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When Did Agile Become a Social Movement?

Mike Cottmeyer
Reading: When Did Agile Become a Social Movement?

Occasionally on my personal Facebook page, I like to post controversial topics and see if we can get a civil conversation going around difficult issues. Civility can sometimes be difficult, but it is really interesting to hear different points of view and learn more about why people believe what they believe. In that spirit, I want to ask you guys a question…

Has agile become a social movement? If so, when did it happen? If so, why do you think it happened?

It seems to me back in the day, agile was about getting product into market faster… it was about working with customers to make sure we were building the stuff they really wanted… it was about craftsmanship and quality and excellence. There is a part of me that feels like some of us have taken things like self-organization, empowerment, and collaboration to an illogical extreme. Potentially to the detriment of some of our other goals.

I’m curious if this is just me or if anyone else feels this way. Please share your thoughts.

Next Three Things You MUST Know to Transform Any Sized Organization into an Agile Enterprise #Agile2015

LeadingAgile CEO and Founder, Mike Cottmeyer is passionate about solving the challenges associated with agile in larger, more complex enterprises. To that end, he and his team are dedicated to providing large-scale agile transformation services to help pragmatically, incrementally, and safely introduce Agile methods.

Comments (10)

  1. Andrew Fuqua
    Reply

    This is a test.

    Reply
  2. Andrew Fuqua
    Reply

    I had a nice thoughtful response but must have screwed up the captcha and lost it. So, here’s a more brief version….

    I remember when XP was like an exclusive club. Most “outsiders” didn’t know about it or didn’t care, and the XPers didn’t much care. The few that were interested, we welcomed into our club. It was about a better way to manage projects and a better way to write software — craftsmanship. Collaboration, empowerment and self-organization were necessary prerequisites.

    Then there was the period in when agile started getting popular and lots more people wanted to know about it. It seemed to me to be still about a better way of managing projects.

    Then we started getting bad implementations. People were struggling with it. Many were tired of hearing about it. I started using the term lean more often and agile less often because of the eye-roll that followed the mention of agile.

    When it doesn’t work, what is visible are unhappy, dis-empowered people who don’t collaborate. The fix seems to follow — empower the people, teach them to collaborate because they must not know how. Warm. Fuzzy. What they can’t see is that the org structures at the team, program and portfolio level aren’t right. People aren’t organized to collaborate. They can see their backlog of stories, but they can’t see that they don’t have clarity in it.

    Reply
    • Michael Sahota
      Reply

      Wow. So XP always was a social movement – just nobody noticed until it was missing.

      Reply
  3. Michael Sahota
    Reply

    Hi Mike,

    You are making a great point. I think both views of Agile (about getting working software to users and a social movement) are both valid and can be useful in helping people.

    The roots for this are in the Manifesto values and principles. It outlines both views.

    My understanding is that there is wide-spread agreement that Agile is a culture system/mindset/social movement. (I am biased so please correct me if you don’t agree with this statement.)

    So I see this element as being there from the start.

    And now that Agile has crossed the chasm – it has come to the forefront as we see Agile watered down and failing in many contexts. So I agree with you that there has been a shift in awareness around this.

    – Michael

    Reply
    • Mike Cottmeyer
      Reply

      Thanks for the comments Michael. I don’t think there is widespread agreement. I acknowledge this is the emphasis in some circles, but I’m not sure it’s everyone.

      It’s definitely not me.

      My concern is that when we put the social aspects out in front, we might get a positive bump in good will, but unless an effective system of delivery in is place, it will be short lived. When we put the delivery aspects in place, focus on creating safety, I think you get the culture stuff for free.

      I don’t believe that you can culture your way into an agile transformation. i don’t believe that being empowered at work is a human right. I don’t believe that self-organization means that everyone gets to do whatever they want.

      I do believe that in a rational system of delivery focused on forming agile teams, creating clear backlogs, and regular and consistent delivery of working tested software… culture, empowerment, and self-organization will help that system go faster, be more energizing, connect people to their work, and make work a better and more humane place to be.

      So in short, I don’t discount the importance of the social aspects of agile. I think starting with that as the end goal, is a mistake. I think it’s a byproduct.

      Reply
      • Michael Sahota
        Reply

        Hi Mike,

        Thanks for your comments. Enjoying this dialogue.

        MC: “I don’t believe that you can culture your way into an agile transformation.”

        I don’t see how transformation is possible without changing culture. Adoption, yes. Transformation, no. What I have seen and experienced is that culture change and process change go hand in hand. Sometimes one leads, sometimes the other. Depends on context.

        MC: “I don’t believe that being empowered at work is a human right. ”

        It’s not a right, but if we want organizations that are adaptable and resilient, then this is a necessity.

        MC: “I don’t believe that self-organization means that everyone gets to do whatever they want.”

        Agree completely. We want people focussed on the mission of the organization.

        Reply
        • Mike Cottmeyer
          Reply

          See the post I did today about Cultural Judo to get my clearest explanation of this…

          Reply
        • Mike Cottmeyer
          Reply

          The problem with a culture first approach is this… if the organization doesn’t accept the culture change advice, or if they accept it and don’t know how to make the necessary changes to do the transformation, all you can do is walk away and lament they weren’t ready. I want to help companies change… to do better… even if they aren’t ready for culture change yet. And for the record, culture change can be just as fragile as any other approach to transformation. There is no guarantee key people won’t leave and their replacements undo whatever culture changes you put in place. Structure can reinforce culture and help it stick.

          Reply
  4. Elena Yatzeck
    Reply

    I agree with you, Mike, and I agree that the topic is touchy for people. My feeling is that social transformation, like happiness, cannot be pursued as an end in itself. Meanwhile, productivity improvements can be taught, coached, and made somewhat sticky, no matter what the culture is like. So my heart is with those who say that people and interactions are the most important thing, but I put my direct energy into coaching things that respond to coaching. I will add that the ugliest things I have seen in my career is environments where people are expected to “have different culture.” There is nothing scarier in software development than a room full of executives who are forced to have regular fake exchanges of feeling for public consumption while hating each others’ guts.

    Reply

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