Monday, September 15, 2008

Screw the Practices...

I was at Agile 2008 with several people in a session with J.B. Rainsberger (past Gordon Pask Award winner). He threw out a very interesting theorem, which I will try to channel here (apologies to JB for stealing and tweaking):

Every agile adopter is going through a journey of stages, and we might observe the maturity of an agile coach or practitioner by this path or even predict where the agile community is going. It points out that we continuously evolve our view and flip between pragmatist and purist views (the topic of the session we were in).

  1. The Agile Convert attempts to learn an Agile Practice.
  2. The Agile Purist follows the Practice to a fault.
  3. The Agile Pragmatist starts to realize that the Practice doesn't work in all situations and pursues the Agile Principle molding the Practice to their specific environment.
  4. The Agile Purist follows the Principle.
  5. The Agile Pragmatist starts to realize that the Principle doesn't work in all situations and pursues the Agile Value molding the Practice and Principle to their specific environment.
  6. The Agile Purist follows the Value.
  7. The Agile Pragmatist starts to realize that the value doesn't work in all situations and pursues the ??? molding the value, principle, and practice to their specific environment.
  8. The self-actualized Agile Follower realizes that Agile is the embodiment of some higher understanding that can be applied in part or whole to any environment to help deliver more value… they forget the boundaries of values, principles, or practices… these are just simple mechanisms to enable the education of agile to others.
Having communicated this to a few people since then, the one piece of feedback I find that people agree on is that this path happens at different rates for different topics in agile. You might be at step 2 for TDD and step 6 for iterations.

J.B. was predicting it won't be long before various agile leaders start bringing up ideas that go against where the community would have initially expected to go. I wonder if Arlo Belshee might have already done this with his "Promiscuous Pairing" and "Naked Planning" concepts (which is why he won the Gordon Pask award this past year at Agile 2008).

Interesting theory. It resonated with me. It reinforces that it is not about the name of what you are doing, or even how you are doing it. Agile is a philosophical approach to delivering a better working environment that produces a better outcome.

Agile 2008 was over a month ago... why am I writing about this today? Because Jeff Langr reminded me of it when he recently pushed back against the Chicken, Pig concept for standing meetings.

Another note: steps 3, 5, and 7 above remind me a lot of the "Ha" level of Shu, Ha, Ri as conveyed by Alistair Cockburn awhile ago. Step 8 feels like Ri.


  1. I wonder whether the level above "value" is something like "philosophy" or "value system".

  2. I think philosophy is a better word, but quite a few people used the word value at Agile 2008 so I picked it for recognizability.