Skeptical About Method: Another Stab

I’ve said in a bunch of different ways how skeptical I am of method. In software-for-money, applying method — structure, process, technique, algorithm, recipe, formula — seems to me to be so rarely successful across contexts as to be, idunno, the great collapsed souffle of the entire geek trade.

By the time our abstraction-level has gotten high enough to incorporate the successes we’ve seen, it is also so high as to incorporate many or most of the failures we’ve seen.

The first time I saw a nasty "agile", I said hey, that’s not agile, you’ve misunderstood what we were on about. One chuckles, shakes one head, rolls up sleeves, and gets to work. "those silly listeners heard it wrong." but then it happens again. Again and again. A lot. And at some point one begins to think, hmmmmm, maybe it’s not the listeners. Maybe we need to say it better. We tune the language. We meet up, some of us spawn new named flavors. Friends are made, also a few enemies. Once more unto the breach.

And it keeps happening.

Scrum’s so easy to pick on because it’s got the most exemplars. But this has nothing specific to do with scrum. I have seen bad XP. Sarah told us the other day of her first XP experience, and it sounded pretty "that’s not XP" to me. And over 20 years i’ve seen similar many times.

Here’s an actual photo from the early days of the movement:

That naked dude in the center was the method.

We had received a method, and we felt that it wasn’t working, and we studied it, tried various crazy changes, and we liked what we got out of it.

So we became pretty desirous of carrying it further. Of promulgating it, partly from love of humanity, largely from the simple greedy desire to get to do more of it. And we sought to create a different way. Ways, of course, with variants and brands etc. And we expressed our ways in the same language we had received the dead guy in, the language of method. (that was no bad thing, btw. It has had less desirable results than I might have wished, but it’s clear we moved the needle at least a little.)

But look at that snapshot again. When I look back at it, I now think the naked dude wasn’t really the thing at all. The thing was us, in our frilly collars and our dark coats and the serio-comic exchanges of ideas and energy.

So when I say to myself now, "what is agile", I think, well, "that was agile". When I look at a team and assess them, a great part of what i’m assessing is just the extent of that serio-comic ferment.

This idea runs through most of my work in the last ten years.

This is all very hard for me to get at. It’s why i’ve come at it from so many different angles over time.

For me, agility isn’t a formula. It isn’t a defined meeting structure. It isn’t a burndown or any other kind of metric. It also isn’t a guarantee of success.

For me, agility is a volunteer-led festival of people who are alike enough to care about the same stuff and different enough to trigger mutual insight and healthy enough to be wrong, to listen, to occasionally change their minds, to apologize.

That’s all I got for right now, tho lord knows I could burble up again at any moment. I imagine it sounds very weird, to some like mysticism, to others like giving up, to still others just plain gobbledy-gook.

It’s okay to probe, tho. Maybe if you poke at me it will help me.

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