When the VP had come to my office and told me he wanted me to go help the Perseus team, kick off an agile transformation, I was thrilled. We’d been having some really good luck agile on the Icarus project and the VP wanted to see if we could extend that farther. The guys on Icarus we’re awesome, true rock stars all of them and I know that helped a lot. Still I saw no reason why the Perseus project couldn’t get some benefit from agile.
I felt like a Spartan who came home without his shield. Not only did I fail, I was massacred.
“You’ll be more motivated, more empowered,” I said.
To which someone on the team replied, “We’re plenty motivated, we are doing the work we want to do.”
“The scrum master will be tasked with removing your impediments, making work easier,” I said.
To which someone on the team replied, “If the company doesn’t fix blockers, then we work on something else.”
“You’ll be recognized for your expertise.”
To which someone on the team replied, “So? We must be recognized, the company hired us. We gonna get paid more if we do agile?”
“You get to decide how its built, instead of being told.”
To which someone on the team replied, “Seriously? We don’t listen to product management anyway. We’ve been building it our way for years.”
“Status reports practically write themselves. The burn down is your status.”
To which someone on the team replied, “Project management writes the status reports. Besides, it’s not like anyone pays attention to them.”
I slumped against the door to my office and gave a deep sigh. Of the entire team I think only one or two showed any real interest. One was a smart kid probably no more than three years out of his masters and the other was the overwhelmed and frustrated development manager.
“Hey,” a voice called from inside my office. I looked in to see Hogarth abusing my office chair with his bulk. He was holding up the banana I’d picked up from the fruit bowl this morning. “You don’t have any Lady Finger bananas? Heck, even a Goldfinger or Lacatan would be great.”
I strode into my office, extremely not in the mood to deal with my gorilla conscience today. “Hogarth, it’s a banana. You can have the yellow kind or the green kind that’s not good unless cooked.”
I stopped, “What?”
Hogarth got a professorial look, indicting a teaching moment was coming. “Plantain, that’s the green kind and not technically a banana. It’s Musa paradisiaca, while dessert bananas are Musa sapientum.” He held up the banana, “This Musa sapientum is a Cavendish, a Robusta to be precise. Your generic everyday banana. Okay for putting on cereal or peanut butter and banana sandwiches, just not the connoisseurs’ banana.”
“You’re telling me bananas come in more than big, little, green and yellow?” I asked.
He nodded “Yeah, I think it’s like the parrot principle or something. Eighty percent of the bananas produced and exported are a variety of Cavendish.” He held up the banana by way of demonstrating.
I blinked in confusion, “You mean the Pareto Principle?”
Hogarth shrugged, “Yeah, that’s it. Some Italian economist right?” Hogarth cocked his head, “too bad they don’t have some Pareto rule for people.”
Yeah too bad, that would explain a lot of things….
Hey, wait a minute!?!
Why do some developers hate Agile?
Note: The goal of this blog is to generate critical thinking on this subject, not to point fingers.
A lot of the popular agile marketing pumps up how much developers will love agile. How your development teams will be the ones fighting for it, championing for it or even doing it behind management’s back. Sure, I’ve met these people. Most of them work for boutique shops or start-ups. Unfortunately I find in enterprise software companies that these agile champions are often in the minority.
This has long created a cognitive dissonance in me. I know and understand in my soul that the values and principles of agile promote not only a more effective and productive workforce, it also produces happier, more engaged people. In short, I support agile because I think it will lead to a better world.
So why is there so much resistance from those it was intended to directly benefit? Then it hit me. I had a realization, an epiphany even. Agile is only revealing the underlying truth, one that many in the work force would love if it had never been undiscovered.
In Traditional Development, the majority of the work is being done by the minority of the people
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Anyone whose spent even a couple of years in high tech will have heard of the 80-20 rule. I hear it most often in the “80% of our calls are from 20% of our customers” or “80% of our business comes from 20% of our customers. Reaching to Wikipedia we find that the Pareto principle has several common business corollaries.
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of the time its staff spend
- 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products
80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff
Notice the one I bolded? Well yeah, I bolded it so you would.
What happens if you replace “sales” with “code” and “sales staff” with “development staff”, what do you get? The Pareto principle is arguing that 80% of the code developed is coming from 20% of your software development team. Those rock star coders? The ones management frets about what will happen when they leave? Yeah, they should worry. Because these rock starts are not just good at their job, Pareto argues they are probably doing much more work than the majority of the team.
Then along comes agile to shine a bright scary beacon on this reality. Suddenly bringing the coders into the light and making in crystal clear who is doing the work and who is not. When the team is reviewing work every day, and planning every week or two it quickly becomes apparent who is doing the work and who is not.
This is a tough subject and not likely to be wholly popular. No one wants to be told “hey, you’re a slacker!” I know, I’ve been exactly in the shoes of an agile resistor. I once told a room full of people “you’ll pry waterfall from my cold, dead hands.” And reflecting back now, I can say one of the things I feared was how much attention it would put on my own work.
So I can first hand the feeling of that scrutiny on your work is not unlike being a cockroach caught in the light. Close to twenty years ago I was in a job where I was doing okay, just okay. I wasn’t a rock star by any means. I was, however, the only person with a specific skill set and for a variety of reasons I didn’t work as hard as I could have. Then a new person came along. They knew my special skill set and tackled work with a wild abandon. The person was also incredibly nice and personable which meant it was hard to even dislike them. They were just doing their job and doing it well. I still felt like a cockroach caught in the open.
There are plenty of hard workers out there, that are not in the theoretical 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. And the painful fact is there are also a percentage of those workers who are knowingly under performing. The 2014 Gallup poll again found more than 15% of workers are actively disengaged in there jobs.
Want another interesting thought exercise? Let’s reach into the agile bag of data for a second. A common statistic you hear, agile proponents, is more than 60% of product features are used rarely or not at all. So if 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people and only 40% of features are ever used, does that mean our teams are 80% too big? I have seen some blogs of late that argue a super-star team of ten can build any product a team of 100 can and do it better and faster. Taking the Pareto principle into account, they may not be far off the mark.
What’s the call to action?
As I noted at the start of this section, I am not seeking to point fingers. I’m seeking to generate thought. I don’t have a call to action, I don’t have a solution.
I think I know a reason why some enterprise software coders are resistant to agile. However if they don’t want to be more productive, shining a bright light on them isn’t exactly going to make them happy.
I suppose we could use this data to convince executives to adopt agile more. If we can show them who are the real producers, they can either shrink their work force or hire more of the 20% who do the work. I’m not sure that’s going to be the best use of this data by an agile coach. It might be useful for agile consulting firms in their sales cycle.
As an agile coach, trying to find a way to encourage teams to adopt agile, it’s not immediately helpful. I’ve got a symptom now. What I don’t have is a cure.
How do we make everyone part of the 20%? Can we?