Evangelizing Scrum, or Anything, is Hard

Ever since I discovered lean/agile, I’ve been very perplexed about something. Why do so many people feel passionate, and sometimes offended, when I introduce it? Seriously, offended. Like I just called their baby ugly. I was taken-aback at first, now I’m used to it. I think I’ve learned to dodge most of the stones that people throw over the years.

Lean/agile begins with principles, with practices emerging from these principles (see previous blog post about agile principles).

I think a lot of blame (yes, I’m pointing fingers) comes from people who don’t understand agile, then implement it…POORLY. I’ve heard so many horror stories about failed Scrum or Extreme Programming implementations. I’ve taught quite a few classes about agile/lean methods, and in every course, I ask the students if they’ve been involved in some kind of agile implementation. For everyone that said they had been involved, they said that it sucked…100% of the time. As they expanded on the sucky-ness, I just cringed. The leaders of the implementation just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that it’s about principles, not about index cards and stand-ups.

Now, let me relate this religion. I’ve been a Christian for close to 20 years. Every time I get into any kind of conversation (which I rarely start), people immediately become offended. Why? Because like the poorly executed agile implementations, there are many poorly executed “Christian” implementations.

As humans, it is so much easier to just follow rules than to rely on our own judgement. That’s why empowerment is rejected so many times at the lowest level. If someone is empowered, then they are also accountable. Who wants THAT??

Christianity is not about rules. If anyone tells you that, then they need to go to Christianity 101 class. Christianity is about a relationship, and principles. If you follow the principles, the “practices” will follow.

Let’s look at the greatest principles (commandments) given by Jesus “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind”, then “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

What’s interesting, is that if you take these to heart, then the 10 commandments (don’t lie, murder, steal, etc.) will follow…right? The greatest principles will naturally manifest themselves in the 10 commandments.

If a Christian truly loved their neighbors as themselves, I think you would see a lot more philanthropy and a welcoming attitude towards others.

Here’s the intro into the song “What if I Stumble” by DC Talk that summarizes my point beautifully:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Since in general, the “implementation” of Christianity has ignored the primary principles, the understanding from the non-Christian population is that Christians are ignorant, stupid, hypocritical, judgmental, and hateful. Are Christians doing anything to change this image? Not really.

So, when “evangelizing” given this climate, people become hostile and have a desire to throw (verbal) stones.

Now, back to agile/lean. Generally speaking, many folks believe agile is nothing but cowboy coding, no documentation, speed not quality, and screw “the business”. When “evangelizing” given this climate, people become hostile and have a desire to throw (verbal) stones.

Evangelizing anything that is based on principles stirs emotion and is fraught with mis-understandings. Typically our first instinct is to run from the conflict that arises and just become complacent and accepting of dysfunction and misunderstanding. We need to be brave, and stand by our principles. In doing so, we need to continue to come up with ways to communicate the truth.

Agile – It’s All About the Principles

I’ve been talking with a lot of folks lately that claim to have been working with Agile for a long time.  When I talk with them, they boil agile down to a few things such as; delivering faster, iterations, and stand-ups.

What troubles me is that very few people talk about the principles.  I like focus on the principles first, and look at the practices (retrospectives, stand-ups, iterations, etc.) as “how” to bring those principles to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
You aren’t “doing agile” because you put index cards on a wall, or because you stand up for 15 minutes a day in a meeting, or even if you have iterations.  Practices without focus on the principles will get you nowhere.
As teams inspect and adapt, new practices will emerge.  As these new practices emerge, we need to do our best to make sure they don’t impede the agile principles, which are honestly good principles no matter what approach is used.