XP Day: Have You Compromised Your Agility?

One of the more interesting sessions I went to during XP Day this year was the "Have You Compromised Your Agility?" session run by Gus Power and Simon Baker. Run in World Cafe format (complete with tablecloths and candles!) it set out to create an informal environment to discuss whether corporate attitudes are forcing agile and lean thinkers to compromise a step too far in order to become acceptable to traditional corporate culture.

OK, I admit it. I was a plant. No I wasn't quietly photosynthesizing in the corner, I was invited there by Gus and Simon to be deliberately provocative, forcing difficult issues out into the daylight. My table was focussed on "Values". Specifically, the premise was that some organisations have internal Values (and hence behaviours) that do not permit agile processes to develop and prosper but instead force them to mutate into grotesque, ineffectual parodies.

The reactions were interesting. On the one hand there were a handful of aggressive ad hominem challenges. "Who was I to question what a company calls 'agile software development'?" "Who was I to question the value of bug ridden software to the customer?" "If I couldn't work with the status quo of a company then I should be the one to get out rather than try to change it" (even if I had been paid to come in and coach/mentor!). And so on. I was genuinely shocked at the ferocity of some of these challenges, especially since they were targetted at a personal level and entirely missed the points being made. Perhaps I was being a little too provocative at first, but I obviously touched a raw nerve....

However, most of those involved recognised the issue many having experienced it first hand. But there seemed to be a general inability to address the fundamental problems. No-one seemed to feel suitably empowered to do anything. In some cases the deeper problem was justified by external pressures (delivery date being a common theme - "do whatever it takes to meet the date and functionality and to hell with the quality/risk"), others did not feel that they could make the changes needed alone (which is not surprising - people will not change unless they want to change). Only one or two said they would go back and try to change things.

So was the session useful? Judging by the feedback received by Gus and Simon, the answer is a resounding "yes". Did I find it useful from my position as a hired hand? Yes - I got an interesting insight into the current state of the agile nation from people who are in the trenches and trying to get things done using agile/lean thinking in what is sometimes an extremely (sic) hostile environment. Yes, agile is adapting for best fit. But the session confirmed my worst fears that in many cases it is being forced to adapt a step too far.