Little by little...

Little by little...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sanctuary of Agility

There are drive-through animal safaris in every part of the country. For $20, you can weave your car through a few acres and see wild, exotic animals…in Ohio. Sadly, I’m seeing some parallels between my life in a bullpen and the safari animals.

A few years ago, someone in IT management decided that they wanted to try this agile thing so they picked a few guinea pigs, packed up our desks and shipped us to a bullpen. They gave us some index cards & thumb tacks and sent us to a few classes, then pronounced us “agile.”

It’s like the logic of some person deciding to ship a bunch of African animals to Ohio. Seems like an interesting business venture for the owner, but what is the long-term plan for the animals? Can the animals thrive without the environment that they were designed for?

We are one of only four agile teams at our large company. Few people in IT or the business really understand what we’re trying to do or why, despite efforts to involve, educate and share. So here’s the big question for me:

Can a sanctuary of agility survive in a sea of enterprise bureaucracy?

My gut tells me that a team trying for true agility cannot have long-term survival. Seeing animals lounge around waiting for food trucks convinced me of this. I bet when the animals first got to their new home, they were passionate and spent a lot of energy trying to survive in their new surroundings. Over time, they grew accustomed to being fenced in and with scheduled feedings, they had no need, therefore no desire, to escape.

We are certainly more complex than zoo animals, but I’ve seen this happen to coworkers. After endless battles trying to improve things, they give in to the feeling that change is hopeless and they settle in. Their financial needs are met so their desire to “escape” is satiated.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m eternally grateful that they shipped me to an agile team. Unlike the animals, I feel like I have come home. But without a supportive environment, our team will not thrive and I don’t want to just survive.


  1. Eeek, I hope that your company is more committed to quality than to just throw y'all in a bullpen with index cards and pronounce you "agile"! I hope that at least your team can agree to focus on quality rather than speed, and budget time to manage your technical debt as you deliver value to the customers. Please keep us posted!

    1. There are good intentions overshadowed by some team/environment issues, but I haven't lost faith. Thanks for the comment! :)