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Agile or Bust. Part 2: Renaissance

This is part 2 of the article on Agile transformation. This article was written back in the summer of 2014, and then it was misplaced and forgotten for four years. Lots of things changed in the last four years, and I know I would have written this differently now. Besides missing a proper intro, there were tons of thoughts and ideas that didn't make it into this text for reasons of time.

Part Two: Renaissance

What does your Agile team look like?

One might say that these are the realities of life such as bad weather or the flu - we have no choice but to accept some inconvenience at work, that's why the pay is sometimes called "compensation". While accepting things we can't change, and focusing on the ones we can is a wise advice, not all work environments are immature and bad for your health. Companies with happy, passionate employees produce better results, are more competitive, and will endure for longer. The immature conception of social organization and the expectation of an oppressive climate, however, is the contaminant spread by the employees, majority of whom simply cannot imagine anything different. Companies where these destructive anti-patterns are perpetuated by the leaders and the employees alike usually have a high turnover rate, serving as thought-virus factories that release "infected" employees back into the labour market at a much higher rate than the better run companies that manage to keep their workers. It is important to point out that when starting on a new job, we always hope for a healthy climate, and would tend to the ecology of our work environment if we knew what that was.

Here is one way this may come to be. As a startup grows, various challenges may force those in charge to make sacrifices. Having invested much emotion, feeling the weight of responsibility, and expecting to be compensated, the people in leadership positions may start identifying with the business, blurring the distinction between their personal values and wants, and those of the organization. The affairs of the organization become personal issues, and suddenly internal company politics is decided on the basis of the leadership's current emotional condition. Efficiency and profitability are second to the emotional congruity of those in charge and, in denial, the organization starts developing anti-patterns be it technical debt or micromanagement or escalation of commitment or any one of the many such afflictions that cripple organizations.

It would appear that the almost literal cure to this handicap is to approach business management from the perspective of proven science rather than personal, ego-driven inklings and primitive apprehensions. Yet, as an observation, many of the people who would benefit the most, with the utmost seriousness of a post-hypnotic suggestion, insist that Agile, one of such proven scientific approaches, does not apply to their particular business configuration. Others, having accepted the management methodology change in theory, may retain the terminology, but end up sliding back to the autocratic "survival" mode at the first setback. It is curious that as a development team management methodology, Agile has been almost exclusively associated with software development. In actuality, the Agile paradigm fits exceedingly well in other domains such as many types of manufacturing, development and customer support. It's even applicable to child rearing and household management. The considerable gap in adoption of this methodology between industries could perhaps be explained by the pressure to deliver in the IT, after all Moore's law doesn't apply to all industries evenly.

The almost universal applicability of Agile methodology stands out as suspect. Indeed, only something that is very general and broad in scope could be relevant for most organizations at once. And so it is! Adopting a more scientific approach may not be compatible with personality cults and silly rules, and it may end the rule of the Dark Triad at the workplace, but these are all good things. Like in other areas, the quick and dirty reflexes will only carry us so far until reason will have to take over.

As evidence based business management methodologies are becoming more widely adopted, and knowledge workers are beginning to have more choice in their workspace climate, organizations will have to adjust and evolve. Egos will have to yield to analysis backed strategies. Much in the same manner as the lower, reptilian brain is reigned in by the higher mammalian brain, our companies will have to evolve in order to survive and compete efficiently. Guided by the Agile or a similar set of methodologies, such actualized companies will offer optimal work environments that will allow their employees to fully and passionately immerse themselves in their work thus achieving higher efficiency while virtually eliminating job dissatisfaction and burnout.