Being an Apprentice is better than a Scrum Master (Tools do not make thou work with Agility)

Buzzwords. They seem to make their way into the vernacular via the process of regurgitation from folks farther and farther removed from the source. They start out as simple ways for tech folks to quickly communicate a concept to other tech folk and eventually become shorthand for explaining something to the business. The process of using analogy to describe something is not a bad thing, but when a shorthand term itself creates a cottage industry, one might want to dig deeper. In particular, let’s talk about the now Hackneyed term “Agile.” With the growing drumbeat of organizations trying to squeeze more efficiency out of teams, they have turned to the “magical pixie dust” delivered through the now buzzword of Agile. Heck, even people that helped create the Agile Manifesto are now having to respond to it (see Dave Thomas post here). All these certified scrum-master courses that are popping up like weeds in a bed of mulch after a rain are perhaps the tipping point for the overuse of a shorthand term.
Look, the guys that put together the Agile manifesto were just trying to cut through all the bullshit that happens in traditional corporate spaces to just ship some decent software fast. Taking simple concepts and creating a certification (Scrum Master) for it seem counterintuitive to me since, if it were actually simple, then why would there be a need for a certification rigor?  It makes more sense to me to have a mindset of being an apprentice where you are constantly reminding yourself how to work efficiently by….

  • Valuing Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Preferring Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Valuing Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The reason the guys behind the Agile Manifesto came up with these simple terms, was precisely because all the damn project managers at large organizations were so locked into the doing massive “waterfall” style project plans and Gantt charts and dedicated people to do technical writing in bloated 6MB Word documents that software developers just couldn’t work quickly and without friction. Dave Thomas made the point that people should stop using the term Agile as perhaps a noun, and go back to using it as a action statement more akin to an adjective.
Dave says the following brilliant statement: “It’s easy to tack the word “agile” onto just about anything. Agility is harder to misappropriate.” So for him you aren’t and agile programmer – you are a programmer that programs with AGILITY. You don’t work on an agile team, you work on a team that exhibits AGILITY. You don’t use “agile tools”, you use tools that enhance your AGILITY.

Since I myself have been been trying to make people on my team act and work with more “agility”, I try to keep myself tuned into ideas and people that “get it.”  So when someone tries to help convert traditional IT project managers and technical managers into working with more “agility”, it is worth taking note. Kamal Manglani’s book is trying to do just that. He is trying to get people to work with more agility. Having worked with Kamal in the past, I can tell you that he does get it. Kamal starts shaking his head when standups are taking too long and people turn them into bitchfests or psuedo spikes. He is known for being a bulldog that will search people out and sit with them at their desk in person to solve a problem and won’t leave them alone until the problem gets attention or resolution.  He’s the guy that frown’s on large bloated Word Docs in favor of a wiki or a readme file in Git. His book at least doesn’t misuse the term agile, it’s called ‘The Apprentice and the Project Manager‘.  So, while the devs hopefully get it, at least someone is trying to get those pesky project managers thinking and acting with more AGILTY, not being “agile”.  If this helps teams ship things faster and gets teams more productive by reducing the number of folks in their path, I’m cool with it.  Since we have to keep reminding ourselves how to do work with agility, perhaps being permanent apprentices is better than a scrum “master” of anything.  Is anyone ever a master?

Skateboarding and Open Source Communities

I have been skateboarding since 1986.  I love it.  I cannot get it out of my blood.  I still skate today regularly even after years of injuries: broken toe, broken thumb, broken clavicle, multiple ripped ligaments…the list goes on.  This is more than dedication, skating it is a life-morphing adrenaline rush that can forever change you.  I also love computers and software development and have been doing that since 1990.  Rodney Mullen is one of the most influential skateboarders in skateboarding.  You may not have heard about him, but this guy is amazing.  He won literally every competition in freestyle skateboarding he ever competed in.  He basically invented the entire category of freestyle skateboarding.  He defined a singular work ethic in skateboarding that many in skateboarding couldn’t groc at the time skating upwards of 9 hours a day.  But he didn’t stop there.  He started a company and made it hugely successful and then sold it.

Sound familiar?  This is what software developers and folks like us do in Silicon Valley all the time.  Imagine my joy when one of my idols was able to articulate the similarities between the skateboarding community and the open source tech community.  Recently, Rodney Mullen was a speaker at Ted Talk at the USC campus in LA.  At the talk Mullen pointed out the importance of creativity and innovation in skateboarding.  He says the greater the contribution to the community, the greater the response and extension by the community.  Man does this ever hit home.  He makes the example of the Ollie and how that singular trick development and innovation spawned an entire new set of skateboarding tricks that have come to define the sport.

The comparison to the open source community within the tech world has the same multiplier effect like in skateboarding.  Look at the amazing decisions to make software like Linux, Apache, Hadoop, and OpenStack available to the community.  The community responds in kind with continuous advancements and ongoing maintenance.  We all benefit.  So while you may want to do a startup to be successful (and to be sure skateboarders invent tricks to be successul too) the joy and benefit of your creativity to the open source community  is also a worthy reward.  I say this also to draw your attention to the incredible work ethic of many skateboarders and the innovative community they foster.  Our two communities have many similarities.

See the Ted Talk here.