Agile Retroflection of the Day

Yves Hanoulle asks, “If you could change 1 thing today what would it be?” as the first question in his Agile Retroflection of the Day project. Today being the first of the year, it’s natural that I look back over the past year as I consider this question.  And so I answer,

That people could ask for, and could accept, the help they need and want.

The first thoughts that prompt ths response are the client inquiries I’ve had that didn’t really go anywhere.  Some of these, of course, had to do with money.  If the client couldn’t afford to hire me, and I couldn’t afford to work for less, then that’s one way that people cannot accept the help they want.

Even if I could afford to work for free, then it probably wouldn’t help them accept help.  People need to have some skin in the game to effectively make changes.  If I work for free, the best I can offer is advice.  And people usually ignore advice. It’s not consulting without the client indicating the value by paying something for it. (I once read a study that showed that free psychological counseling was extraordinarily ineffective, even compared to counseling that cost only a dollar a session.)

So, when a potential client calls me but isn’t prepared to pay (what I consider) a reasonable rate, I wonder how much do they really want to improve their software development organization.  Will they accept the need to slow down enough to learn new skills and behavior?  Will they be willing to do things differently, themselves, in order to reap the benefits they desire?  Often people want the quality and speed to go up, as long as they don’t have to make any changes.

Or they’re willing for other people to make changes. “Teach my developers to do Test Driven Development so they won’t ship bugs.”  This seems like a fine sentiment on the surface–Test Driven Development is, in my experience, an excellent tool for preventing the shipment of bugs.  But I have to ask myself, what’s keeping these developers from practicing Test Driven Development on their own?  If it’s lack of knowledge, then I can help them with a course.

Often there are other forces at play, however, that maintain the status quo even with new knowledge.  Perhaps the organizational culture frowns on people admitting that they don’t already know everything important.  Perhaps bugs, while deplored in words, are not given the same attention in actions.  I’ve seen rushing to ship take priority over shipping good code. I’ve seen heroics to fix a problem be given more accolades than preventing the problem in the first place.  Are people willing to change these behaviors so they may receive the needed help?

Of course, while it’s easy for me to describe these issues in others, I see the same difficulties in asking for, and accepting, help with the thinks I need, too.  I had the pleasure, recently, of working with Dale Emery on an engagement.  You may know Dale as the recipient of the Ward Cunningham Gentle Voice of Reason Award.  One of the things I truly love about Dale is his skill at asking questions.  And when he does, I’m frequently surprised both by the answers he receives and at my recognition, yet again, of my own tendency to make assumptions rather than seek and accept helpful information.

It’s not easy.  And that’s why it’s my wish for the day.

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Comments (1) to “Agile Retroflection of the Day”

  1. I think we’re all biased toward “knowing better.” I know better what you need and want. You know better what he needs and wants. He knows better what she needs and wants etc.

    While sometimes we really do we rarely try to understand all surroundings before jumping in with our best ideas. Personally I’d be far in bold statements like “I know what you want.” I’d be even far with telling “I know what you need,” because it’s rather about “I have an idea what might help you if you’re ready to work on that one for some time.”

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