Skip to main content

The Agile Ronin

I was recently cheered and inspired by Jonathan Rasmussen's post on the "agile samurai," also the title of his recent book.  In his blog, he suggests that the the samurai, unlike the "rice pickers," are the ones who:

  • say what needs to be said
  • call BS when they see it
  • laugh in the face of unrealistic schedules and expectations
  • tackle all the hard, complex, thorny stuff no one else wants to wade into
  • are technically excellent at their craft
  • take pride in their work
  • and are comfortable in their own skins
I liked this description, but it made me nervous in some ways as well.

So since I'm prone to zealous pursuit of metaphors, to the point of finding and reading two or even three results of a Google search as I look for enlightenment, I investigated real-life samurais and found that they were actually constrained significantly in their behavior, living by a creed of "loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior."  Such a person might think twice about pushing back on authority in a corporate context.

In fact, it appears that the bold warrior implied by Rasmussen's description is most likely not a run of the mill samurai, but rather a ronin, the "masterless samurai," who lived by his own ethical code but had no permanent master.  Prior to the awesome 1998 movie with Jean Reno, ronin were already famous in Japan through the mythology that grew out of the eighteenth century heroics of the "47 Ronin." Wikipedia says that the story "was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should preserve in their daily lives."  But this story also holds some cautions for people who value, say, continued employment.
Without giving the full plot away, the incident involved 46 principled men revolting against all established authority to avenge their leader, the 47th man, who committed ritual seppuku at the request of his boss, the shogun, rather than apologize after he physically attacked a person who severely annoyed him.  Before he died he announced his only regret was that he swung and missed.  Of course, once the 46 successfully killed Kira, the annoying person who caused all the ruckus in the first place, they were also immediately requested to fall on their own swords, literally, which they did.  

In the aftermath, commentators complained about a number of things, including that the 46 should have slit their own bellies immediately upon taking their revenge, rather than waiting for orders, since they were being cowardly if they hoped for a non-death sentence.  Others argued that they shouldn't have waited a full year to take their revenge since the annoying person at the root of the problem was 60 and could have died in the interim.  As in so many real life situations, an odd situation seems to have spun out of control and then been very weirdly interpreted after the fact.

At any rate, at the end of the day, the implied hypertext behind the concept of the "agile samurai" is probably a little disruptive to the central message of the book and the blog.  It is sometimes good to remember that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.


Popular posts from this blog

A Corporate Agile 10-point Checklist

I'm pretty sure my few remaining friends in the "small, collocated team agile" community are going to desert me after this, but I actually have a checklist of 10 things to think about if you're a product owner at a big company thinking of trying out some agile today.  Some of these might even apply to you if you're in a smaller place.  So at the risk of inciting an anti-checklist riot (I'm sorry, Pez!), I am putting this out there in case it is helpful to someone else.

Here's what you should think about:

1.Your staffing pattern.  A full agile project requires that you have the full team engaged for the whole duration of the project at the right ratios.  So as you provision the project, check to see whether you can arrange this staffing pattern.  If not, you will encounter risks because of missing people.  Concretely it means that:
a.You need your user experience people (if applicable) and your analysts at the beginning of the project, as always, b…

The Agile Business Case

Many agile teams have never seen a business case, ever, and they may even be proud of it.

Our mantra is that we deliver "business value," not just "software," quicker, better, and faster, but if so, we certainly don't spend a lot of time reporting on value delivery, and in fact we may be scornful about "analysis paralysis."  As software developers, we consider ourselves to be doing quite well if we can deliver the software every two weeks (or continuously).  And this is particularly if we've enabled this frequent high-quality delivery through automated testing and automated build-and-release techniques.  We've reduced business risk by making results visible more often, and allowing the business to change direction more frequently.  We assert that along the way of course we're also delivering value.  But how would we prove it?

I've recently posited that we shouldn't even think of doing agile projects without capturing and recording s…

How To Write A One-Page Proposal to an Executive

One day you may need to communicate with an executive. Pro tip 1:  executives do not have time for you to dim the lights and show them forty slides with charts composed of animated dancing leprechauns and flashing arrows that emerge from the void in a checkerboard pattern. Pro tip 2:   Guys, and gals with deep voices, executives also don't need you to use your "Radio Announcer Voice."

As a rule, what executives want is simple: one printed page. No matter what it is, it should be one page. And it should be printed, not emailed.  You should plan to hand it to the executive, and then you should be quiet when they read it and wait for their questions.  It's harder than it sounds.
 So how do you do it?  Here are the steps:
Write the deck that expresses your proposal in as many slides as it takes.  Use imaginative animation and blinking letters if you must.Remove your title slide.Insert a new slide at the front of the deck with "Appendix" written on it in big …