War and Peace

War time presidents assume great powers when there is an emergency. They can and probably should in some cases be controlling, brash, energizing, dramatic, paranoid, secretive, and overreaching.

Populations can be militant, closed off, defensive, tunnel visioned, inspired, turbulent, and champions of great causes.

Both react to danger, anarchy, distrust and chaos.

When the war ends and the crisis passes, presidents should relinquish those powers. If they don’t, a peacetime population becomes an oppressed population.

When ordered is restored, the population should turn their swords into plowshares, settle down, rebuild the nation.

This is a Stacey Matrix:

stacey-matrix-agile

It illustrates the aspects of software development that make it hard. When your project is consumed by anarchy, things are really tough. Your company may be brand new or in deep disarray. Your product may be untested and uncertain or it might be buried in a near unassailable pile of technical debt without organizational wherewithal to change it.

You are at war.

You are fighting for survival, rules tend to take a backseat to pragmatism. The ends justify the means. Leaders must act rashly, even violently. They must inspire courage in their reports and might feel they have to break rules they would otherwise hold to. Teams may ignore their better angels when performing their work or dealing with co-workers.

I am not advocating these tactics or stances. I’m not even sure what you should do in these circumstances.

War is hell.

At least, that sort of work would fit the definition for me.

Some organizations make it through. They forge order from chaos, establish a product, find a niche, and establish cultures shaped by those wartime efforts.

The problem is, now…

You are at peace

What place is there for god-like generals? The lieutenants who heartlessly drove the foot soldiers when they needed to be driven have no place. What mandate, now, may an overreaching president claim?

As with post-war nations, organizations emerging from chaos can have difficulty living with the success they have created. The war-time culture must give way to freedom and autonomy if healthy growth is to proliferate, yet those war heroes may hang on to or even prolong the attitude of chaos. They know what works in war, but not in peace. They seek desperately to push their underlings on with brash orders, daring initiatives and even harsh actions. In their mind, they are still at war or should be.

Perhaps, war is all they’ve ever known.

Imagine trying to convince a soldier with PTSD that is safe to relax. Put yourself in a post-chaos manager’s shoes as you ask her to relinquish control of your Daily Scrum.

Do you even know what you’re asking?

There is no map for navigating this transition, however we do have a good set of guidelines in the Agile Manifesto. Consider the following interpretation:

Care enough to respect individuals and relationships

over

Architecting processes and tools to maintain order

Crave vibrant, autonomous, productive culture

over

Regimenting efficient, controlled, standardized behavior

Commit to engage your subordinates, peers, and superiors in healthy and open collaboration 

over

Separating concerns or going it alone

Rally yourself and your team to courageously respond to change 

over

Maintaining the status quo

When at peace, have the courage to endure freedom.

Scrum is a peace time process, but as Gunther Verheyen writes in his article Scrum Values, “…a non-repeatable kind.” It works, because people want it to work. They grow within it as their understanding of agility deepens. They are persuaded to practice what Scrum prescribes, then to value what Scrum values and eventually they may trade it for an invention as unique as their culture.

jknight

Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.