logo design...copyright Elena Yatzeck, 2010-2015

Sunday, September 11, 2011

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."