From the point I first discovered Agile in 2005, Joshua Kerievsky has been one of my “self-invited remote mentors”. In other words, Josh provided guidance and mentoring from afar through his writing and speaking – and without the slightest idea of who I am.
A few weeks ago, I finally had the opportunity to meet Josh at Agile Open San Diego. In the confines of open space, Josh convened a session that invited participants to explore his recent “Modern Agile” paper, which formulates a new lens of thought into the evolution of Agile over the years. (If you haven’t read “Modern Agile”, you’re missing out – do that first!)
On the second day of open space, Josh convened an additional session to explore a juxtaposition of “modern” versus “antiquated” Agile. This got me thinking: is it harmful for us to label some practices “antique”?
For a few years now, many Agile practitioners have been exploring what it means to challenge the dogma and convention of Agile. From my perspective, this is a welcome addition to the conversation, namely the idea that we should oft challenge our own principles in pursuit of a (potentially) better way.
Aside from Joshua’s mapping of “Modern Agile”, here is just a sampling of some recent forays into exploration and discovery:
- Dan Greening: “The Agile Base Patterns”
Challenges us to consider: how can we adjust the language of the manifesto to engage non-technical leaders, emphasize behavior over practice, bottom-up local optimization is doomed.
- Woody Zuill: “#NoEstimates”
Challenges us to consider: what is an estimate? What value does estimating have?
- David Anderson: e.g., “Do the Right Thing“, “Tyranny of Iterations”
Challenges us to consider: what if starting with current practices and optimizing them leads to greater business value than using Agile practices? The science of product delivery flow and technology is superior compared to non-technology frameworks (e.g., Scrum).
Questioning values and principles, even those generally accepted as benevolent, causes people to experience feelings of tension, being threatened, and passion. In fact, I am very much guilty as charged. Yet the act of questioning these norms is essential for growth and understanding; to detach emotion and uncover deeper clarity.
During the second session that Josh labeled “Antiquated Agile”, a couple emotionally charged conversations broke out between participants when concepts like “product backlogs” and “velocity” were deemed part of antiquated Agile. I found myself squarely on the side of those advocating for antique status during the conversation, but as time went on, I began to empathize with skeptics who were visibly concerned.
A few of my prior posts have touched on the assertion that we over-simplify semantics and when the element of cognitive dissonance is present–such as practices that may evoke a sensation of “us versus them” in people–communication becomes a very sensitive thing.
From the back of the breakout session, I pulled up the definition of “antiquated” and confirmed my suspicion:
adjective an·ti·quat·ed: very old and no longer useful, popular, or accepted : very old-fashioned or obsolete
Embedded in the definition of “antiquated” is a connotation with lesser value, even waning popularity (a major threat to someone sensitive to being accepted). Turning attention back to emotional attachment, if the (principles, practices, etc.) a person is deeply invested in are labeled “very old and no longer useful”, it’s easy to see how a variety of upsetting reactions could occur: distress, bewilderment, anger.
To be sure, having made it a point to constantly question our conventions, I find it nearly impossible to disagree with Josh that many generally accepted Agile practices are unnecessary and outdated. However, memories are vivid of a time where I believed relative estimation, velocity, multi-release product backlogs, and timeboxed development were not only useful practices – but the best practices.
Therefore, I believe the message inherent in Joshua’s “Modern Agile” is an illumination of the many paths ahead that are coming into view. They appear to be emphasizing simplicity, a renewed attention to technical discipline, and driving down risk. For those at the forefront of discovery, this is exciting and energizing… and easy to lose sight of the fact that keeping the pathways already traversed well-lit is just as critical. After all, a software business delivering value with “crutches” like planned iterations and velocity, has still made a massive leap in service to customers and employees (compared to phased development). Perhaps a set of practices and tools have become obsolete in the eyes of some, yet for others, they’re providing the same opportunity for discovery that I experienced.
When the session ended, I came to the conclusion that the word “antiquated” is harmful and misaligned with my desire to serve others’ needs and growth. Yet I’m also aware of my discomfort in using many conventional Agile practices, as they feel sub-optimal, especially after digesting the information neatly synthesized by Joshua.
Rather than “antiquated” or “antique”, I like the word “starter” as a moniker here. Personally, it feels more respectful to the journey that many companies have yet to discover: “starter” Agile.
Reinforced by discussion at the open space session, and from my current level of awareness, here are the practices I posit comprise “starter” Agile. These are concepts that have primarily transitory-value and help people shift their mindset and values:
- Timeboxes (e.g., sprints, iterations)
- Story Points
- Burndown Charts
- Lengthy (“groomed”) Product Backlogs
- User Stories
- Standup Meetings
- Scripted Testing / Tester Specialist
- Task Decomposition
- Cadence-driven Retrospective
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!