Category Archives: Theory of Agile

People are Creators

People are creators: we willfully change our environment, we imagine new things and through our actions, manifest those things in the world. All people do this. Human beings enjoy having an effect on their environment and seeing the results of that effect. We all have this ability. We all derive satisfaction from the exercise of this ability. And we can all learn to improve this ability.

In any endeavor we take on, we are attempting to create something new. A new system, a new object, a new pattern of behavior, or a new way of thinking. We are attempting to create change. This is one of three fundamental axioms of Agile Work.


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Management and Business as Sources of Waste

Waste can be of several different types. Independent of what the types of wastes are, they can also come from different sources. When attempting agile work, it is essential to identify the underlying causes or sources of waste. Once these sources are identified, efforts can be made to change them so that they cause less waste.

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The Qualities of an Ideal Test

These six qualities of tests describe how to make a test as effective and as useful as possible. The qualities are similar in style to the INVEST qualities of user stories – but they don’t form a nice acronym.

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Self Organizing Systems FAQ

Just a link to the Self Organizing System FAQ – glanced through it, it looks amazing.


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Amplify Learning

Learning is the result of both encountering new experiences and deliberate experimentation. Learning creates new knowledge, increased volition and improved action.

Some of people’s best learning comes from “failure”. An essential component of learning is feedback.

Learning and feedback can be amplified in several ways. Provide opportunities for learning through books, training courses, coaching, deliberate exposure to diverse work, and deliberate experimentation. Frequently ask the questions “why?” and “how?” and answer them honestly and deeply. Increase the level and quality of communication among the stakeholders and team members. Inspect work in progress frequently or even continuously. Learning accelerates greatly if a culture of learning is created where individuals feel free to experiment and take initiative even on critical aspects of the work.

Learning and feedback support all three agile principles. People become more effective creators as they learn. People are better able to adapt to and embrace change as they learn. And a person’s span of perception increases as they learn. Any increase in learning or feedback leads to an increase in the manifestation of the principles.

Learning and feedback can be amplified rapidly, but an empowered team is necessary to effectively take advantage of this amplification. If a team is not empowered, then rapid learning can lead to frustration. Amplified learning and feedback result in excitement, enthusiasm and playfulness, rapid problem solving, high quality work results and satisfied stakeholders.

An excellent analysis of learning at a social or group level is presented in Progress and Its Problems by Larry Laudan. In this very well written book, Laudan takes a look at the history and philosophy of science and develops a model for learning that is applicable to the development of agile methods.


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Empower the Team

Empowerment is the ability of a team to make decisions about how to do their work and execute on those decisions without outside interference. If a team is empowered, then it will be more capable of responding to change, and it will be able to focus on manifesting the members’ creative potential. Empowerment comes from a combination of several factors:

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Reasons for Conflict or Disagreement

As part of the Advanced Scrum Training, Esther Derby presents a section on conflict. One very insightful part of the presentation is a description of four reasons for the existence of conflict or disagreement. They are as follows (adapted from “Advanced Scrum: Collaboration Skills for Scrum Teams” (c)2004-2005 Esther Derby):

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Change is Natural – “Embrace Change”

Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained : Embrace Change” provides a good introduction to how software development can embrace the constant change that affects our world. Some of the practices he introduces are very software-specific. However, the overall basic message is sound and provides a foundational principle for all agile work. (By the way, the book is excellent.)

Change really does occur everywhere. Change is constant. A google search for “embrace change” or “change is constant” will both turn up an incredible variety of articles, papers, discussions, books and viewpoints that all affirm the constant nature of change and the need to embrace it.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to accomodate change when we also have a legitimate and deep desire to know what is coming next.

For many teams, the environment in which they work is constantly changing. This change can be caused by competition between organizations, scientific or technological advances, fads and cultural shifts, major events in people’s personal lives or even just a change of opinion with a stakeholder. Any change, even small change, can invalidate a planned course of action. However, goals (as distinct from plans) are more stable and often survive even major environmental changes. Therefore, rather than trying to plan the future, an agile team can focus on being able to respond to change while still reaching a goal.

Nevertheless, a team needs some sense of what it will do in the near future. A team can work with a “horizon of predictability”. This is the distance into the future which a team can be reasonably certain that plans will be stable. Depending on the environment, this may be as little as a few minutes, or as long as a month. It is rarely longer. The horizon of predictability is not a precise demarcation, rather, expect change with a probability based on the horizon of predictability. Then, plan to respond to change. Be detached from the concrete details of a plan, particularly if they occur outside the horizon of predictability.

Agile Work - Horizon of Predictability

Responding to change requires a major mental shift for many people that is difficult and takes time and environmental support. People are often penalized socially or formally for being flexible or adaptable. This quality can appear to be “wishy-washy”, uncertain, indecisive, uncommitted or even rebellious.

The terms “agility” or “agile work” refer to this principle of embracing constant change since it is the most visible of the principles. However, the ability to respond to change relies on the establishment of agile work disciplines and practices.


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Plan Methods Oppose Agile Work Axioms

Plan driven methodologies which attempt to mechanize the process of doing work are in opposition to the three Agile Work Principles.

We are Creators
A plan methodology attempts to define intermediate and end work products independently of the input and effort of those who perform the work of creating the work products. This disenfranchises people from their work and leads to low morale. It also establishes a heirarchy of value for the people working on an effort where those who create the plans are perceived as more important or valuable than those who execute on the plans.

Change is Natural
This principle is usually acknowledged, but is usually described as a “problem” to be dealt with rather than as a basic principle to be fully embraced. A plan methodology has “change control” or “change management” and “risk management” and puts the whole notion of change in a negative light. This approach also disenfranchises people because they are constantly placed in opposition to reality.

Reality is Perceived
Plans attempt to legislate reality. “Thus and so must the project go” results in a constant struggle between the plan and peoples’ perception of reality. Plans marginalize the importance of perception on the belief that reality can be objectively understood. If reality can be objectively understood, then it can be mechanistically manipulated. Thus results can be pre-determined without regard for the perception of those results.


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Truthfulness and the Three Agile Axioms

A few more words are in order about how Truthfulness is the foundation upon which the three Agile Axioms rest. Taking them one at a time:

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Considering the Agile Manifesto and the Axioms of Agile Work

The Agile Manifesto, aimed squarely at software development, is inaccurate when considered against the more general target of Agile Work. The Agile Software Manifesto reads in part:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

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