Look into the past, become more agile: egoless programming

Agile software development methods like extreme programming and Scrum have been around for almost 20 years now. Many think of them as “the right way” or some kind of “holy grail”. So it is no wonder that many companies try to hop on the agile train to improve quality and efficiency of their software development.

Why is it that I hear of failures in adopting/switching to agile most of the time?

In my experience there are two main reasons why implementing agile methods does not work as expected:

  1. It is the management deciding to change the development process, not the developers. After a short while many aspects – especially using rigid methods like Scrum – do not seem to fit the organisation and therefore are changed. This leads to process implementations like ScrumBut
  2. Many developers do not have the mindset for the interactive, open and collaborative work style required by agile methods. Too often developers try to secure their job by isolating themselves and their solutions. Or they are doing stuff the way they are used to for many years not willing to learn, change and improve. Communication is hard, especially for programming nerds…

What can be done about it?

I would suggest trying to slowly change the culture in the company based on concepts from the 1970’s: egoless programming. In essence you have to let developers become more open and collaborative by internalising the Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming:

  1. Understand and accept that you will make mistakes.
  2. You are not your code.
  3. No matter how much “karate” you know, someone else will always know more.
  4. Don’t rewrite code without consultation.
  5. Treat people who know less than you with respect, deference, and patience.
  6. The only constant in the world is change.
  7. The only true authority stems from knowledge, not from position.
  8. Fight for what you believe, but gracefully accept defeat.
  9. Don’t be “the guy in the room.”
  10. Critique code instead of people—be kind to the coder, not to the code.

There is a PDF version of the commandments with some amplifying sentenctes from Builder.com published on techrepublic in 2002. If you manage to create a development culture based on these values you are more than half-way down the agile road and can try to implement one of the popular agile methods – or your own!

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