Friday, September 10, 2010

Rehumanize Your Work

I was -- and remain -- a big fan of the popular music that characterized the 1980s. One of my favorite bands was The Police and one of my favorite songs was "Rehumanize Yourself" from their album Ghost in the Machine. That song was never a radio-play hit, but it always hit home with me. Listening to that album the other day on my iPod reminded me why it is exactly that I now spend my working life at what is essentially Agile evangelism.

Many of the key reasons companies decide to adopt Agile are based on hard-nosed financial, business, value, and competitiveness calculations. And that is as it should be. After all, without a competitive business there would be no employment. So yes, the competitive boost companies derive from Agile is a key benefit. But for me, the greatest benefit is the rehumanization of work and of the workplace.

Among the most insidious results of Frederick Winslow Taylor's Scientific Management was the utter and complete de-humanization of work and the workplace. In the software development world, the various pre-packaged methodologies that have come along have all contained the spirit of Taylorism with its cynical, command-and-control approach to the people doing the work.

The real genius of the Toyota Production System, to me, was its inventors' realization that the assembly line was not mechanistic; it was, in fact, a social system that could only work properly if it took into account the human element. The result was the andon cord, which gave all workers on the floor both the responsibility and the authority to control their work.

Henry Ford once said: "Why is it that when I want to hire a pair of hands, a brain comes attached to them?" This is the essence of Taylorism -- and the antipathy of the entire concept of the andon cord. No worker in any of Henry Ford's factories was ever given authority to stop the line.

Software development -- or any other type of product development -- obviously requires hands that are attached to a brain, but traditional methodologies assume that the brain thus involved must be allowed to work only within rigid constraints because the people doing the work obviously have neither the capacity nor the inclination to take responsibility for their work. This, too, is the essence of Taylorism.

The genius of XP and Scrum, which are my main focus within Agile, is the recognition of the human element, of the fact that product development is primarily a social activity. By offering the people doing the work the authority to accomplish that work as they see fit, by giving them the responsibility to ensure that the work is done in the best possible way, and by establishing the social environment in which that authority and responsibility can be expressed to its fullest, Scrum and XP provide the best known framework for rehumanizing the work and workplace.

Along with the values, principles, and practices of XP and Scrum, conscientious, dedicated leadership completes the puzzle. So how about it? What will you do, today, to rehumanize your work?

All for now...



  1. Well said! You are much more eloquent about the human, or people, focus of Agile and Scrum than many others.

    If I may be so bold, my attempt at describing this needed human focus is here:

  2. Hi Alan,

    Thank you for the kind words. I like your description of the overlapping focus of the three Scrum roles. There is always more than just the work.