Tuesday, 07 October 2014 00:00

The Young Whippersnapper Rule

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I was working with a colleague the other day and we were talking about speakers for a possible local agile conference.

I brought up a few people that I respected in the national agile community and, almost to a person, they discounted them as being “the same old…same old” presenters. From their perspective, they were looking for more:

  • Fresh meat or new blood
  • Novel or breakthrough ideas
  • Something “different”
  • Out of the Box thinkers
  • More modern and energetic

And I think I understood the point. We can certainly get repetitious in our industry. Following the same old pundits with the same old messages. But at the same time, something bothered me and for quite awhile…and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

It First Starts With Respect

Another part of me felt as if my colleague wasn’t respecting those that came before him. So if someone is “repeating a tired, old message”, we can ignore him or her as the message is old and irrelevant. It reminds me of a quote I’ve heard—

"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
Isaac Newton 

After a bit of time, I found that I disagreed with my colleague. I think we ought to respect those that have come before us. And we should try to glean the messages and the truths independently of the age or experience level of the practitioner or the number of times they’ve given the same message.

Just to bring up a few of what I consider ‘Giants’ in our field:

  • Gerald Weinberg
  • Timothy Lister & Tom Demarco
  • Tom Gilb
  • Watts Humphrey
  • Cem Kaner
  • Fred Brooks
  • Johanna Rothman

For example, Tom Gilb is an incredibly interesting character. He’s been talking about agile methods for requirements and project management since well before the Agile Manifesto was signed. Is he the newest, latest, fad in agile? No. Is he sending new messages and delightfully new insights? Perhaps not. But is he someone that you should pay attention to? From my perspective, unarguably yes. He actually does a fair amount of disagreeing with common agile practices, for example here in a video discussing issues with User Stories. But there is worth, wisdom and learning in his words that we shouldn’t simply discount.

In a similar vein, Timothy Lister & Tom Demarco and Fred Brooks’ lessons in software projects and project management are still as fresh as when they first started talking about them. We like to think that Agile Project Management is all about new, iterative approaches to building high-value software. But again, they’ve been talking about that same endeavor for over 25 years. And again, the words contain wisdom and value for building software today.

And on the softer side of team leadership, Johanna Rothman and Gerry Weinberg are still incredibly good references for people leadership in technical contexts. Sure, Jurgen Appelo has written a book called Management 3.0. And it sounds fresh, new, and much more relevant to todays teams—doesn’t it? And while it’s a fine and valuable book, Jurgen has distilled much of his guidance from others.

The Old Lessons ARE The New Lessons

But are the lessons always fresh and new? No. But I would counter that many of the old lessons are still incredibly relevant. Why you might ask?

Because we haven’t completely solved the problems!

For example, we still haven’t found that User Stories are the be all, end all, requirement artifact for software products. Are they interesting, lightweight, communicative and valuable? Yes. But requirements are STILL a challenge and many of the approaches from the past 25 or more years can help us learn how to adapt and improve our practices.

I believe that there is another quote that highlights this—

"There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt."
Audre Lorde

The point being that old and new ideas are equally valuable IF we listen to, engage, ponder, and learn from them.

Wrapping up

I want to present the Young Whippersnapper Rule or the Latest Shiny New Thing Phenomenon here. I believe we have a tendency to listen to the latest new ideas or trends when it comes to technology and leadership approaches.

At one point, the Agile Methodologies were in that category.

And as we consider new things, we begin to move away and discount the older approaches. For example, the comment that – “you’re Waterfall and not Agile” has come to be a terrible insult in many contexts. But I’ve instead tried to respect the things that have come before me:

  • the people;
  • the repeated learning’s;
  • the variety of approaches;
  • the old ideas focused towards old challenges.

Even something I’ve struggled with as greatly as “Waterfall practices” has shaped my experience and approaches greatly. It has made me who I am. And there are lessons and wisdoms embedded within my Waterfall projects that are just as relevant, new and useful today as they were 30 or more years ago.

So from my perspective, I continue to learn from ALL voices in our community and I certainly respect those that have come before me. I’d encourage you to consider doing the same.

Stay agile my friends,
Bob.

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Robert Galen

Robert 'Bob' Galen is the President and Principal Consultant of RGCG, L.L.C. a Cary, NC based agile methods coaching & training consultancy. He is a deeply experienced agile coach who is active in the agile community and regularly writes & teaches on all topics related to the agile methods. Bob wrote the book Scrum Product Ownership, which is focused on that role and driving value in team delivery. Bob can be reached at bob@rgalen.com and networked with via his LinkedIn profile.

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