the reins…standard meetings…assign a different leader…” My, how agile thinking has deteriorated over the years!

For you guys that have been following my stuff for a while, you know that I tweet a bunch of agile content from my Google Reader feed in the form of the “Interesting Post…” I chose the word ‘interesting’ to describe these posts very carefully. ‘Interesting’ is one of those ambiguous descriptors that is neither good or bad… you can form your own conclusion… I just want to create the opportunity for discussion.

This morning I was going through my backlog of unread Google Reader posts, and shared a post by Peter Saddington aka @agilescout. Peter was commenting on a post by David Bland about “Rotating Team Roles” and shared with us a quick summary of his take on the the Daily Scrum and Retrospective meetings. Nothing earth shattering, but I know both Peter and David, and though the post might be ‘interesting’ to some folks.

Apparently it was interesting enough for Dave Nicolette to post his reply to my tweet (see above). I have a ton of respect for Dave so I went back and re-read the original post looking specifically for the the language Dave was talking about. I didn’t react initially to the language Dave referenced, but you know what… he has a point. Have we really gotten to the point where language that talks about “taking the reins… standard meetings… and assigning leaders” doesn’t even raise an eyebrow?

Here is my take… we all know that agile works best with a team of experts. Give me manageable project scope, 5-6 Rock Star Developers, and a Customer and we can make magic happen. You could make the case, as many have, that we don’t need project managers… we don’t need business analysts… we don’t need QA. All of those folks are overhead that just slows the process down. That is the world in which agile was conceived… that’s just not the world that many of us live in.

Agile has gone mainstream, or it’s going to go mainstream fast. Companies with all those traditional roles are trying get the business benefits agile promises. People are trying to leverage agile in places where 20% of the people do most of the work, and the other 80% are basically overhead. People are trying to adopt agile in environments where the corporate culture fights it every step of the way. Unfortunately, in those environments you often have to start by “taking the reigns… implementing standard meetings… and assigning leaders”.

So… to Dave’s point, I don’t think necessarily that ‘agile thinking’ has deteriorated as much as ‘agile practice’ has deteriorated to accommodate contexts in which it was never really intended to be applied. I find myself quite often using the words ‘starter kit’ to put into context the things that I am teaching my clients… it’s the whole Shu-Ha-Ri thing. Maybe we have start with more heavy handed guidance, but if we don’t progress toward more empowered, self-organized teams, we’ll ultimately fail our clients.

I do think we need to be more vigilant with our use of language… words do mean things. We risk having those words… and that thinking… become part of the standard definition of agile. At that point I think we will have missed the point.

Next 2010 in Retrospective: Mike Cottmeyer Edition

Comments (3)

  1. Agile Scout

    Well said. I was talking with Andrew Fuqua about this the other day over coffee. Not everything that is said in blogs and such is “revolutionary” of sorts, but we, as Agile practitioners, need to continually stress the basics and why they work.
    The interesting thing is how we communicate it. Good points here.

  2. David Bland


    My original article about rotating team roles does not include this phrase mentioned above, and I’ll let Peter to respond to that specifically. “taking the reigns… implementing standard meetings… and assigning leaders”.

    To clarify my intent, I’m working with a team that is relatively new to agile software development. We are not necessarily doing “one true scrum”.

    It is more like a scrum/xp/kanban blend. I may invoke the wrath of purists with that statement and have my CSM revoked :)

    I’m attempting to help blur the lines between each team member and provide an opportunity to participate in the facilitation role. It is not forced upon them, and at any time they can decline to take part in it.

    Interestingly enough though, they have yet to decline and seem to enjoy it (or they hide their disdain rather well)


  3. Sridhar


    Highly relevant points. As people start to introduce Agile in the Enterprise, there is going to be a really wide variety of ways in which its going to be adapted and used. The best case scenario you have mentioned for Agile will not be present, but Agile will be used nevertheless. I am afraid that is where we will see the deterioration that you mentioned.

    Doing a pair programming session with two fresh developers isn’t going to be anyway near productive as having two seasoned and disciplined developers pair with each other, for example. Introducing Agile as the development methodology for a bunch of new developers, who don’t have the maturity or discipline is going to result in disaster and once organizations start seeing failures even using Agile, we are going to see retrograde motion in adoption.

    The only way I see is for standards such as PMI, PRINCE2, CMMI, governmental regulations to look at the project needs and recommend a best-of-breed “practices” for projects. Of course, having project managers who have this understanding is the underlying assumption, which is not true usually.

    I am with you on moving to Agile “thinking” rather than Agile as a specific set of practices.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.


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