Agile nuns

Constancy reduces Complexity

NUNS fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound 10
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
1806. William Wordsworth

Wordsworth certainly knew what probably is the main stumbling block to an Agile coach after we start a Transformation, the wailing that won’t quit. Why so much structure? Why do we have to have Sprint Reviews? Can’t we do everything in the Retrospective?

When one starts an Agile transition or an Agile transformation, there are, always, forever, two big stumbling blocks. One is hit with the toe right away: the roles. How come there are no Managers? Hey, I’m a Business Analyst, why I’m grouped with the Developers? And so on. This usually is solved with a two-pronged approach: some clear concepts and some good working techniques deployed by the Coach usually are enough for the team to start working and from there, the methodology itself works its magic.

But the second stumbling block rears its head later, stubbing our little toe. Why, oh why, do we have to do all the sprints the same way? Why can’t we do the daily when we need it? Why don’t we plan the meetings in an ad-hoc basis? Sure, that’s more Agile and flexible?

This questions have a very simple answer: because Constancy Reduces Complexity

Let’s go back to our elementary education. In my case, I went to a state school where we were supposed to express poetry. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what they meant. When I was in the 4rd grade, they had poetry reading and composition, which meant that you had to go to the front of the class and read something you wrote.
Now, I was never a particularly bright kid, but the depths of my confusion were unplumbed by human mind. Having some time to prepare, I took some books on poetry and basically mock-copied the metric (a copy-paste before there was copy-paste) and wrote something about a bird in my window. I don’t have it anymore and repression, having done its work in preserving my sanity (such as it is) has divorced me from the exact lines, but they were unimpressive, but certainly metric.

So, being called Andino in a school that used alphabetic order meant that I was going to go first and didn’t know what to expect, which didn’t help. But anyway, I did the work and the next Monday I was trying to not giggle while I recited my fourteen line shade of a sonnet.

There were some giggles in my fellow classmates (which didn’t mean anything, we at that age giggled at everything) but glacial silence from my teacher, which I knew it meant that I did something wrong. This particular teacher was also not very communicative, so I waited in silence while she decided on what to say.

After a short while, she spoke

“Federico”, she said in that cold, disappointed voice “that is not a poem”.

“well…” I tried “I thought that fourteen lines makes a sonnet. My book says so”.

“That might as well be” she said “but as usual, you missed the main point”.

And silence again

Now, I was then, as now, a little bit of a contrarian spirit. If she didn’t get around to say what was wrong, far from me to ask her. So she stared at me and I stared at nothing; tar pits of silence grew to entangle the saber-tooth tigers of talk.

She broke first, I recall.

“You have no emotion. You’re not expressing yourself. Who cares about a bird? You worry so much about structure that you forgot to cry”.

And so, the start of my great hatred for poetry began; luckily, I was, in my twenties, to read it again and even write some published sonnets and the like in books. But from age ten to twenty-two, the memory that I had associated with poetry was of the rest of my classmates who (being smarter than myself) had got the message loud and clear. The next, a girl, started crying and talking how her father didn’t love her.

This is what lack of structure brings. Emotion? Sure. Have you ever sat through a recital of excited pre-teens who have been told to express yourself fully without caring for rhyme or reason?

It is enough to yearn for Mencken

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

The same happens when one tries to be Agile without any caring for the structure of the methodology. Let’s take a simple example: the Daily. Say, someone says: let’s have the daily when we need it and in the time that we have free. That entails:

• That one person, at least, must have a clear criterium of what we need is.
• That this person can communicate that this criterium has been met
• One person that tries to negotiate the calendar time of every member in the team
• That the meeting time agreed is communicated
• That everyone attends the meeting

Just how much more complex is that compared to just show up for fifteen minutes every day in the cafeteria? There can be a lot of things that can go wrong with the complex example; very little chance that, day in and day out, people don’t get in the rhythm of Agile. And if someone’s sick that particular day? There’s always tomorrow.

This example boils down to something: Agile Is something you Are, not something you Do. You can’t be Agile without the mindset. But the mindset is not gained in a single, one moment thing. It grows from rhythms and seasons, like any good organic thing. And in order to grow strong, we need to reduce the possibilities of going wrong. And for that, again, Constancy Reduces Complexity.

After all, as Wordsworth said:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is

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