Second day at Agile 2011 – Part 1

Second day at Agile 2011 – Part 1

Here is the story of my second day in Salt Lake City at the Agile2011 Conference.

The day began with a keynote by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph D in Psychology who started her talk by acknowledging that the authors of the Agile Manifesto really nailed human nature when they gathered 10 years ago. She said many similarities existed between Agile and her research field in psychology and explained her theory about Positive Emotions. According to her studies, Positive emotions expand people’s awareness
and can even transform them in the long term.

She said that to create the mindset of positivity, you need to

  • Be open
  • Be appreciative
  • Be curious
  • Be kind
  • Be Real

Being positive doesn’t necessarily mean that you show false positivity, always smiling and pretending that everything is great. This is the worst thing to do. On the opposite, positivity cannot exist without negativity, explained Dr Fredrickson. The thing you want to avoid is this downward spiral of negativity that drags you toward depression. Her studies proved that a ratio of 3 to 1 actually exists between positivity and negativity. In other words, it takes 3 positive emotions to compensate 1 negative emotion. To illustrate this, she used a sailboat metaphor, where positivity is the mast and sails of the boat, whereas negativity is the keel. A boat without a keel would not go really far but it needs wind in the sails to move forward. Positive emotions only work if you understand what adversity means. Only when you understand the negative side of things can you use positive emotions to turn things around and break the spiral of depression.

It’s interesting to see how software development and psychology are getting closer together, the more time I spent in these agile gigs. Last year during Agile Testing Days, Linda Rising already opened a few new doors for me. I also remember the presentation of Gojko Adzic ironically presenting agilists as hippies embracing trees. It seems we are not that far from this. Indeed, Dr Fredricksons stated that Love and Kindness Meditation could be used to make people more open and aware of the things that happen around them, using positive thinking to broaden their horizon and their understanding of their environment.

One of the great thinkers of our time once said, I quote “Y a des gens qui n’ont pas réussi parce qu’ils ne sont pas aware, ils ne sont pas “au courant”. Ils ne sont pas à l’attention de savoir qu’ils existent.” which could basically translate by (including grammatical mistakes) “There are people who did not succeed because they are not aware. They are not at the attention of knowing they exist”. This great thinker is Jean-Claude Van Damme. Makes any sense 😀

The next session I attended to was presented by no one else than Ron Jeffries himself and Chet Hendrickson, the very first person to sign the Agile Manifesto. As Chet mentioned, it took 17 people to write the manifesto, but only one person got to be the first to sign it 🙂

This session was somehow retrospecting on 10 years of practicing Agile, explaining what thought they got right, and what they thought they ( and we) got wrong. Any other than Ron and Chet would have presented such a talk, it would have been called highly controversial. But since they both were their when it all began, they are by definition legitimate to present this session without being burnt on the bonfire of dogmatism.

Dogmatism is indeed the first criticism they raise about these 10 years of Agile. Anyone who starts with Agile tends to be dogmatic about it, whereas people with more experience know that there is no rule that can not be broken when the cause it right.

The false competition that has somehow raised between the different methodologies of Agile is the second criticism. Scrum, XP, DSDM, FDD, Crystal all of them respond to the same principle and actually enforce each other. They should not be put in competition but people should learn to take from any of them what they need.

Estimation and planning was one point on which both speakers insisted that, had they known better, they would have removed the whole chapter from their book Extreme Programming Installed. According to them, the whole thing focuses too much on costs and not enough on what is really important : the business value.

The role of Customer/Product Owner is also one thing they are disappointed about. Even if the business focus is a very good thing, the fact that one person takes that role tends to lead to an ‘Us vs Them” kind of relationship that would not exist if the whole team was embracing the business focus.

Even iterations are suspects to their eyes, and they would like to think more in terms of flow than timebox, using notions coming from Lean and “The Kanban” as they like to name it.

Kanban again, seems to have drawn their attention, since it facilitate change and adaptation. In Kanban, you start by taking a look at where you are, and analyze what you can improve. Scrum or XP are much more demanding in terms of change since there are a lot of things to put in place to be able to start calling yourself Agile.

Ron and Chet also pointed out that “Agile” was actually a bad name because it was too good. Nowadays, everyone wants to be agile (notice the lower case a) even though not that many know what Agile really means. This trend brought up some neologisms like Scrum-but : “Of course we do Scrum.. But we don’t really use retrospectives, neither do we do reviews because nobody shows up anyway. Coding practices ? Well these are XP things, they are not really part of Scrum, so we don’t really need them…” You see the point.

“Change is painful and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell something”.

As a conclusion, Ron and Chet summarized their talk saying that in the next few years, they were looking forward to

  • Measure by value (instead of cost)
  • Find sweet spots and get there faster
  • Move toward flow (instead of iterations)
  • Have the whole team focus on business (instead of PO)
  • Have a synthesis of all compatible ideas
  • Recognize and build true skills
Cédric Pontet

Cédric Pontet is a seasoned Lean and Agile practitioner, with more than 13 years of experience in software development. He really started focusing on Agile project management when he joined Agile Partner. Since 2005. Cédric has been involved in sizable projects, for several customers in sectors as various as "notaries" public sector, intellectual property management, banking & insurance, or post & telecom. He has been working on these projects first as a developer, and then as an architect and a team leader, gaining more and more experience and agility, while always keeping an eye on technology evolutions. Lately, Cédric has been spending more time coaching teams to start their agile transformation, evangelizing Lean and Agile values, in Luxembourg and its neighboring countries, not only for software development but beyond.

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