I’m Not Gonna Force Agile On You

I had the experience recently of encountering Fear and Loathing of Agile in a few people.  It made me realize that in my writing this deck for executives how important it is to understand that everyone wants process; they just don’t want your process.  Kind of like religion. They worry you’ll try to convert them to something that goes against everything they stand for. And ironically that, I believe, is at the heart of why an Agile approach actually can work better.  It allows for room for your process.

I’m picking on Dr. Alistair Cockburn this time because I’m finding the material I need to accomplish this end.  From this page on his site, “Balancing Lightness and Sufficiency”:

It is clear to most people by now that no one methodology will fit every software project. What is not clear is where to go next. If concrete advice can’t be given across projects, how are we to find meaningful methodological advice for our projects?

The answer comes in three parts. We must truly get comfortable with the fact that every project needs its own, ever-so-slightly different and personalized way of working. We have to find an explanatory model that advises us as to how to make good choices. Lastly, we need some techniques that help us make those choices fast enough to help any particular project. I have previously written about the first and the last points ([1] and [2]). After recapping those, it is the point in this article to describe the middle one: using a new explanatory cost model of software development to get meaningful methodological advice in real time.

The punchline of the article is this: Software development can be thought of as a cooperative game of invention and communication played with limited resources. On a busy project, we want to maximize the invention and communication, making use of our limited quantities of time and people. Once we develop facility with this mode of thinking, we can increase cooperation, communication and feedback within the project, relax the burden of documentation, and let the team’s working style evolve within the life of the project.

Marketers may object to the paragraph above observing Dr. Cockburn’s use of “software,” thinking that this only applies to software.  Thinking about it, though, why can’t this model apply to any project in which the outcome is uncertain?  In which we don’t know what we are making until we get into the making of it?

At the moment I’m pressed for time, so am not going to thoroughly go through the paper and apply to marketing.  However, I do want to point out that the paragraph on “barely sufficient,” in which Dr. Cockburn talks about projects that have process that is too lightweight.  In Advertising we tend to have very lightweight processes and this can turn into messy dictatorships, in which an individual is expected to be heroic and pull through miracles on death march project after death march project for clients.  Because of our tendency towards this chaotic, but creative, behavior, in which “magic is made,” we can have an absolute allergy to process.  And often digital folks come in with very heavy-weight processes and this makes that allergy all the more intense.  As a result, when someone starts babbling on about some software-based “process” called “Agile,” we might worry, “Damn, she’s gonna force some new series of steps on me called Agile and we’ll lose all sight of the ideas!”

If you read Dr. Cockburn’s article, you’ll see that’s not the case at all.

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3 Responses to “I’m Not Gonna Force Agile On You”

  1. How to Find Where New Process is Really Needed « TAPUniversity Says:

    […] I’m Not Gonna Force Agile On You (magwep.wordpress.com) […]

  2. “We Look to Scientists to Settle Them” « Twingle Says:

    […] In fact, having been on a Tudors kick (at least for those episodes available on Netflix), I can’t help but be a little reminded of the Reformation and what seems to me to be the approach of “adopt our process or you’ll be burned at the stake.” (This is one reason why I wrote “I’m Not Gonna Force Agile on You.”) […]

  3. #agileday2011 Reflections on Job Candidates and Dr. Linda Rising « Says:

    […] is the only way that we can work efficiently.  Why?  Because we don’t want *your* process, but we might want *our* process.  Everyone has great ideas on how to do.  It’s important to listen to these ideas and to keep […]

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