Agile and Politics, Redux

A recent friend on Facebook started this conversation yesterday. I’d like to elaborate a bit. What do our experiences in technology governance tell us about how governments should be run?

I’m an Agile coach. I use the term “Agile” because a few guys were nice enough to provide us with a marketing term. “Mentoring in best practices around incremental and iterative development” just doesn’t fit on a powerpoint deck.

So when I say “Agile”, it has a completely different meaning than something like “PSP” (A methodology where developers are told exactly what to do) It’s not rigid. It’s a growing, learning community. We learn because various members come out with cool ideas, we all try them, then we figure out the edge cases and hidden assumptions. It’s a great community.

What I commonly see is people that “get it”, turn around and start creating rigid, overbearing systems of governance to implement Agile! It sounds crazy, since Agile is very non-prescriptive in many areas, but there it is. People will take something that tries to focus on people instead of process and make a rigid process out of it.

My conclusion after watching this in corporation after corporation is twofold. One, some people just want stability in their lives. They would rather have “bad Agile”, where everything is spelled out to infinite detail, than live with not knowing how things are done. They find comfort in creating a “program” that the rest of us have to live. They like organizing things.

Two, that the risks the organization faces is different than the risk the teams face. Teams can make a trade-off about the risk of deploying something half-assed into production that makes sense to them. But it’s much too risky for the organization itself. You can’t have teams making risky local decisions that can impact everybody else. So you have to have some kind of governance.

And that’s why I consider myself a pragmatic libertarian. You have to have laws. The trick is in creating a system that minimizes the complexity and power of the laws while also reducing risk to others. This is also why I have an aversion to folks I think are a little too eager to control the rest of us or talk about some kind of danger we face from corporations or terrorists — this is a slippery slope that will do nothing but destroy the chaos that makes us all so successful.

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