Sunday, November 16, 2008

Indiscipline kills Agile

That Jim Shore is doing it again. Here's another post I put on his blog.

Agile isn't for everyone. Is that heresy? I turn now, equally heretically, to a sports analogy.

In baseball, there's a belief that an underachieving team can sometimes be improved by bringing in a manager who's not just a different face but a different style. If the previous regime was easygoing with the players, the new one needs to be a disciplinarian, and vice versa. In clubs that are perpetually bad, there's often a perceptible oscillation over time between the two poles.

The interesting thing is, the strategy is thought to work in the short term. Intense managers raise the team's intensity, yielding better results; looser managers increase the team's--I dunno--zen, also improving results. For example: the Tampa Bay Rays got to the World Series this year with a prototypical "player's coach" (Joe Maddon) who replace perhaps THE prototypical disciplinarian, Lou Piniella.

Over time (the conventional wisdom goes), players adjust, cultures change, the results ebb, and eventually the team is ripe for a new revolution.

To return, finally, to software: hidebound developer teams can benefit from Agile. They discover new things about themselves and their business by going iterative and tightening feedback cycles. If they are sufficiently self-aware to capture their discoveries, their engineers can probably engineer an improvement here and there.

However, software developers that can't sustain their own discipline amidst some of Agile's freedoms--i.e., developers who are not especially professionalized or engineerish--are not going to thrive with Agile. Not long term. Indiscipline kills Agile.

No comments: