How technical is lean and agile?

A huge amount of discussions around lean and agile today is about management methods, personal interaction, coaching approaches, team interactions and so on.

And while I completely agree with the notion that “soft skills are the really hard skills” and are absolutely necessary, I still think that some technical excellence is crucial (remember the second page of the agile manifesto, principle 9?).

Many of the things that are present in successful agile teams and that people nowadays try to ‘inject’ into not-yet-quite-as-agile teams could be either cause or effect.

Let’s take the value of trust for example – perhaps people in highly skilled teams trust each other more because each of the team members brings some technical excellence to the table. Or perhaps people show their degree of excellence (including it’s boundaries) because of the high level of trust. It could be either way around. Neither of that might be the case if the team is not self selected but made up out of “those who currently don’t have any other project”. Or let’s look at sustainable pace – perhaps people in highly skilled teams are able to work with a sustainable pace because the know there limits and know that if the work beyond those limits the quality of their work suffers. And so on.

But back to the question of the technical aspect. Nowadays I often see teams where refactoring is looked upon as a separate activity (In XP-Times it was Red-Green-Refactor every couple of minutes), where people are neither free to choose their own IDE (e.g. because of company standards) nor willing (e.g. because they don’t know any other IDEs) and where the command line is considered dangerous.

That’s not how the game was played when the term agile was coined – If you want to be able to quickly react to changes you need technical expertise. And technical excellence. Invest in it. Without technical excellence all the agile management practices might bring some improvement, but in the end those improved situation will be brittle unless serious attention is paid to technical excellence.

Just my two cents for today…

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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