Maxims and Manifestos

February 13, 2019

My Dad has always been a passionate outdoorsman. For him, when it comes to spending some quality time, nothing beats hunting and fishing. So as a kid I spent a lot of time on the banks of rivers and streams with a fishing rod in hand or marching through fields of tall grass with a dog and a 12 gauge. It’s just how I spent many of my weekends growing up.

Hunting and fishing are complex activities. First, there is knowing where to find the fish or birds. Then there is selecting the right gear. Then there is an element of skill in using the gear to actually catch what you are after. That is actually a very broad set of skills and tools required to be a successful hunter or fisherman, and I’m not even getting into some of the woodcraft required to simply survive in the outdoors, let alone catch food.

I hope I’ve made a reasonable argument for hunting and fishing as a complex activity. After all, if it was easy, they probably wouldn’t call it hunting. That’s actually a little maxim that Dad used to share with me when I got frustrated. 

He had a bunch of maxims: 

  • “If it was easy, they wouldn’t call it hunting”
  • “You won’t catch a fish unless you have your hook in the water”
  • “Always use enough gun”
  • “Never wear red in a duck blind”
  • “Shoot it ’til it’s dead”
  • “Never pee on an electric fence”

OK, admittedly some of that advice was perhaps less useful than it could have been, but that’s how maxims work. It’s kind of left up to the reader to decide how to use them and whether or not they are worthwhile.

When the Agile Manifesto was created, there were 12 principles that were part of it. Each of these twelve principles expressed a key way of thinking about or viewing the world from what we would think of as an agile mindset or agile philosophy. At their simplest the agile principles form a set of reminders or guideposts on our journey through a complex environment that help us find agility or perhaps just remember where it was. You could think of each of those principles as really just a set of useful maxims – just like those maxims that my Dad used to share.

A manifesto can also be beneficial to teams. Of course, you can just point at the Agile Manifesto and use that, but I’ve actually found that teams can benefit from writing their own manifesto. Writing manifestos is actually good fun. There are a variety of them out on the Internet that you can look to for inspiration and examples. Aside from the Agile Manifesto, there is the Declaration of Interdependence, the Craftsmanship Manifesto, and more. If you want to have some geeky fun, check out the communist manifesto. There are hundreds of manifestos out there! Most manifestos are an attempt to declare a shared set of values. They are also usually expressing those values as a break from the past. If you look at them closely, most manifestos are usually a statement of values perhaps with some guiding maxims. That’s perfect for a team. 

My experience has been that teams have a lot of fun writing their own manifestos. It helps them to discover where they are empowered and where they have some autonomy. Being able to describe their own unifying vision goes a long way toward accomplishing that. However, you will find teams that struggle with this exercise too. From a coaching perspective, that struggle also represents an opportunity. There can be a lot of reasons that folks might struggle to write a manifesto. For example:

  • Not everyone is equally good with writing. Text based exercises like manifesto writing tend to fall flat for people who are very visual or physically oriented. Providing some visual tools, like a stack of magazines along with scissors and glue would be a good way to offer folks an alternative medium for expressing themselves if words aren’t their thing.
  • If there is significant dysfunction within the team. For instance, if they are being driven by a micromanager, then you typically don’t see a lot of independence and free thinking from groups like this. They might struggle with a creative exercise like this. These teams are often afraid to act without permission. There’s no quick fix for this, short of identifying the manager and starting to work with them.
  • Sometimes the team isn’t really a team. The reason they are struggling to come up with a common manifesto is…they have nothing in common. A team that is really just a group of independent actors will struggle to come up with a manifesto. They may manage to do it, but what they end up with is usually a watered-down mess that doesn’t feel like it’s very useful.

A good manifesto makes you feel something. A good manifesto smells like rebellion. It often feels a bit joyous too. Like something was unleashed. And when a team’s manifesto includes the customer, you know you have hit pure gold! If you read a team’s manifesto and the hair on your arms stands straight up, you’re on to something good. 

Running manifesto writing workshops is one of my favorite things to do. I’m always surprised at the outcomes. When people find the words that describe themselves as a team, they feel differently. Declaring that unifying theme to the world has power. Who doesn’t love that?


Announcing The Swarming Development Method

October 6, 2014

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By now, you’ve probably figured out that I’m laying out all the guidance for using Swarming as a legitimate, full-fledged, Agile method. It looks like this:

Swarming

There you have it. A complete method for swarming. Wrap it up and ship it.

“But wait!” you say, “You’re not a real methodologist, your just some guy with a blog!” You are absolutely right. What gives me the right to propose a new agile methodology? What kind of egomaniac thinks he can just pop up with a completely new method of team development? Well, actually, it’s not that new. I pulled a lot of the material from a variety of existing sources. I copied the format for the Values and the principles from the Agile Manifesto. Nothing here is all that original. After all, if I’m right, bugs have been doing this stuff without the benefit of my genius for millions of years. Why would I do this?

First, I’d like to state this as emphatically as I can: ANYBODY CAN DO THIS! We can all be copying methods and tweaking them – and we should. No real experience is required. After all, that’s how the guys who came up with Scrum, and Kanban, and XP did it. They copied ideas from Takeuchi and Nonaka, Ohno, Demming, Goldratt, and a whole bunch of others. We need to keep doing that – copying and stealing and mixing and removing bits until we find methods that work even better. Take this opportunity to make a methodology that is an expression of your beliefs. Heck, maybe it expresses the vision of your entire team…or company.

Secondly, there just aren’t enough methodologies out there. Having scrum taking over 80% of the agile project management ecosystem is really, really…boring. Ken Schwaber, one of the creators of Scrum, has always maintained that something better will come along one day. I’m sure that’s true, but it won’t happen unless we are creating a vibrant ecosystem of competing methods. Just having Scrum and Kanban isn’t enough.

So feel free to take this methodology – it’s yours. Run with it (careful, it’s pointy), copy it, break it, fix it, and for God’s sake, make something wonderful.


The Fat Man Manifesto

May 7, 2012

Recently I was at a conference where people were decrying the fact that many folks didn’t even know what the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto were. Unfortunately this led to yet another round of Agile Navel Gazing (ANG) as we flogged ourselves with the 12 principles. I’ve started to feel like we in the Agile community have started to treat the Manifesto as some sort of stone tablets that must be worshipped rather than questioned. In fact, I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s time for a new manifesto. So I thought I would give it a spin myself and see what I could come up with. Hence the birth of the “Fat Man Manifesto”

The Fat Man Manifesto

We value:

  • People eating together over eating at their desks alone
  • People celebrating their work over adherence to process
  • People sharing over isolation

The Fat Man Principles

  1. Food in every meeting
  2. Barbecue often
  3. Lots of snacks
  4. Drink beer
  5. Party competitively
  6. Eat lunch with your team
  7. Carpool
  8. Music Always

The Fat Man Framework

So there you have it. A new manifesto for people who appreciate good food and good company. Would this manifesto work any better for teams than the Agile Manifesto? Who knows? I’d be willing to try it out.

The fact is that there is nothing really inherently special about writing a manifesto. I’ll tell you a secret: it’s really easy. Anybody can do it. In fact, I think everybody should give it a try! Writing a manifesto is fun, and it gets you thinking about what you really value about the people and the work that you do together. I think there should be a proliferation of manifestos. The Fat Man Manifesto is mine, and I even got some signatories!

So what about your manifesto? What kind of manifesto would you write?