March 19, 2007

Feeding the Machine Part 3: buzz words and tech speak revisited

Sometimes my grumblings lead those around me to believe I may not be a person who is very agile-friendly. I know I come down hard on terminology at times, and for good reason: terms don't a finished product make. Now, I know that I've talked on some of these subjects before, but as long as blogging is cool the topic should be ripe.

My biggest concern with the whimsical world of agile practices is that in my time (which is a limited base of experience I know) I've seen more preachers than practitioners. This is probably just due to my lack of experience and such, but it still keeps me skeptical.

Take the example of a small town church having what is referred to as a "Revival" (common term to those raised in small town churches). Usually you bring in some big name preacher who knows how to put on a show and really entertain the congregation. He usually goes over his interpretation of evangelism and instructs accordingly in a way that just wows the audience. Then in a week he goes to his next venue (or back home) and he's done. He came, he preached, he left.

That's what I see a lot with agile and related topics. Many sensational people stand on their many platforms and evangelize for the cause. Most of which are consultants. And at the end of their contract they move on and spread their teachings to the next victims clients. Their words were all well and good and actually could lead to a good thing, but there was no practice, and usually when they go their methods go with them.

So I guess really my pretension isn't with the process of agile or becoming agile, but with the evangelists who go around preaching the good word but not doing much in the way of practicing what they preach. Since I'm a practitioner of learning by doing I need a doer to come in and do so that I can join in, not so much a teacher coming in to tell me how it should be.

Until next time



Jason said...

You sir, have hit nail on head.

Jason said...

I have some more thoughts on related topic... I've noticed the need to expand and change buzzwords being really popular. The word "iteration" is SO 2002, so I'm going to call it a "sprint". And why use a word anyone can understand to talk about a piece of work, like "Task" when you can WOW them with a word like "Story". I'd be much more impressed with implementation and practicing over showing me you can keep up with an agile RSS feed.

Les Martin said...

do I sense sarcasm? :)

Dave Nicolette said...

If I'm reading you right, there are actually a couple of different topics in the post.

First, the question of terms. I think you're right. Sometimes people tend to get carried away with the names of things, and lose sight of the things themselves.

Second, the question of hit-and-run agile evangelists. Unfortunately, it's all too common. The good news is it's not always done for cynical reasons.

For example, at the client where I'm currently engaged, our mandate from client management is limited to staff augmentation. We're not explicitly hired as agile coaches. Yet, we try to coach and mentor as best we can, because we believe that's an important contribution we can make.

For changes to "stick" in a meaningful way, IMO executive management has to be behind it. A couple of teams here and there trying to apply agile principles in an isolated way within the context of a traditional organizational culture will have a tough row to hoe. Success is likely to be limited at best. Even so, what else can we do but try?

Les Martin said...

Dave, I have to quickly state for my own preservation that I am not anti-agile (your comment doesn't state that you think I am), I'd like to consider myself a skeptic.

That being said, I don't doubt the benefits of an agile software shop. To tell you the truth I think it would be a fun venture to get involved in a project that is agile from start to stop.

I think that in your comment you say it best when you state that executive management is where it has to start. One good thing about our current situation is that executives in our company are moving to implement Lean principles/practices. I think that if it's done right it could lead to really good things and that as a result of cutting fat we'll be able to experience more of a broad agile standard.

Dave Nicolette said...

I think skepticism is healthy. Dogmatism isn't so healthy, whether it's in favor of or against an idea. I'm no joiner or follower myself. I'm open to change, but I have to see and understand the value of something before I'll embrace it.

I've been through that stage with agile methods, and until something better comes along I'll stick with that. But it's not magic, and someone will come up with something better, sooner or later.

I hope the lean initiative goes forward. It would be a good move for the organization. As far as the software development area is concerned, agile methods play very nicely in a lean organization. It's an effective combination.

Keep up the healthy skepticism!