Being Opaque and “Agile” Doesn’t Work in the Agile Community

Writing is Hard, Receiving Criticism is Harder, IMPROVING is Hardest

This past week has been enough to retrospect on for a month, at least! I spent the weekend seriously considering the net effects of writing and blogging in the Agile community. It has seriously been the biggest pleasure to write in one of the most (personally) rewarding markets and environments in the world. Agile-folk, by-and-large, are some of the best, brightest, and nicest people I have ever met in my entire life. When I started out as a developer in the mid-90′s, I never knew I would evolve and work in such an open, supportive, and fellowship-y community. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I feel blessed to be part of such a community.

Sometimes though, writing takes it’s toll. I’m not green when it comes to this. I’m an independent Agile-journalist after all, and you take your hits.

Some of the biggest contributions of AgileScout.com that people have really enjoyed are the reviews of “Agile stuff,” whether it be a Agile tools, a conference or event, a book, ‘breaking’ news stories, writing about and providing the most comprehensive list of Top Agile Bloggers in the World as well as highlighting some of the best and brightest Women in Agile.

Some of the more ‘edgy’ writing is around somewhat controversial topics, like: Denouncing your CSMAgile is NOT a methodology, and Project Managers Living a Lie? Staying in line with the FTC Ruling for Bloggers and our Disclosure Policy, my reviews of Agile tools and Agile stuff, and pretty much anything under the sun, can never be guaranteed as positive. I do, however, promise to be as fair as possible.

Most of the Email I Receive is Very Positive

People have come to know and enjoy the Agile Guide section of our website which I’ve received plenty of emails about. This section covers guides to ScrumMastering, being a Great Product Owner, understanding the human side of software development, and tons more on other cool stuff. Agile is all about helping people, and helping businesses thrive. There is something so unique about that, you can’t even put it into words. One would almost feel privileged to say they are part of such an awesome community. 

Sometimes I Get “Help Me Emails”

Since not all of my reviews of things are 100% epic-awesome-sauce, I get follow-up emails from individuals asking me pretty much the same question, but in two different categories: (1) Personal Opinions and Improvement Options and (2) Tool Review Improvement Opportunities:

(1) On Personal Opinions – Usually the email goes something like this:

“Read your recent post on X. I don’t agree with everything, but I see how this needs to be addressed within the Agile community. What do you think we can do to improve/make better the situation?”

(2) On Tool Reviews – The email is almost always the same:

“We read your review on our tool and we see that you weren’t so excited about X or Y feature… HOW CAN WE IMPROVE?”

You see, both of these types of emails are so very Agile. They inspect, stating what they see (agreeing or disagreeing), and ask about adaptation options/opportunities. Sound familiar? Yes, this is one of the major tenants of the Agile Manifesto.

Transparency

As a coach and trainer, I often see another word attached to the “inspect and adapt.” That word is transparency. You see, without transparency, we really cannot inspect and adapt at all, at anything! Transparency allows us to see things empirically. To see things how they really are. To see the good, the bad, and mostly (in business), the ugly and bad. Transparency is the key that unlocks our ability to improve. Transparency allows us to say: “Hey, well, that didn’t work! Let’s try it another way.” Transparency allows us to make mistakes, humble ourselves, take a step back, and move forward with confidence to try it a different way, hopefully for the better.

With the advent of social media, most companies have come to the conclusion that transparency is essential in the online world.

When an “old school” business starts the painful process of moving to Agile, transparency is most often the fear that holds back opportunity. Lack of transparency stops progress in it’s tracks. Fear creeps in, and nothing gets improved. I need not cover any more of this, you all get this.

Living, Working, and Being a Business in the Agile Community Invites Transparency

“It would be oxymoron-ish to suggest that you can be opaque, obscure, and hidden and say you desire to be “agile” or be part of the Agile community.”

It’s a scary proposition, indeed. Being an Agile blogger, transparency is the first requirement! You open yourself up to the world. You allow the world to see who you are, what you stand for, your experience, your life, and maybe open up a little bit of your soul. Going to far? I think not. Anyone who loves to write, trades time for passion. Time, is irreplaceable. It’s a great commitment indeed.

Live and Be Agile

If you’re committed to the great philosophy behind Agile and desire to live, work, and grow in the Agile community, you must be transparent. Yes, this opens you up to questions. Yes, this opens you up to possible scrutiny. Yes, this opens you up to face-to-face communication. Yes, this opens you up, oh my goodness, it opens you up. But what for? For improvement opportunities. Call it personal ‘kaizen.’ The Agile community prides itself with the ability to rally around each other, help each other out, and continually improve the methods, practices, and people behind Agile. We’ll get in your face because we love ya. Sometimes it’s that tough love (trust me I’ve seen it). If someone in the Agile community questions you, it’s because they care enough to tell you.

Take the Opportunity – Agile or Not?

Take the opportunity to improve based on community feedback. It may hurt. But you have good people who desire the best for you, and the best for the community. Yes, some agilists are overly protective. That just comes with age :)

For many, Agile has been the best damn thing they’ve found in their entire career. We’re glad you made it. We’re glad you’re here. We welcome you. We promise it’ll be a fun ride. It won’t always be smooth, sometimes it’ll be bumpy. But you’re in good company. We love our Agile world.

“Welcome again, let’s get rollin’.”

7 Responses to “Being Opaque and “Agile” Doesn’t Work in the Agile Community”

  1. Joel Bancroft-Connors
    January 24, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Peter,
    Controversy tends to breed far more comments, doesn’t it?

    Keep it up. I’m still old school project manager enough to sometimes disagree with you, but I always respect your passion and energy.

    I’m behind you completely on transparency. I’ve met enough folks that think agile is a crock of horse manure (I was one of them once) but I think most of them miss the people side of agile and why that makes it work.

    Toyota has been openly public about the Toyota Production System for decades. They happily invited Ford, GM, BMW, etc. to their factories. Anyone could watch how it worked. Toyota knew they wouldn’t get it. Not until they published the Toyota Way in 2001 and agile exploded did a lot of people get it. It’s the people, silly.

    • Jordan
      January 25, 2012 at 4:23 am #

      Joel,

      In the TPS way, engineers are at the company SIX years before they are considered ready to do anything.

      Most engineers are not at most IT companies anywhere near that long;

      So, 1) Comparing modern IT shops to TPS is silly on the face of it
      2) Developing software is not the same as screwing in bolts on an assembly line

      3) If you want to get engineers to stick around 6 years let’s talk about that, talk about salary, talk about investing in people and give up on the whole kanban and daily scrum distraction

      Despite the fact that modern agile has neither #1 nor #2, they invariably try to link it to something cool and japanese sounding.

      Spare us the “I once didn’t believe in Agile” spiel.

      If you look at, say, the Manhattan Project, that was far more “agile” than most anything anyone has ever done, and that was in the 1940s.

      They still had specs tho, documents, things like that.

      But only really clued out people just discovered agility in 2001 and bought the canned variety at Scrumland….

      I certainly was doing things like Unit Testing and Customer Involvement, short iterations and many other aspects as early as 1989.

      Maybe you weren’t but listening to agilists is like listening to people who just discovered sex and want to teach everyone how it’s done properly.

      Cheers,
      Jordan

      • Joel Bancroft-Connors
        January 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

        Jordan,

        Excellent points! Any development process is at the mercy of the requirements and constraints it is built under. It’s much like the 50′s era saying on computers, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

        You can’t just wave a magic scrum wand on a dev team and expect the world to change. You need clear requirements, clear goals and clear vision.

        Change is cultural and company wide. But if you are not ready to inspect and adapt then your culture will stagnate and then so will your products.

        Best,
        Joel

  2. John Cieslik-Bridgen
    January 28, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    I’m going to be talking on a similar theme to “Being Opaque and “Agile”” at the next AgileCE conference (http://agilece.com/) – for me it’s very easy to announce “we are transparent” and gloss over or even ignore the potential pain that true transparency WILL cause. But the pain is good – hopefully we will want to make it stop, and improve in so doing.

    • peter
      January 28, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      awesome. would love to see the slides!

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