Skip to main content

Don't Be a Hero

Do any of these resonate with you?
  1. Are you the lone sane person in your company at your level or higher?
  2. Do you "call BS when you see it," in the words of Jonathan Rasmussen, the Agile Samurai,  while everyone else is "just keeping their heads down" (er, "low")?
  3. Are you protecting your team, because without you, something bad will happen?
Well, give it up.  I'm serious.  In a modern corporate enterprise, the way of the hero is the way of burnout, madness, and defeat, generally followed by a worrisome period of unemployment and perhaps an eventual new job in Oklahoma.  Joseph Campbell's monomyth may sketch this journey, but put me on record suggesting when you get the call to adventure, you should send it straight to voice mail, because the uphill slope on the left is a doozy.

Far be it from me to suck all the fun and adventure out of your work life, however.  There is an alternative to being a hero.  It's called "being diplomatic."  In its own way, it is even more fun than calling BS when you see it.  Imagine the challenge of NOT calling BS when you see it, and still getting your way.  THAT is the best fun of all.  Here's how it works:
  1. Deliver territory and face, not just value (and most certainly not just "working software").  The currency that matters to people with power in a corporate environment is "saving face" and "accumulating territory."  Delivering business value to the company is not an end in itself--if you as an agilist are offering merely a good return on investment, you aren't going to capture the interest of most corporate executives.  If you are working with a "courageous executive" who is actually motivated by running a business well, then certainly trot out your proven ability to deliver.  If not, figure out what your targeted executive personally has to win or lose through the application of agile philosophy and practice in her area, and make your appeal in those terms.  Under no circumstances ever use the phrase "but that doesn't make any sense."  Not helpful.
  2. Corollary:  logic might (not) be your friend.  Sales people will tell you that potential clients are convinced through emotion, not logic.  If logic works, then it's because you've hit upon a listener whose emotions are triggered by logical arguments.  If it doesn't, do not despair--just try something else.  If your goal is to help your business customer deliver good return on investment, ironically, the best way to convince her may be to talk instead about how you are best pals with her arch-rival in Budapest, and you can keep her one step ahead of that crazy, out-of-control moron.
  3. People really are more important than process.  That means you, not just the people you want to convert to your agile philosophy.  It's more important for you to preserve your relationships than to keep your teams' noses to the agile grindstone.  If they want to call it a "supersonic delivery monorail" instead of a "release plan," get out the Disney posters and the mouse ears, embrace the creativity, and free your teams to jump on that futuristic vehicle.
Agile theory will tell you to measure success and failure in terms of a whole team, rather than one overachieving individual.  But like gravity, it's not a suggestion--it's the law, if you care for the sanity and well being of the individuals who make up the team.  When you mutter to yourself, "there's no 'I' in 'team'," you want the phrase to be metaphorical, not literal.  As Paper Lace put it so poignantly in 1974:  "Billy, don't be a hero.  Come back to me."


Post a Comment

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 …