Why We Need More Understanding and Fewer Gurus

November 26, 2017 — Posted by Al Shalloway
Our industry is in a crazy state. While all the popular frameworks/methods tout how great they are discussions with most companies I run across tells another story. 
 
We have consultants telling us how great Agile is and why we should be exporting it to other industries all the while forgetting that Agile is an adoption of decades' old ideas to the software world.
 
I was going to write a full blog on why I believe this, and may in the future.  But the premise of such a blog is:
  • There are known laws of software development that are well known by experienced practitioners but rarely mentioned or given enough attention by our popular frameworks/methods
  • Most popular frameworks/methods measure themselves by how well you are doing the method instead of how well you are adding value to yourselves and your customers 
  • The mantra “flow when you can pull when you must” is very true and very useful.  Unfortunately, it is also mostly ignored since almost all of our popular frameworks/methods are based on batches and pull instead of flow.  Flow is when there are no queues between the steps. Cross-functional teams appropriately teaming together is one way to achieve this.  The point is not so much that you actually achieve flow but that you strive for it.  Getting closer to flow is the goal.
  • Agile requires more discipline than waterfall yet most people address it in an undisciplined manner
  • Most consultants cater to practitioners’ desire for quick and easy solutions resulting in a mismatch of solutions to the challenges at hand.
  • That consultants don’t differentiate between simple solutions and simplistic solutions
  • Systems-thinking has been demonstrated to be not only effective, but necessary.  Yet none of the popular framework/methods incorporate true systems-thinking.  See What If Russ Ackoff Had Given a Ted Talk for more.
  • That our goal should be achieving business-agility: the realization of business/customer value quickly, predictably, sustainably and with high quality.  
  • If a guru tells us their method “is simple, just use it as is” they are not going for understanding.  If that’s the case, then they shouldn’t get upset when people don’t understand.

The reality is that it is reasonably well-known what it takes to achieve effectiveness (building the right thing) and efficiency (building it properly).  The real problem is manifesting it.  In other words, it's not what to do, it's how to get people to do it.  This is a cultural issue.  It will not be achieved by simply telling people what to do.  There is no single, one-size-fits-all available.  The software development world has changed dramatically in the last 47 years.  The second language I learned was Algol, using punch cards.  We got two turnarounds a day.  Now you get a compiler doing at least two a second.  This isn't faster, this is different.  But the common factor is people.  As Jerry Weinberg said decades ago: "The Second Law of Consulting: No matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem."

I'm not saying you shouldn't use an existing framework like Scrum or SAFe.  Just know that they are a start and that you need to get beyond them.  You still have to think.  Yeah, I know that's a bummer.

Al Shalloway

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.



        

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