Where has the subtlety gone?

I have read that social media is leading to more polarization, regardless of the topic, and I’m inclined to believe it. There seems to be a steady increase in LinkedIn posts claiming “Agile is dead” or suggesting “Managers don’t understand Agile”, followed by a stream of comments take one side or the other. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who remembers when we used to have more nuanced discussions rather than just picking Team A or Team B.

Surely one thing we, as agilists, should appreciate is that there is rarely one correct answer to any given problem. The joke about coaches answering any question with “It depends” is based in reality – the system/environment has a large bearing on the answer (or potential answers) in many cases. And yes, I do have a T-shirt emblazoned with “It Depends”!

I can only think of one question where I could predictably answer with yes or no, and that is if someone asks “Are we doing Scrum?”. The answer is clear because there is a definition of what that means; if you’re doing 100% of it, then the answer is yes but if you’re doing less than 100% then it’s no. Simple. (And if you a different coach, they should give the same answer.) It might be “no, but we’re working towards it” or “no because we don’t do Retrospectives”, but it’s black or white. Harder questions include “Should we do Scrum?”, “Are we doing Scrum effectively?”, or “We’re doing Scrum by the book so why aren’t we going faster?” – these are a lot more subtle and the answer depends on one’s understanding of the situation, constraints, etc.

So if the world is so complex, why do we end up in these polarized situations? Do people feel the need to take a side based on simplified view? Or because they’ve heard that they way to increase their LinkedIn profile’s visibility (and maybe their chance of finding a new job) is to comment on posts by “thought leaders”? Maybe it is an honest viewpoint because they may only have experienced situations that fall on one side of that argument. Sometimes it could be because time is short and writing a deeper, more thoughtful response would take too long. I know I’ve been guilty of all of these. I might write something that’s brief and simple, but I like to think that when I’m face-to-face with people I can get into a deeper conversation that leads to a richer discussion, not just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says. (OK, I admit that last part was just so I could link to the Argument Clinic sketch.)

A proper discussion takes time, thought, listening, empathy, comprehension, open-mindedness; unfortunately social media is designed for rapid “post and run” reactions. I wonder if our agile community would be quite so polarized if we spent more together (IRL or virtually) and less time feeding LinkedIn and its ilk.

I’ll end with something I heard this morning that made me chuckle: “All generalizations are useless” 🙂

[photo credits: Clare Black; redbubble & wikipedia]

One Comment

  1. It occurred to me that some people might take exception to my example “black & white” question of “Are we doing Scrum?” because I’ve seen many articles arguing about this topic. Let me clarify:
    1) Scrum is defined in the Scrum Guide and it says “Scrum exists only in its entirety”, i.e. you’re only doing Scrum if you do everything in the definition. What it doesn’t say is that you can’t do Scrum plus other things – in fact Scrum.org has a guide for incorporating elements of Kanban into Scrum. So you can do more than Scrum and still call it Scrum if you want (although I’d recommend you don’t, to avoid confusion).
    2) You don’t have to do Scrum! Rather than getting annoyed that people say your process shouldn’t be called Scrum because it doesn’t meet the definition, just call it something else. Scrum isn’t the goal. Create your own combination of practices and approaches that work in your particular situation.
    Given that you should regularly inspect and adapt the way you work, your Agile “recipe” this month will be different soon. Even if you are currently doing Scrum per its definition, you should be moving beyond it by bringing in ideas from Kanban, XP, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *