Have I told you folks lately how much I appreciate the answers I get here? I mean I’m grateful, and feel all warm inside, but also, I just really love reading them and learning what agile looks like in different places, for different people. I learn so much from you! So, if I haven’t said so lately (or even if I have), thanks.
So, last night, Justin @searls lit up twitter with this:
Agile friends: anyone out there still believe the “agile commitment” is worthwhile? My writing wants your (starkly opposing) viewpoint.
Later, once the conversation had taken off, he added this:
an agile team guesses what they can accomplish in an iteration, commits to it, and submits to ritualistic beating upon failure.
On the subject of commitments helping with trust, Zach @zspencer said:
Promises that are kept help. Promises that aren’t don’t.
To which Justin replied:
success is never certain, or commitment would be unnecessary. You’d recommend a team risk promising an uncertain outcome?
Wow. Big conversation. And there’s a question coming. First, the part where I ramble. :)
Are promises part of life?
…I don’t typically make promises. I have intentions, and I share values with people. I care about them having what they need to be happy, and I care about me having what I need, too. I love collaboration and I love getting things done. That’s something I want. But it seems to me a promise would mean I’ll do something even if I don’t want to, even if something changes so the original plan won’t work. Or even if I was wrong about what would, in the future, be possible (or a good idea).
If I “promise” to finish something by Friday, and I don’t, it may well be because I choose to do something else rather than finish. For example, maybe it took longer than I thought, and I valued getting some sleep and taking breaks more than finishing, for example.
Maybe I chose to organize my collection of e-books instead of working on the project.
Would a promise help with that?
If I did choose to organize files instead, we’d have a problem that’s not about promises, and not about Friday. It’s a problem the moment I lose interest in the thing we both want to create. Maybe it’s too hard (I feel stuck). Maybe I’m not engaged. Maybe I don’t have the tools I need. Maybe the environment at work is so pressured that I can’t think. A good retrospective might help us figure out what’s really going on.
But if we’re on the same side, you know that we both value what we’re working on together. Maybe in a particular case, “you” means a manager or business owner, and “me” means a developer. We share an agenda, a devotion to something of value, and we work toward that at a pace we find, not just sustainable, but exciting, interesting, productive. We work out a shared intention, and then watch what happens.
People often tell me I don’t really mean that I don’t make promises, so let me be really clear. My spouse and I don’t make promises to each other, either. If one of us were unhappy, neither of us would want that person to stay. No promise is required when we’re both doing what we value.
So that’s me. I would really like to know how promises and commitments look in your work. (I don’t mean to bombard you; there are a lot of questions here, but I’d welcome an appreciate an answer to one or two that jump out at you.)
Here’s what I’m wondering…
Do you use commitment on your agile projects? What do you mean by commitment? What happens if you “break” that commitment? What causes the commitment to be broken? What are the consequences?
How do you build trust on your teams? Or between your team and the business?
Have you found a way to work — successfully, in the world — without commitment? What does that look like? What changes when you work that way?