July 1, 2010

It’s The Values That Matter. Or Maybe It’s The Culture.

Mechanical Agile[1] is when one tries to follow the process with no understanding of the theory behind the practices, with no understanding of why it is designed as it is. Daryl Kulak wrote the most excellent post "Five Symptoms of Mechanical Agile". Any team exhibiting the conditions represented there, certainly need help. But truly, any team having those problems is pretty far along. They are trying to be agile but are misfiring on some point. Many teams don’t get that far because they just don’t get it.

As with XP, Scrum can be followed mechanically, without any understanding of why. Have some iterations, estimate in points, make a pretty burn down chart, do a demo, and maybe a retrospective every other sprint “because we just don’t see the value of doing it every sprint”.

And they totally miss the point of agile.

Ken Schwaber said that teams implementing Scrum need to "...recognize the even higher degree of control, risk management, and transparency required to use Scrum successfully. I estimate that 75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it." (Emphasis in original.)

I agree with Ken. More is needed than is evident to most teams. In the context of the quote, Ken is pointing out what is needed to supplement Scrum in lieu of "controls and safeguards of waterfall and predictive processes." And there is more needed beyond just that.

Same thing with Kanban: model the process, put some swim lanes on the wall, and maybe put some WIP limits in. Visualize the workflow and break a log-jam from time to time.

And totally miss the point of continuous improvement and the metrics that enable such.

In his article, Daryl wrote that if you fall into mechanical agile, "[only] addressing the attitude of thinking of people as machines will help you." Daryl touches briefly on the topic of culture in his article, suggesting that cultural issues can be a problem and the need to change the culture as a solution.

Jeff Patton says that "Agile development is more culture than process". That is, if you ain’t got the culture, your Scrum/Kanban team may not be agile. Pay close attention to agile values and mismatches between those and the organization’s values.

That’s the key ingredient: the agile values. Or maybe it’s the agile culture. Not sure if values drive the culture or whether it’s the culture that influences the values. Either way, they go together.

When I teach XP in a time-limited situation I’m always torn between focusing on the four core values versus the practices. The practices are easier for people to understand. They add some value by themselves. They are concrete and give the audience something they can grab on to. But picking up the practices don’t make one agile. It’s the XP or Scrum or agile values that give you a fighting chance of understanding what you are doing the practices for. But starting with the values leaves most people scratching their heads. They don’t resonate with the average software practitioner.

The best chance you have of changing a culture, then, is with successful agile projects, mechanical or otherwise, punctuated with judicious and timely explanations of the values.

  1. Dr. Hong Li coined the term Mechanical Agile which was first used publically by his co-author in an upcoming book, Daryl Kulak.

1 comment:

  1. So true. I was fortunate to attend a meeting of SL Agile last year where this was a topic of discussion. Someone, I think it might have been Alistair Cockburn, said that we tend to teach process rather than culture, even though culture is the thing that really needs to change. He said that might be because it is lots easier to teach process than to teach culture. Since then I've tried to think of ways to teach culture and get companies to foster the learning culture so necessary for successful software development.