Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Confessions of an Agile Purist

It's sunny down in Texas today and the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan is cranking from my Mac's tiny speakers. It all seems appropriate somehow, Texas blues and the recent accusation that I am an "Agile Purist." My initial thought was that that label was somehow derogatory, a slap in the face, a put-down. A few sweet licks from SRV's guitar has helped me see the light, however. Now I'm ready to embrace the Agile Purist tag rather than trying to wash it off.

So here's the deal, I train and coach Agile teams and have been extremely successful at both of these related endeavors. My philosophy is a simple one: present the rules of the product development game, primarily Scrum, but drawing also on the best that XP has to offer, with a little Lean thrown in for leavening, so that my trainees both know the rules of the game and have the beginnings of a sense of how to take the field and begin to play. Experienced Agilists know all too well that the framework is very simple and lightweight, but that does not make it easy to put into practice. Indeed, simple most certainly does not equate to easy in this context. So my guiding principle is to make sure that everyone in my training classes emerges knowing what to do when they hit the ground, whether with me there to coach them or not.

When I'm coaching, I follow the same principle. Everyone knows exactly what to do -- or at least what to expect -- every single day that I'm on the ground with a client, whether it's an ordinary day with a daily Scrum, a Sprint planning day, or a Review/Demo and Retrospective day. What happens, specifically, during each day is highly variable and hence where the difficulty lies in putting this simple framework into practice. Starting with that Agile Purist approach, which in reality means making sure that everyone knows what to do/expect coming into each day on the job, has served my clients very, very well indeed.

What this means is that I train and coach client teams to play by the rules so that they have confidence in what they are doing and in their individual and collective ability to do it from day one. I want them to learn good habits so that when the unexpected happens -- or when the entirely predictable challenges arise -- they are in the best possible position to make adjustments and continue moving forward with their Agile practice.

Aside from the purely practical, experiential basis for following the rules of the game, there is this one other thing that informs my work as a trainer and coach: I actually believe in the value of the core Agile principles captured in the Agile Manifesto. I believe that putting those principles into practice -- playing by the rules -- has a proven record of success, not just in getting the right product to market, at the right time, and for the right price, but that those principles translated into practices create a healthy, productive, and adaptive work environment that none of the prepackaged methodologies can ever hope to touch.

My devotion to Agile principles and practices, those rules of the game, is therefore not based on a pedantic need to follow some arbitrary formula. Once a team I am coaching learns how to play at a basic level, which typically happens very quickly, I help them learn how to adapt their practices as needed, all the while keeping the principles in the forefront of everyone's mind. We're just not going to start there, on the highly adaptive end of the time line.

So yes, I admit it: I am an Agile Purist.

All for now....


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