In Howard Myers’ 1972 short story, “Out, Wit!” physicist Jonathan Willis discovers the secret of alchemy, and publishes a paper describing how to make gold. Unfortunately for him, he writes the paper in an ironic style that leads people not to take it seriously. Making things worse, his work contradicts the prevailing wisdom in the scientific community, and senior researchers shut him down.
No one takes Willis’ paper seriously…except the Russians. They understand English well enough to comprehend the content of the paper, but not well enough to understand the humor in it. They return to the USSR, where they apply the techniques described in the paper to produce large quantities of gold, which they use to collapse the capitalistic economies of their enemies.
The common language of work
In the global economy of the 21st century, English has become the de facto common language for international scientific and academic exchange, business, and technical work. It’s the official corporate language in many international companies. It’s the practical working language for software teams that include members from different countries.
The situation sounds like an automatic “win” for native English speakers. We already know the global language of business. We don’t have to overcome that barrier to be effective in international work – conferences, user group meetings, training classes, working in multinational companies – all doors are open for us.
Continue reading English for English speakers
This is a brief follow-up to the post, The power of words, on this blog.
Recently I posted a question on Faceboook and Twitter about the origin of the phrase “hold teams accountable.” The phrase is used frequently in “agile” circles. The only answer anyone suggested was that it probably pre-dates the agile movement, as managers have been thinking in terms of holding people in one sort of grip or another for a long time.
But that single answer was not the only response to the question (uh-oh; another pair of words, there).
Continue reading Definitions and meanings
The “agile” world seems to have devolved into a cloud of buzzwords and catch phrases. People repeat them without giving much thought to what the words might actually mean. They say things like passion and commit and fail, and they threaten to hold you accountable.
When agilists say these things, they understand one another perfectly well. They have internalized the deeper meaning of these “standard” agile buzzwords and catch phrases.
But it is not plain English. It is jargon.
What does a normal person hear, when the agilists speak their magical incantations?
Continue reading The power of words
There’s a huge interest in failure these days. People are clamoring to be the first to fail, to be the one who fails most frequently, gleefully to fail and fail and fail. Question: Why do you want to adopt [popular method]? Answer: So that we can fail more!
Continue reading The Impostors
Daniel Mezick confronts the elephant in the “agile” room in his post, Deviation from the Norm: “If current approaches actually worked well, then by now, thousands of organizations would have reached a state of self-sustaining, “freestanding” agility. Clearly, that is not the case.”
Pondering the question, several possible reasons for this result (or lack of) occurred to me. These are speculative and based on my own experience and observations.
Continue reading Where are all the Agile success stories?
I don’t know the origin of that saying. When I first heard it, it was presented as ancient Chinese wisdom. In the West we often attribute pearls of wisdom to some named or unnamed ancient Chinese philosopher. I suspect many of the attributions are not historically accurate. In any case, the saying suggests — correctly, I think — that by examining the past we can make some predictions about the future…within limits, of course.
One of the hot topics of discussion in software development circles these days is the question of how we can make useful predictions about the future for purposes of planning software delivery activities. The subject turns out to be trickier than I had, um, predicted.
Continue reading The future casts its shadow across the past
I read an article in Harvard Business Review today entitled “I won’t hire people who use poor grammar,” by Kyle Wiens. Wiens assesses job candidates, in part, on the basis of their use of English grammar. He goes so far as to administer a written grammar test to all applicants.
Amusingly enough, the website generated a URL by truncating the title to “i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo.” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, either, unless using poo happened to be part of the job description. “Seeking howler monkeys for stock floor trading positions. Throw your résumé against the wall and see if it sticks.”
Um, okay, where was I? Oh, yeah. Is Wiens’ approach excessive? Ah…wait a second. Should that be, Weins’s? Does it depend on whether you’re in the US or UK? Does it depend on which form your fourth-grade teacher thought was “the rule?” <sigh/> I guess my chances of passing Wiens’ grammar test are low. Oh, wait…is it okay to use faux XML in a narrative? I’m so confused!
Anyway, comments on the article run the gamut from strong approval to strong disapproval. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Wiens.
Let’s start with the points of disagreement. That’s usually more fun.
Continue reading It’s a question of its context
The packaging of ideas represented by “agile” includes elements pertaining to organizational culture and elements pertaining to processes and practices. Although many of us would like to see organizations adopt useful elements in both areas holistically, in my experience it is not the case that the two are welded together. Instead, cultural aspects and mechanical aspects affect work flow and outcomes differently and independently.
In most organizations that have adopted “agile” methods, people have embraced a subset of the mechanical elements of “agile” development, but they have no understanding of the cultural aspects and, in many cases, no interest. Yet, I think it’s fair to say they are “using” or “doing” agile development. It’s definitely possible to employ some of the mechanical aspects of “agile” development in the context of an otherwise-traditional organizational structure and culture. It’s happening all over the world right now. Because of this reality, I often use the word “agile” to refer only to the mechanical aspects. I sometimes run afoul of agile practitioners because of this.
When I suggest that the use of “agile” methods does not automatically mean we are doing adaptive development, some agile practitioners protest. Continue reading BBUF: Big Budget Up Front
Thor’s hammer was called Mjölnir. Cool name for a problem-solving device.
Liza Wood commented on a recent post of mine in which I lamented the overuse of the word, "agile," and the ill effects of that overuse. She wrote, in part:
I completely understand why you have become disenchanted with word "Agile", but I am sticking with it for now. For the majority it’s still at least a starting point to have a pragmatic conversation about product development (not just software).
I wonder about that. Is the word really a starting point for pragmatic conversation? Different people have had different experiences with that. My experience has been that people already have some pretty firm ideas about the implications of the word, "agile." A recurring pattern is that a change agent goes into an organization and happily proclaims, "Oh, boy! We’re going Agile!" To his/her surprise, the people in the organization do not react to the proposition joyfully. The word "agile" connotes Happy Things to the change agent. What does it connote to other people? Why are they not happy to hear it?
Ron Jeffries’ classic article, We Tried Baseball and It Didn’t Work, suggests an answer.
Continue reading Thor’s hammer had a name, so why can’t mine?