Am I Agile?

If someone were to ask me if I’m agile, I’m not so sure I’d say yes. For one–I’ve seen a lot of negative connotation to the word and I can’t help but think to some, being agile in an organization is at the worst, a recipe for career suicide or at the least, impeding it. Perhaps I’m being cowardly, but I’m starting to think it might be best to sometimes just to keep my mouth shut and model what I believe. It will make a bigger impact on those who don’t believe.

So, what do I believe exactly? I think that while I may be an agilest at heart (influenced primarily by scrum and some by Kanban and Lean), much of my way of thinking comes from W. Edwards Deming’s teachings.

These are my core beliefs:

Focus– First lesson I learned from our scrum teacher. This has been reinforced by understanding Single Piece Flow from TPS and studies of Flow (psychology). Oddly, I’ve never seen Deming bring this up. Perhaps it wasn’t so much of a problem in his time.

Continuous Improvement– Agile got me started on this, but Deming has me thinking more and more about PDSA. These two go hand and hand quite nicely. This principle is probably at the core of pretty much everything I do.

Customer Delight– Important to Agile, but Deming has driven this home to me even more. Its not enough to have a satisfied customer. They must come back and wait in line and bring a friend with them. Even this may not be enough.

Teamwork– Extremely important to Agile, but again, Deming’s thought of treating others on the team or within the system like they are your customers really rings true to me. The thought that everyone is part of a single system in an organization fits well with Agile’s emphasis on breaking down silos.

Motivating Others– Deming’s emphasis on understanding psychology to motivate is a core belief of his. Joy and pride in work are corner stones of his. Jeff Sutherland says the same thing in his book. In other books I’ve read by both Deming and agilests, the importance of getting people to be intrinsically motivated over extrinsically is important for both productivity and quality of work (not to mention quality of life).

Appreciation of a System– Definitely a Deming tenant, though the tools I use to help me understand it are rooted in Kanban (I’m big into wall charts). Deming’s belief that 95% of any problem is because of the system and not the individual goes through my mind any time I encounter a problem on the job. Jeff Sutherland also introduced me to Fundamental Attribution Error, which is closely related.

Importance of Immediate Value– Something that is becoming more and more important to me. Definitely an Agile pillar. I’m starting to wonder if this is something Deming would oppose, though. I’m starting to find that what a person values could be the incorrect. If we just create on what our customer values, it could lead us to ruination. Deming might say building expectation is more important. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about this one.

Sustainable Pace– Spelled out specifically in the Agile manifesto principles. This saves me from burning out and I am constantly checking to see if I’ve found a good pace that I can keep indefinitely. I’ve never seen Deming say anything about a sustainable pace. Not sure what he would think, though I think this might fit into his concept of understanding a system.

Education/Knowledge/Training– Deming is big into this. Its not something that is specifically spelled out with Agile, though it certainly falls into kaizen and continuous improvement.

Change Agency– When you join the Scrum Alliance, they ask you to be an advocate for agile. I see it as a crucial role for any scrum master. I’ve heard some say that if you have good scrum masters, you don’t need coaches. Deming never said we needed to be a change agent, but he spent his whole life trying to convince others of doing things a better way. He didn’t stop trying to make a difference until the end of his life. He gave a seminar only a month before his death. That is inspiration to me.


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