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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Can dying plan-based projects be recussitated?

We’ve all seen this. A one-year project in its 13th month, and the Project Manager has been reporting 80% of the tasks at 90% and has been doing so for the last 120 days. There’s no end in sight, and the customer is leaking cash every day the product fails to go into production. What can be done? Agile project management principles can help this all-too-frequent scenario.

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Asymmetry of Knowledge and Abuse of Agile Practice

I read an article in Wired yesterday that was modified from a book “Freakonomics“. The article talks about real-estate agents and motivation to push the price of houses they are selling $10,000 higher. The observation was that the $150 incremental gain for the agents (1.5% of $10,000) doesn’t make it worth their holding out an extra three weeks to get the higher number. Their interest is in closing quickly and moving on. They can often convince (through fear) the poor seller of a price that suits their interest. He wasn’t even sure if it was conscious, but it naturally flowed out of the asymetrical knowledge levels between the agent and the client. (I’m reminded here of the saying “A System’s Purpose Is What It Does”.) This asymmetry of knowledge is highly important in the Agile community’s current situation, in that it gives early practitioners the “expert” status, and lots of power to help or hurt the client.

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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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Mishkin Berteig attains Scrum Master Practicing Certification

Mishkin Berteig, the founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. and the Agile Advice blog has been listed on the Control Chaos web site as a Certified Scrum Master Practicing. This certification represents acknowledgement of Mishkin’s real-world experience as a Scrum Master. Scrum is a collection of management patterns used to implement agile principles and practices for new product development.

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Agile HR – Sort Of

An article called Are You Ready for the Agile Future presents a brief discussion about the role of HR in an agile organization. There are several very good ideas. The basic idea is that the HR function must adapt to the nature of agility. This in turn means, for example, hiring people that are agile, nimble, adaptable etc.

There are however some mis-steps in the article.

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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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