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What If #6 – Agile Nirvana

clouds

Let’s assume, for one wonderful moment, that Agile has delivered on all its promises. 100%. For everyone that’s tried it. Everywhere. In all its infinite variety of hues and flavours.

Is it enough? Is better quality software, delivered faster, at lower cost, and with happier developers, testers, users, sponsors and management all, enough?

If true, would we be in heaven? In nirvana? In Jannah? In Shamayim?

Would we then stop trying to improve, and be happy with our eternally blissful Agile state? Would we just, then, stop fussing and discussing about better ways of doing things, and get down to forever more just cranking out the code?

What say you?

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

 

My Definition of Agile

I have seen many people define “agile” (or, more often, “Agile” with a capital A). I wonder why this is such a common topic. I suspect it’s because we see such a wide range of definitions, and, by implication, a huge variety of imagined purposes for “Agile”.

Purpose

What’s spurred me to offer my own definition, here? What purpose might this post serve?

I offer it to pique your interest. Maybe my definition is so different from yours that you might wonder why the gulf. And to serve as a future reference, in case someone might ask me “What do you mean by Agile?”.

Definition

Fundamentally, “Agile” is a label characterising a certain self-consistent collection of beliefs(1). Beliefs about what matters in being effective in developing software and software-intensive products(2). Each person, team and organisation will have their own collection of beliefs under the “Agile” label. Setting aside the varies differences between each of these sets, in toto these beliefs are sufficiently different from the norm (the collection of beliefs about work prevailing in most workplaces) to warrant a distinguishing label(3).


(1)This collection of beliefs generally includes some or all of the following memes:

  • Continuous Improvement.
  • Theory Y (McGregor).
  • People and their human relationships are the engine of productivity.
  • Diversity.
  • Learning.
  • Trust.
  • We can only know if we’ve built something that meets folks’ need by letting them experience it.
  • Early and frequent feedback (implies e.g. small units of work, high availability of customer proxies)
  • Iteration.
  • Collaborative knowledge work.
  • Inspect and adapt.
  • Eagerness to anticipate and embrace changes of direction.
  • Self-organisation.

(2)Although on the face of it Agile is about software development, that in itself is a tad misleading, as software development itself is really about creating experiences for folks, and, more fundamentally, about meeting folks’ emotional needs.

(3)In the Marshall Model, the collection of beliefs generically labelled “Agile” situates approximately at rightshifting index 1.2-1.8, and thus straddles the boundary, or transition zone, between the broader collections of beliefs labelled “Analytic” (roughly, 0.5-1.5) and “Synergistic” (roughly, 1.2-3.5).


In A Nutshell

In a nutshell:

“Agile labels a certain way of people relating to each other, rooted in a collection of more-or-less shared beliefs – beliefs more suited (than the norm) to effective collaborative knowledge work”

– Bob

On Becoming An Organisational Psychotherapist

People occasionally ask me what it would take for them to become an organisational psychotherapist. Eager to help, I might jump at the chance to answer the question. And that would be a mistake. How could anyone provide an answer to that question in a way that would be useful? Socrates spent a long life eschewing answers in favour of questions. Socratic questions. Questions intended to help those, that wished it, to know themselves a little better.

How Well Doth Thou Know Thyself?

Even in Ancient Greece, the maxim “Know Thyself” was accepted as long-established wisdom. Plato suggested that understanding oneself would enable thyself to have an understanding of others as a result.

“People make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.”

~ Socrates, via Plato

For The Love Of It

I choose to describe myself – in part, at least – as an organisational psychotherapist because I see the joy that can follow when organisations become more whole (in a spiritual or community sense of the term). For me, that defines the purpose of organisational psychotherapy. In short, I love what can happen. Might you love it? Or might you find other needs of thyself that a role as an organisational psychotherapist could serve?

Personal Transformation

Here’s the questions from the Antimatter Transformation Model, recast just slightly in an attempt to pique some curiosity in those interested in the kind of personal transformation I see integral to organisational psychotherapy:

  1. What would I like to have happen?
  2. How do I feel about the spiritual and mental health of organisations, and the people in them?
  3. What are my needs, personally – and in relation to others?
  4. In what ways do I relate to people and groups presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet my – and their – needs?
  5. What do I believe about the nature and purpose of communities of work, generally – and would other beliefs serve me better?

– Bob

The Antimatter Model

spiral

For me, the power of any model lies in its predictive ability – that’s to say, in its ability to help us predict what might happen when we intervene in the domains, or systems, to which it applies.

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”

~ George Box

For example, the Dreyfus Model helps us predict the impact and outcomes of training initiatives and interventions; the Marshall Model helps us predict the outcomes of our organisational change efforts and interventions.

The Antimatter Principle

The Antimatter Principle is a principle, not a model.

Principle: a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.”

The Antimatter Principle proposes a single course of action (namely, attending to folks’ needs) is sufficient as a means to create a climate – or environment – that will lead to groups, teams and entire organisations becoming more effective at collaborative knowledge work.

The Antimatter Transformation Model

Confusingly perhaps (and my apologies for that) I wrote recently about the Antimatter Transformation Model. I’m rueing my calling it a model at all now, seeing as how it seems ill-suited to be labelled as such (having no real predictive element). Let’s set that aside and get on…

The Antimatter Model

In this post I present the Antimatter Model. This model serves to improve our understanding of how the Antimatter Principle works, to help share that understanding with others, and to allow us to predict the outcomes from applying the Antimatter Principle within e.g. collaborative knowledge work organisations.

Virtuous Spirals

The Antimatter Principle basically proposes a collection of positive feedback loops, akin to Peter Senge’s “Virtuous Spiral” systems archetype.

Virtuous Spiral 1

As people attend to others’ needs, they find joy in doing so. This is a typical human response to helping others, being part of our innate nature as social animals (cf Lieberman). This feeling of joy tends to encourage these same people to invest more effort into attending to others’ needs, increasing both the frequency and reach of such activities. And by doing it more often, they are likely to become more practiced, and thus more capable (skilful).

Virtuous Spiral 2

As those other folks see their needs attended to, they will likely feel an increased sense of wellbeing. Not least because they sense people, and the “organisation” more generally, cares for them. This is compounded by a further increase in their sensation of wellbeing as they see their needs actually met. This increased sense of wellbeing also contributes to an increased sense of community, and positive feeling about their social relationships – another key driver for us human social animals.

Virtuous Spiral 3

And as these other folks feel their wellbeing and social connections improve, our strong and innate sense of fairness raises individual cognitive dissonance levels, such that some might choose to reciprocate and attend to the needs of others, in turn. In other words, folks sense they are on the receiving end of something beneficial, and find themselves wishing to see others similarly blessed. And with the Antimatter Principle, they are automatically well-placed to act on this social imperative.

Virtuous Spiral 4

Further, the same sense of dissonance may encourage people to attend more closely, perhaps for the first time, to their own needs.

And the Bottom Line

And, finally, beyond the dynamics of the Virtuous Spirals improving the climate/environment of the workplace and organisation, actually meeting folks’ needs (customers, managers, shareholders, employees, wider society) with effective products and services is what successful business is all about.

Predicted Outcomes

The Antimatter Model predicts the following beneficial outcomes

  • Folks discovering pleasure and delight in seeing others’ needs met – we often call this sensation “joy”.
  • Improved interpersonal relationships and social cohesion – we often call this “community”.
  • Improved self-knowledge and self-image.
  • Reduced distress.
  • Increased eustress.
  • A progressively more and more effective organisation, business or company.
  • Reducing levels of waste and increasing flow of value (i.e. needs being met).
  • Increasing throughput (revenues), reducing costs and improving profits (trends).

Risks

I have yet to write about the risks implicit in the Antimatter Model. These include:

  • Sentimentality
  • Indifference
  • Posturing
  • Hubris
  • Jealousy
  • Vigilantism

I will be writing about these risks – and ways to mitigate them – in a future post.

Summary

As folks start to attend to folks’ needs, social cohesion and the sense of community rises, folks find joy in attending to others’ needs – and in seeing others’ needs attended-to. Those actively and joyfully engaged want to do more, and those not (yet) actively engaged become curious and then, often, keen to participate themselves. Thus more people choose to engage, more needs get met, social relationships improve, and yet more folks may choose to participate. And so on.

And all the while, the needs of all involved – including those of the business – are getting better and better (more effectively) met, too.

– Bob

Further Reading

Social: How Our Brains Are Wired To Connect – Matthew Lieberman
The Neuroscience of Human Relationships ~ Louis Cozolino
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread ~ Alex Pentland

Wahnsinn ist das. Wahnsinn. Heller Wahnsinn!

VonRundstedt

This is madness. Madness. Sheer madness! That’s what we often think when other people do things we “know” make no sense or are bound to turn out badly.

Predicting the future can be a tricky thing. Particularly predicting the outcome of an action within a Complex Adaptive System such as a Company, or on a smaller scale, something like a software project.

We may “know” what’s going to happen. We may be certain of the future outcome. We may even be “right”, in the sense that we believe any well-informed person would make the same prediction.

It Matters So Much

The thing is, it matters so much to us. And yet not at all to those other people. The mad ones. They see the world differently. They see the issues differently. They choose different actions, different solutions. And they predict different outcomes – at least to the extent they’re conscious of making any predictions. From their perspective, they’re just as “right” as you. Righter, in fact – as their worldview makes so much more sense to them than does yours. So they don’t predict the same outcomes. In fact they generally predict blue skies, halcyon days and cute kittens.

It matters so much to us that we rant and rave about the madness of their actions. Or inactions. Or apparent assumptions and beliefs. I guess you know that feeling of utter frustration – having to stand by, powerless, while the train wreck proceeds unchecked. Of having to do things which you know will result in waste, or worse.

The Double Bind

This kind of situation is what Argyris refers to as a double bind. We feel like we can’t say anything because our perspectives are so far apart, and yet we feel we must say something lest the inevitable disaster proceeds unchecked. Yet we feel we can’t raise that difference of perspectives, either (it being undiscussable).

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Compounded by a failure to call out that failure to communicate. But, looking deeper, there are more profound causes, more fundamental issues at play. Like our consummate blindness to the futility of our trying to coerce others into see things our way. Like our frequent bias for task completion over relationship building.

“…Most important of all, we value task accomplishment over relationship building and either we are not aware of this cultural bias or, worse, don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with it..”

~ Edgar H. Schein

How often have you been in this situation? Did you find a way to resolve the double bind? Would you be willing to contribute to this topic?

More on this next time.

– Bob

 

Further Reading

Discussing the Undiscussable ~ William R. Noonan
Crucial Conversations ~ Kerry Patterson et al.
Humble Enquiry ~ Edgar H. Schein (excerpt)

I’ve Done It So It Works

“I’ve done it so it works” and its close cousin “I’ve seen It so it works” are two arguments that often form the first line of defence from supporters of a particular approach to doing a thing. I appreciate people trying to help others with stories about what worked for them – although proselytising, not so much.

And as a defence, it bears little scrutiny, for the following reasons at least:

  • Even if it worked for you, in your context, there’s no reason to suppose it will work for others, in their context.
  • That was then, this is now. Time moves on, as does knowledge.
  • The thing you were doing may have been a success despite the way you were doing it, not because of it. Can you really state cause and effect unequivocally? Especially in a Complex Adaptive System?
  • You may not have been doing X at all, despite your belief that that was what you were doing.

And why be defensive anyways? It’s not like your ego or worth as a human being is on trial. Even though it can often feel like that.

“All defensiveness and emotional tumult is a fear response because of your need for acceptance and ruthless control of the territory of your safe fantasy world.”

~ Bryant McGill

– Bob

The Cold Wet Nose Of Reality

bloodhound

If you’re in the business of supplying IT services, especially software and product development, to your clients, you may be getting uneasy (again). Agile software development, and its close cousin, DevOps, are the latest in a long line of approaches promising to solve the “software crisis”. And like the many approaches that have gone before, their faults are beginning to show, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

As they say:

“…you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

I don’t doubt that many solutions providers and consultancies have the best interests of both their clients and their own staff at heart, and are not just focused on their revenues. And just like their antecedents, Agile and DevOps did look promising. But just as with those antecedents, time has shown the core ideas wanting. Or, more accurately, insufficient in the majority of cases.

Why Early Adopters Have Good News

Whatever the approach, its early adopters generally have good stories to tell, about good outcomes. And why not? These folks had the enthusiasm, the curiosity, the drive, and the grasp of the principles to make the approach work. Later adopters, absent some or all of these advantages, have struggled to see useful benefits. No matter what the approach.

That Nose

Truly, the cold wet nose of reality has been sniffing out the latent flaws implicit in Agile and DevOps from the outset.

Smarter Now

I’d like to hope that we’re collectively smarter now. That having seen so many promising approaches come and go, we might be on the verge of seeing beyond the superficial attractions of each new approach. That we may be, finally, developing the deeper lore that will show us why all our approaches to date have sooner or later failed us. I’d like to hope that, But in general, I see precious little evidence of it happening.

“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”
~ Albert Einstein

– Bob

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