Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Agile Recipe; on second thought...Not

I have been asked recently to provide a recipe for how to do Agile. I am sympathetic with this request, but I feel it misses an important point.
First, why am I sympathetic. Well, because I look at Agile as an art form, like playing the violin or learning Hapkido (Korean version of Aikido). It is an art that one continually learns. And, at the beginning one feels lost. How do I learn this thing that seems so strange? How do I start to make un-ugly noises from the violin? And the teacher must give you instructions of some sort, and you start to play. Perhaps ugly at first, but you start to play. And then you start to be…as a friend pur it recently, you start to suck less.
Of course, Agile is more like a team sport than playing a violin. But it is still an art. Where one starts with little skill and builds and builds. Agile is like the "ballet with force" that is basketball.
OK, So how do you learn to play basketball?. Well, start by dribbling. (Which one can break down.) Learn to do a layup. (Which one can break down.) But the real thing about basketball is not the individual skills. The real juice is learning how to play as a team. To improvise on the court. To maintain your confidence if the other team dunks on you twice in a row.
In basketball, there are a few set plays that one can diagram. With perhaps many variations. One cannot just follow a recipe in playing championship basketball.
This is where giving the recipe can mislead. By giving a recipe the coach can suggest to the beginner “all you have to do is follow the recipe and all will be well”. Maybe with an ordinary dish, but not if you want a meal that dazzles. And don’t you aspire to produce something that delightful?
If you have studied an art, you know that great artists will tell you that being really good requires a certain something that is hard to define. In Agile, we often say that you must "get it". You must start to reflect, in your every thought and decision, Agile values and principles. And without these values and principles, just following the cookbook or the recipe will make only a small improvement.

4 comments:

Ilja Preuß said...

In martial arts, this is known as Shu Ha Ri.

Being in the Shu phase, a beginner needs to closely follow a recipe - he isn't ready to explore alternatives. But there comes a time were you need to transcend beyond the recipe to really "grok it".

Joe Little said...

Hi Ilja,

I have enjoyed your many posts in the community.

I agree it is similar to the Shu Ha Ri. In some contexts, I try to your our own down-home culture, and not reach out to others that are less embedded in our own traditions. Traditions are indeed good sometimes.

Similar, but different. I am deeply concerned that we mislead more than help when giving "recipes". Because we don't talk over and over again about how it (the recipe, the rules) must become natural, and embedded with the right values and principles. This is why I wish to emphasize, even to beginners, that a better and better understanding of the many principles and values is essential from the beginning.

On the other hand, in the Ri phase, one must be careful not to mislead the beginners that the basic rules may be broken with little concern. A Master makes visible that he has broken a rule only after much consideration of its long term impact.

So, perhaps my distinctions with you are merely semantic. One hopes they will help someone. Perhaps me. Regards, Joe

Richard Banks said...

Hi Joe,

I like that analogy a lot. Given that I'm doing some speaking next week on agile and that Australia is a sports mad country I might just borrow it :-)

One the other interesting things in terms of the team sport analogy is that winning teams can have days where they get into a great flow, build momentum and completely overwhelm the opposition, and yet on other days everything they try seems to fall apart. Sounds just like software!

Joe Little said...

Hi Richard,

Glad you liked it.

We have to be careful about analogies. Some people like to play with then, and stretch them way out of shape. You can break them that way, and maybe hurt someone.

Good luck on your SW efforts.

Regards, Joe