I love Agile methodologies. There. I said it.
I love Agile.
Recently, Robert C. Martin aka “Uncle Bob” visited my workplace. I didn’t know that I was invited to join the party, or I would have, especially after I was informed that he was the organizer of the little convention that resulted in the Agile Manifesto. Alas, a missed opportunity.
I don’t remember if Paul Tevis (designer of A Penny for My Thoughts) was my original exposure to Agile, but I do know that my trying to understand his comments on Twitter about his Agile outings drove my original research. I found myself attracted to Agile because it was trying to solve actual problems while also providing the basis for a humane workplace by having a more realistic understanding of risk and uncertainty compared to older waterfall methods.
Somewhere along the way, I also discovered Lean, coming out of the Toyota Production System. I learned to love kaizen–a lifestyle of constant improvement–and the idea that our work is to do our work and to improve our work. Even more than this, I loved the underlying emphasis on respect for people–all people–that forms the foundation for Lean. Again, in this developing thinking on the workplace, I see the potential for a humane workplace that values workers while empowering them to provide truly valuable service to customer and to the world at large.
But when I look at the literature, I don’t see is an embracing of the underlying principles of iteration, constant evolutionary improvement, respect for people, honoring the craftsman, or the like. Instead, I see discussions around the implementation of the tools of Agile and Lean. So, being Agile means working in “sprints” –whatever that means–and writing features on note cards instead of on a Gantt chart. Or maybe it means open office workspaces or stand-up meetings or the use of story points and burndown charts. In a similar way, I see Lean reduced to a focus on reducing wastefulness or the implementation of a pull system.
The approach seems to be that you can grab a couple tools off the Agile shelf or pull a couple plays from the Lean playbook and somehow create a magic bullet that will solve all your problems.
Come to think of it, I see a lot of this thinking everywhere. “Just adopt these three easy-to-implement methods,” the ad says, “and it will change your business overnight.”
The transformative power of an Agile or Lean approach lies not in their methods but in their philosophies of work. The tools of Agile and Lean–burndown charts, kanban, sprints, story points, pull systems, 5S, and the like–are the result of their philosophical approaches to work. You can’t dress up the old command-and-control systems with a couple of nifty looking methods and expect to get amazing results. The world doesn’t look like that. People don’t work like that.
No method will magically make it all easier. There is a reason it’s called “work”, after all. And yet, I think that we can learn much from the philosophies that brought us Agile and Lean.
Trust your workers.
Be honest with each other.
Own your work.
Constantly pursue the betterment of yourself and those around you.
Make things of value in ways that help and not harm the world.
Have reasonable expectations.
Do these things, and you will do well.