Lean and Agile, in Reverse

I think we have been making a mistake in how we teach and ‘sell’ Agile and Lean processes to the general masses.  The industry has made tremendous strides and advances but the number of Late Adopters is still remarkably high.  I think we may need a different approach to convince those who still aren’t on board in 2014.  And I think the way to do it is to spend a lot more time talking about the end of the process and a lot less talking about the beginning.

In the late 90’s, Agile was a very new thing for some people, unheard of for most of the rest.  The Early Adopters really didn’t need that much convincing.  A little bit of ‘carrot’ and not much ‘stick’ and they were already onboard.  The biggest questions from these folks were about trying to figure out how to sell everybody else on it.

I had the opportunity then to hang out with some pretty sharp Early Adopters.  Both Bill Bohlman (an XP coach/manager) and later David Anderson (Mr Kanban) let me pepper them with questions and answered graciously.  Occasionally the insight flowed both ways.  I had a lot of peers who had a lot of good ideas and we talked about them endlessly.

Why?  We were trying to figure out how to get the people dragging their feet to be enthusiastic about participating in the process.  Trying to grease the wheels.  Sweeten the pot, whatever you want to call it.  The thing is that we honestly weren’t exactly sure what the process was ourselves, so that munged up the works a bit.

It’s 2014 now.  “Refactoring” by Martin Fowler turned 15 years old this summer.  XP won by dissapearing almost entirely.  Most Lean and Agile practitioners just Do XP without even really talking about it.  Many of us know what Agile success feels like and what it looks like.  For the people who still don’t believe, I think we need to talk more about what a well oiled project looks like and work backward from there to first principles.

Over the years I have convinced some, begged others, and browbeat more people than I care to say into just following Agile for a couple of release cycles.  After one release goes off without a hitch, the resistance always drops by about half.  After two releases, people spend their lunch talking about That Guy who still isn’t onboard.  On two projects I heard back six months after I was gone, some new manager tried to convince the team to go back to the old way of doing things, and the team flatly refused.  It’s a great feeling when you’ve given someone something they’re now willing to fight for.  Better than shipping code in my opinion.

On a couple projects where we ‘did Agile’ but with a long release cycle, we had quite a bit of trouble keeping people on task.  I now have a deeper appreciation of why the XP community was so very adamant about short release cycles.  If you don’t get to the end nobody sees what the end looks like.  But maybe we can show them without getting to the end first.  It’s something I spend a lot of my time thinking about lately, and will be posting about in installments.

-Jason

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About innerjason

Software Developer
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