Skip to main content

Agile Fun

A colleague of mine just sent out a link to an exquisite Schumpeter blog in the Economist entitled "Down With Fun."  You must read this blog!  It skewers the concept of enforced workplace giddiness for strategic gain.  In my view, the blogger is unnecessarily grumpy that today's workplace has eliminated the kind of fun they have on "Mad Men," which includes smoking, drinking, and vigorous workplace fornication, but that's just me.

From The Economist, 9/16/2010

What about fun, though?  Should we simply give up on workplace fun?  Is my employer, ThoughtWorks, wrong to make "fun" one of its core values?  The Economist warns that "...as soon as fun becomes part of a corporate strategy it ceases to be fun and becomes its opposite—at best an empty shell and at worst a tiresome imposition."  And indeed sometimes I feel a twinge of irritation as I leap away from a fast-moving oncoming scooter on the carpeting, duck from the path of an incoming beach ball, or put headphones on to avoid the guitar playing ("Kumbay-THIS, you long-haired jerk!" I think to myself, cranking the Mahler). 

The Economist blogger states, "if it's fun, it needn't be compulsory."  I would argue something much stronger than this:  if it is compulsory, it is no longer fun.

In 1905, Freud wrote an extremely long and tedious book entitled Der Witz which can completely spoil jokes for you for the rest of your life, if you read it.  So I hesitate to delve too deeply into the true nature of fun, but this is for a good cause.  There's a super cool web site called Visual Thesaurus which actually visualizes synonyms for you in a little map.  Here's what VT does with "fun:"


On the map, you can see that fun has a dotted line but somewhat distant relationship to "activity," which might include management-purchased oversized My Little Pony plushies in the corporate greeting area and management sponsored conga-line dancing and hat wearing.  VT shows fun much closer to "play" and "playfulness" in common usage.  And as Wikipedia, that font of information correct and incorrect says quite clearly, "Play refers to a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment."[1]

The key words here are "voluntary" and "intrinsically motivated."  And they take us right back to the basis of Lean manufacturing and Agile software development:  harnessing the intrinsic knowledge, good will, and power of the people closest to the work for greatest progress and gain. 

I once participated in a Rally training exercise which has stuck with me ever since, whereby we divided into pairs, the "boss" and the "staff person," and the boss had to direct the staff person through a maze.  We timed it, and it turned out when the boss had to provide turn-by-turn instructions to the staff person, it took 2-3 times as long as when the person was empowered to maneuver on her own to an agreed-upon destination.

And indeed my observation is that when you get a group of knowledgeable people in a room, get command-and-control management out of the way, and let the group progress organically towards a well-understood goal, even an evolving one, that is a very fun thing.  If the freedom to take charge of a goal allows people to bring remote-activated tanks, harmonicas, and even handballs into the workplace as well, so be it.  But the gadgets and the behaviors are only symptoms, and you have to be doing the work in the environment to know whether it's fun or just window dressing.

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 …