Agile · Decision making · Ideals · Principles · Product management

Agile theory and messy reality

By temperament I am somewhat of an intellectual.  I enjoy abstract conversations and discussions about the “right” way to do things.  My personality type – according to tests like the Myers Briggs Temperament Indicator or the Enneagram – tends to the idealistic, meaning I place a high value on integrity and push myself and the organizations I work with to pursue best practices.  These personal preferences make Agile – with its emphasis on principles over rigid structure – a natural approach for me to embrace when thinking about product development; they also make my current firm – with its focus on principles over rules – a good fit professionally.  Which all sounds great in theory.

The problem comes when reality intrudes into these ideals.

Just a few days ago at the close of our morning scrum one developer said to another, ‘According to strict Scrum practice you ought to do things this way, but if you and the tester you’re working with are comfortable doing things differently that’s fine too.’  In my role as a sort of hybrid scrum master/product owner I probably ought to encourage us to follow these well-established principles closely – or since Agile is principles-based instead of rules-based should I encourage my team to ‘self-organize’ in whatever way works best for them?

I find the Agile principles excellent and compelling, however in practice I frequently discover that in truth it’s not that simple.  This is the theme I plan to touch on over the next few weeks, sharing some examples of how my scrum teams and my company as a whole wrestle with applying Agile principles in the complex world of software development.  Fortunately for me the issue rarely comes down to lack of organizational support for Agile; over the past 10 years the company where I work has increasingly embraced this approach to developing products.  But that doesn’t resolve all of the daily issues we confront.  I look forward to sharing my experiences over the coming weeks in the hopes that perhaps others will find useful insight from these struggles.  I’m no expert, but if you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @asbiv.  Thanks.


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